Here’s an anecdote:
“Hey,” said Jimmy, “I don’t want to go to school today. Everyone’s skipping class!”
“And if everyone jumped off a bridge, you’d jump too, right?” said his mother, “Right?!”
The bandwagon appeal is put to use when you want your audience to feel like they’re missing out, they need to be a part of an experience, or they are on the losing side of a particular battle. It’s peer-pressure, really.
Advertisers use it all the time to pull you in (“Everyone agrees, our product is the best!” or “Watch Blah, the hottest new show of the season” or “Over 99 Billion Served”), but bandwagon appeals can go well beyond simple persuasion in advertising.
Think of the Red Scare, pet rocks (and any other fad), or, as a more contemporary example, the “go green” movement. Everyone is “going green” — including multi-billion dollar corporations looking for some good PR (you can tell by how they turned their logos green, oh yeah) — and you should, too. It doesn’t matter if the cause is good or not; they’re using bandwagon appeals so you’ll feel that you want to be a part of the majority.
Today’s Earth Day, by the way. Happy Earth Day.
If you use a bandwagon appeal, you’re tapping into your audience’s desire to fit in. Make them feel excluded, in the dark, at a disadvantage. Alienated, if they don’t join the crowd. If done correctly, they’ll want to do whatever it takes to fix that.
How to avoid the bandwagon
It’s clear that the bandwagon appeal is a logical fallacy: just because a majority (or perceived majority) is doing something, that doesn’t mean they’re right. So, there is one thing an individual needs to do before drinking the kool-aid: research. It’s the downfall of most forms of propaganda.
Image courtesy Paull Young.