The Intelligence Officer ad that appears in the September issue of Discover magazine is relatively simple and straight forward. It features a piece of paper, apparently sitting on a desk with a series of simple instructions that one would give someone watching their house, and a pair of keys. The home owner left instructions to water the plants, bring in the mail, contact them at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. in the case of an emergency, and to shred the note immediately. There is a break towards the bottom of the page under which a short blurb is written on a metallic looking background, which reads, “Intelligence Officer. As an Intelligence Officer in the Navy Reserve, you’ll manage valuable intelligence and help to defend this nation as few others can. All on a part time basis….” This text sets up a particularly effective pathetic appeal because it suggests that the reader can add excitement to her life if he joins the Navy, picks the job he wants (in this case, Intelligence Officer), and then works part time. If the reader takes the suggested route, he can serve his country, thereby being part of something larger than himself, live a life of intrigue where he keeps valuable national secrets, all while earning what is presumably a good part time income, without having to leave his regular daily life and responsibilities to do it.
The text contains two main components, the first of which is what is written on the note. Items one and two are pretty ordinary and could be a note left for anyone who is taking care of someone else’s house for a few days. There is nothing particularly interesting, exciting, or notable about taking care of plants and bringing in the mail. In fact, those two items would likely be assumed for someone taking on these duties, making these instructions rather pointless. The following two lines, “….Contact me at the Pentagon….” And “Shred this note immediately!” are designed make an emotional appeal to a person’s sense of adventure. There is something dangerous about their line of work, so the caretaker is to ensure that nobody knows where they’re at while they’re away! The second of the text’s components is located at the bottom of the page simply lists the fact that a person can apply to be an Intelligence Officer if they join the Navy, and they can do it part time. This tells the reader that they can leave their ordinary life behind and do something meaningful and exciting for their country.
The constraints of this ad are that not everybody is open to the possibility of joining the armed forces. For many, risking their life for this country, particularly under the current administration, is simply not worth it. It is also not going to apply to people who can’t obtain security clearance, criminals, or the developmentally disabled. Further constraints are that the Navy is looking for people in the following professions: engineers, educators, IT professionals, CPAs, and consultants. According to their website, the actual Finally, the exigence of this ad is that the Navy needs recruits.
“Essentials of Argument” states, “Visual Argument establishes common ground and invites viewer identification. (240)” This is certainly true for this ad. The person making the ad wants the reader to think that the ad applies to them. Ordinary people, presumably like the person viewing the ad, leaves similar notes for people all the time. They typically include a list of things to do, how to contact them in case of an emergency, and any special instructions.
The keys are an interesting component of this visual argument as well. Normally keys would be a sign for gaining access to something, but not in this case. Despite their break with conventional symbolism, they still have meaning. In “Contemporary Perspectives on Rhetoric,” Foss, Foss, and Trapp say, “That signs and symbols often intertwine is typical of human communication. For instance, a tree standing in a forest is not a symbol; it does not stand for something else.” And, “The tree also becomes a symbol – an instance of rhetoric – when it is cut, for example, to use as a Christmas tree. (3)” The keys on this add seem straightforward – the person taking care of the house will use them to get into the house so that they can take care of the plants and drop off the mail. However, on a metaphorical level, they represent the reader’s mundane life. If the reader takes this job, they can drop their mundane life off with the most convenient person while they can leave home for a while (almost like a vacation) and assume the role of a spy. For a few days at a time, as part of their job with the Navy, they can become James Bond, or Jack Ryan. That implies danger, excitement, sex, and responsibility.
In addition to this, the remaining TRACE principles complete the argument. The reader is assumed to be an ordinary person. Since they’re appealing to a sense of excitement with this ad, the assumption is that the reader lives an ordinary life in the United States, working an ordinary job; a slave to the grind. They might be someone who needs to pick up a part time job to supplement their income. The ad’s author, the Navy, gives the impression that someone seeing this might be interested in joining the Navy so that they can live this exciting life. They know that this would appeal to possible recruits because it wouldn’t necessarily involve leaving home for months or years at a time and risking their lives in combat situations.
Although this ad looks almost mundane at first glance, its elegant simplicity stands out from the magazine in which it is situated and demands attention; it skillfully employs pathos to make an argument for recruitment into one of the branches of the armed forces. The appeal to excitement and service is a powerful tool for recruitment, and the Navy is likely to find success with this ad.
US Navy, "Intelligence Officer, Navy Reserve." Discover Sept 2008: 5.
1. Wood, Nancy. Essentials of Argument. 2nd. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc, 2009.
Foss, Karen, Sonya Foss, and Robert Trapp. "An Introduction to Rhetoric."Contemporary Perspectives on Rhetoric. 3rd ed. London: Waveland Press, 2003. 1-18. 28 Aug 2008 http://www.aml.wsu.edu/facultysites/Muhlhauser/FossFossTrappsm.pdf
U.S. Navy, Navy Reserve, Enlisted Opportunities, Intelligence and Communications. U.S. Navy. 18 Sep 2008