Friday, September 03, 2010


The insurance company GEICO is running a series of advertisements, which is dubbed as a Rhetorical Question Campaign. The playful campaign has its take on a supposedly rhetorical question — Could switching to GEICO really save you 15 percent or more on car insurance? The campaign gives the impression that it is obvious switching to GEICO will save 15 percent or more on car insurance, hence it uses a rhetorical question.

In statement analysis, anything implied is questionable. A question is different from a statement because a question does not state, declare nor assert. Saying “Could switching to GEICO really save you 15 percent or more on car insurance?” is different from saying “Switching to GEICO saves you 15 percent or more on car insurance!” The former may or may not imply the latter. A truthful statement is always explicit.

The rhetorical question is followed by an analogy to reinforce the impression of obviousness, such as seen in this advertisement:
“Could switching to GEICO really save you 15 percent or more on car insurance?”
“Is Ed Too Tall Jones too tall?”
The second question becomes more rhetorical when Ed Jones, who measures 206 cm (6 ft 9 in), is shown on the screen. The advertisement has cleverly shown that the measuring device was too short to measure Ed Jones and his nickname “Too Tall” becomes highly suggestive. The viewer wrongly concludes Ed Jones is indeed too tall. This faulty analogy let the viewer think that answering yes to the second question means the answer for the first question is also yes. A truthful statement is always straightforward.

The advertisement closes on the words GEICO — 15 minutes could save you 15 percent or more. This is more straightforward than the rest of the advertisement but saving 15 percent or more has a degree of probability that is uncertain considering the use of could rather than will (see gramdex).


  1. Very nice example of putting psychology into practice! And it’s not a bad idea for a commercial. It may work and sell well :)

    It’s a good observation of yours, but it seems somehow natural to me.

    One does not expect an advertisement to be truthful, that’s not its aim. In Slovak, “an advertisement” = “reklama” and it has been clearly derived from the verb “klamať” (to tell lies). Therefore it’s nothing surprising if there are lies implied. On the contrary, it would be a shock if somebody came up with an advertisement that would be straightforward.

    Btw, is this lying by omission? They don’t exactly lie, nor do they say the truth.

  2. The advertisement is amusing and leaves an impression, which is what advertisers aim for.

    I'd like to share my perspective on the word Reklama (sk) and Реклама (ru) even though these languages are from Slavonic origins. I believe reklama is from Latin origins, from the word reclamareto shout against, to protest and to call many times. It does better fit to what advertisement actually is. The Slovak (reklama/klamať) is not reflected in Russian (реклама/лгать). Let me know if you find specific reference for either explanation!

    Lies most often seems natural because we are surrounded by them. The best metaphor is water, where one lie is a drop of water in the ocean, and where no lies (at all) would feel like a desert. Basically, pure honesty feels weird. :)

    The use of the word could implies that there may be conditions applicable. This is something I wished this would have been mentioned. It's difficult to avoid omissions in a 30 second advertisement but there are some omissions that shouldn't be avoided (legally, ethically). An advertisement serving to invite people to contact a company in order to know more about a product could be acceptable. The question one should ask is — what have they omitted?

    The point in exposing such advertisements is to increase critical consciousness among my readers.

    In the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Robert Cialdini, Ph.D suggests that we should contact companies when we feel deceived by their advertisements. He gives an excellent example where some companies hire actors to tell their rehearsed "true story" in a street-style interview, as if those were coincidentally passing by. This technique works according to his research because those actors look and act like the average viewer.