Bandwagon Appeal
KSU   -   English 1101/55 & 57   -   Mr. Hagin   -   Fall 2002   -   Revised: 27 November 2002

Bandwagon Appeal – the belief that something should be done because the majority of people do it (or wish to do it).

Ad populum is the original Latin term, meaning “to the people,” suggesting that a person yields his opinion to the will of the public majority rather than to logic.  Bandwagon appeals are arguments that urge people to follow the same paths that others do.  In old-time political campaigns, politicians used to travel literally on horse-drawn bandwagons, urging citizens to “jump on the bandwagon” — or join the crowd — to vote for them.

People can be like sheep, and most of us can be attracted to strong, charismatic leaders who make us feel wanted or important.  Although Americans like to think of themselves as “rugged individuals,” we are often easily seduced by ideas endorsed by popular culture and the mass media that prey upon our desires to belong to a herd.

-- Peer pressure is a type of bandwagon appeal – you may do something that others are doing simply because others are doing it.  “Because everyone else does it” is a favorite reason cited by young teens who are looking for reasons to do something more grown up.


TV Ad: “Four out of five dentists surveyed preferred Crest toothpaste.”

This classic TV ad campaign pushes the popularity of Crest amongst dentists, making it an appealing statistic.  However, we should ask some critical questions to “read behind the numbers”:

--   How many dentists surveyed were known to be advocates of Crest before they were surveyed?

--   How do we know that these doctors weren't under some contract with Crest and felt obligated to rank that brand #1, or risk losing all those free toothbrushes?

--   How many pollsters bothered to ask doctors who were known to prefer Colgate or other brands?

Advertisers who urge consumers to buy “the brand that's number one” are using bandwagon appeal.  This statement essentially asks the consumers to use Crest “because we said so” — the same argument that parents often give their children when they have no sound argument.

We will never know these answers, but with enough investigation, the truth could be uncovered.  For this reason, we must question the logic of most ads and sales pitches.  The company selling its product wants it to appeal to people’s desires.  They would take on a significant financial risk to warn the consumers of minor problems or complaints about their product.  (An automotive company, for instance, will never admit in their ads that you may very well die in that very car you desire to drive).

--  Appeals to patriotism are also forms of the bandwagon effect.  We all look for opportunities to blend in with other Americans over a shared value, symbol, or tradition.  Unfortunately, zealousness or jingoism can conflict with rational thinking.


Radio Ad: “Zippo – the grand old lighter that’s made right here in the good old U.S. of A.”

This ad implies that Zippo brand cigarette lighters are the American standard, like Marlboro and the Dallas Cowboys (dubbed “America’s Team”).  The Zippo company’s warrant is this: If everyone else is buying this brand, then we all should too.  Logic, however, tells us that we need a better reason than peer pressure or popularity.


Just because something is manufactured in America does not mean that it is better.  Clearly, Americans are #1 in many areas of business, but 90% of new companies fail by their first year, so quality of specific products can be volatile.  Of course, buying American products helps the American economy, but many of our goods are stamped with “Made in USA” when they really are assembled in Southeast Asia and shipped back to the States, at great cost savings to the manufacturer.  So, is this statement a guarantee of quality?  Hardly.

We also pay the price for fashion.  In 1982, Reebok was a stylish footwear choice, but foolish Americans paid an exorbitant amount for shoes that were worth considerably less in material cost.  My father used to fly to Korea on business trips a few times every year.  He would often bring back Reebok sneakers that he purchased in Seoul for $3 in some street market — legally.  At the time, the same shoes were selling for $75 - $95 at Foot Locker in my local mall, and were identical in quality.  Would you overpay for your car 30 times over?  Is this “fashion sense?”

Many investors also pay these same outrageous premiums when we invest in the stock market.  Some companies sell stock that is marked up 500 times the real value of these shares.  Why do we pay these prices?  Often because “everyone else does.”  This mentality has contributed significantly to the 2000-2002 stock market recession by making the “bubble” too big.


A Poor Patriot: “It’s alright for me to cheat on my taxes because everyone else does it.”

My Mom would ask here, “If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”  Following the leader is only reasonable when the leader is reasonable.  This statement is also an example of the moral equivalence fallacy.

--  In extreme cases, the bandwagon effect can create a type of “mob rule,” where citizens try to justify their actions by citing the actions of others (legal or otherwise).  Since every individual has free will and is responsible for his own decisions, this type of reasoning is foolish and often dangerous.  There may be strength in numbers (and even comfort), but this erroneous thinking is emotional, and not grounded in logic.


Radio Ad: “Jackson Ford is the Number One Ford Dealership in the Southeast Region.”

This type of advertisement implies that this car dealership is the best dealership.  The consumers are likely to associate “number one” with “the best,” although these phrases can be misleading.  Again, ask some critical questions:

--   If they were the number one dealership in sales, does that mean that they have the best prices, customer service, or expertise?

--   Could their popularity be explained simply because they have the best location, the biggest billboard, or the funniest commercial?

--   This example also falls under the equivocation fallacy because the term “number one” is vague, and it implies blind trust and confidence – very dangerous.



Your teenage daughter asks: “Everyone else is camping overnight without chaperones, so why can’t I?”

Besides being a rhetorical question and an example of moral equivalence, this faulty reasoning assumes that what is appropriate for others must be appropriate for me.  However, we cannot assume that the decisions of others are valid.  What is the real situation here?  Do the other parents simply not care about their children’s well being or are they not aware that there never were any chaperones?  This suspicious statement needs to be clarified before most parents would agree.