An Analysis of Tabasco TV Advertising

The McIlhenny Company’s Tabasco TV ads use a variety of methods to entice us to buy their product. An example campaign for the Tabasco product is located on the web at http://www. tabasco. com/arts_pavilion/tv_ads/index. cfm. In these commercials, essential factual information is missing from these advertisements; this implies that the advertiser is relying on an emotional impact rather than a rational one. Like many advertisers they use the techniques of sex appeal, and visual metaphor. Two of the Tabasco campaign ads use sex or sexual innuendo to add to the impact of their advertisement.
One features a scantily clad, beautiful woman sunbathing in a bikini with the Tabasco logo on it. The sequence of the ad pans down her body and then follows as she leaves the beach to her bungalow where she dashes some Tabasco sauce into a dip and swirls a shrimp in the resulting mixture. Next she eats the shrimp and moves over to a full-length mirror and moves the strap of her top revealing sunburn-like marks under the material rather than the audience expected tan-lines and putting the woman in a sexy pose; finally, she gives a saucy look into the mirror and the scene fades away and the ad is over.
The woman plays the central role in this advertisement (Tabasco “Tanlines”). The second ad uses sexual innuendo in a more subtle way; this ad opens on a view of an RV rocking in a rhythmic fashion suggesting that the occupants may be sexually (and energetically! ) engaged. The Viewpoint zooms in and causes the viewer to seem to storm into the RV where the startled couple cease shaking the Tabasco Chipotle pepper sauce on their BBQ meal (Tabasco “Rockin RV”).

Both ads use sex to sell the product the second uses it in a way to shape the viewer’s expectation and then present a different cause, while the first ad seeks to establish a metaphor between the woman and the company’s product. “In today’s complex media environment, the people who produce advertisements are compelled to constantly reinvent the ways in which they address and hold the attention of increasingly jaded consumers, who are always on the verge of turning the page or hitting the remote control “(Sterkin 190). One way to do this is to create a visual metaphor.
“A metaphor is a rhetorical figure-an artful deviation from audience expectation that occurs at the level of style, not content”, according to McQuarrie & Mick (qtd. in Phillips 297). Metaphor is incomplete; that is the audience must interpet its meaning. MacCormac said, “Metaphors force us to wonder, compare, note similarities and dissimilarities, and then seek confirmation or disconfirmation of the suggestions posed by the metaphors” (qtd. in Phillips 301). The third ad in the Tabasco campaign uses visual metaphor rather than sex-appeal.
The advertisement opens with a man sitting on his porch eating pizza that he has spiced with Tabasco Sauce; the house is situated in a swamp, and it is not long before a mosquito comes along and tries to get a meal off the man. Rather than swatting the pest, as most people in the real world would have done, he allows it to drink its fill and fly off. Not much later the mosquito explodes in the night and the man wears a satisfied smile (Tabasco “Mosquito”); implying that when consumed the blood becomes so hot that it causes small insects to be immolated.
The first ad also used metaphor in a slightly more subtle way. Colloquially, a beautiful woman is “hot”, and Tabasco sauce is hot also, so naturally they are both the sauce and the woman are labeled with the Tabasco logo, on the bottle and bikini respectively. When consumed, all this heat has to go somewhere; so like the Mosquito ad the imbiber’s body is affected, in this case she is burned anywhere she was covered up (Tabasco “Tanlines”). The result of both ads is an entertaining presentation causing the viewer to accept the “hotness” of the product; even if they have never actually sampled it.
Like most advertisement the visual aspect is important; the meaning of all three ads relies entirely on the visual sequence presented to the viewer (Sturken 209). The sequences in all three ads make strong statements by using both real and magical qualities of the product; this is a powerful technique evoking emotional response from the viewer (Sturken 209). An emotional response are powerful advertisement tools because emotional messages have impact at every stage in life, that is an emotional appeal is an universal appeal, to which even the very young will respond (O’Shaughnessy 27).
The advantage of using a purely visual approach, besides the emotional appeal, is the fact that the meaning of the advertisement must be inferred by the viewer; the additional effort the viewer must use to arrive at a meaning means that there is less mental capacity available to form counter arguments to any claims the advertisement made, thus potentially increasing the effectiveness of the advertisement (Phillips 303). Television advertisements using these techniques are doubly effective since, in effect they have a captive audience.
The television is either showing an entertainment program or it is showing an advertisement, if the viewer changes the channel he or she risks missing a return to the show he was watching. In these ways advertising attempts to trick or persuade us to buy. In the case of Tabasco no real attempt was made to provide any factual information. The hot spiciness of the product was exaggerated into hyperbole. The traits were so exaggerated that the product seen in the commercials doesn’t actually exist; and the viewer is shown a glimpse of a fantasy world each time he sees one of these television advertisements.
The ads depend entirely upon the entertainment and emotional impact because they completely lack any dialogue, and the only written information is the product logo which appears on the bottle, on the bikini ensuring that hot is associated with Tabasco, and hopefully hot sauce for shrimp, pizza, or BBQ.
Works Cited
Book, Albert C. , Norman Cary, I. Stanley, and Frank R. Brady. The Radio & Television Commercial. Lincolnwood, Ill: NTC Contemporary, 1996. Phillips, Barbara J. “Understanding Visual Metaphor in Advertising. ” Persuasive Imagery : A Consumer Response Perspective. Ed. Linda Scott. Mahwah, N.J: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc, 2003. 297-310 Sturken, Marita and Lisa Cartwright. Practices of looking : an introduction to visual culture Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2001. Tabasco Pepper Sauce. Advertisement. “Mosquito. ” PepperFest. 2 Jun 2005 <http://www. tabasco. com/arts_pavilion/tv_ads/tabasco_mosquito_ad. cfm> Tabasco Chipolte Pepper Sauce. Advertisement. “Rockin RV. ” PepperFest. 2 Jun 2005 <http://www. tabasco. com/arts_pavilion/tv_ads/tabasco_rv_ad. cfm> Tabasco Pepper Sauce. Advertisement. “TanLines. ” PepperFest. 2 Jun 2005 <http://www. tabasco. com/arts_pavilion/tv_ads/tabasco_tanlines_ad. cfm>

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