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Aristotle and the Art of Persuasion

Connor Peters

By Connor Peters

04 June 2019

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2,000 years ago, a man named Aristotle decided to have a look at how to convince people to do things. And modern marketers are still looking at the same thing today – we want people to do things. We want them to buy our products, to read our blogs and to share things with their friends. Millions of jobs are built around this simple idea of persuading people to do things, but often, we overlook the fundamentals of persuasion, that are just as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago. Even if the medium we use has changed, from speaking in a public theatre in ancient Greece, to a google search ad, the fundamentals are still there. So, let’s look through the main three fundamentals of persuasion, otherwise known as Aristotle’s Rhetoric:

 

Logos

Logos is possibly the most straightforward element of persuasion, and centres on logical arguments. You have to eat, so you should buy some food. Our car is better quality, so it will last longer. Naturally, this lends itself to be more effective with less emotional purchases. It’s also how many numbers, charts and statistics are used in persuading – of course you want the spray that kills 99.9% of bacteria.

 

Pathos

For more emotional purchases, you need more emotional persuasion. Take for example a holiday – yes, some may be drawn to one holiday over another for logical reasons such as a good price on flights, but destinations definitely have an emotional pull – the romance of Paris, or the beauty of one of the Seven Wonders. In the comms of many high status brands, such as fancy cars or expensive clothes, part of the pathos focuses on how the product will make you feel. Logically, a plain white t-shirt and designer t-shirt serve the same purpose, but you can be persuaded to spend more money on a brand because of the emotional appeal.

 

Ethos

Ethos, or branding, is another element of persuasion that designer labels use well. Ethos focuses on the credibility of the persuader, whether that be a person or a brand. If you’re a toothpaste brand, you want dentists to recommend your product, because they’re credible. Sometimes, experts are the wrong way to go, and having an everyday person communicate your messages is the most effective route. Audience’s values in each industry and markets often shape how brands want you to think about them – innovation is a value that many tech brands strive to be synonymous with, see Apple’s famous slogan “think different”. Innovation is less highly regarded in the jewellery industry, where heritage and being established since the 1800s will likely persuade your target audience that you know what you’re doing.

 

In Paid Media

Although different industries often lean towards one element of persuasion, it’s usually most effective when all three are used together. Here’s an example of a Google search ad that perfectly ties together all three:

 

 

Logos (logic) – “Measure your PR coverage.” We know you want to be able to measure PR coverage, and we can help.

 

Pathos (emotion) – “Beautiful coverage reports.” – Not only can we make a report, but we can make it beautiful. Emotion-invoking adjectives are a clear indicator of pathos-focused persuasion.

 

Ethos (credibility) – “Join over 1000 PR teams” – We have credibility because we’ve helped thousands of teams before.

 

 

In PR

One of the powers of PR over other mediums is the power in ethos – if something is published in a respected newspaper, or by a significant influencer, the credibility of that media supports your own brand’s credibility. Also, PR focuses a lot more on top of funnel persuasion. Take for example, the article shown below. Logos is present with facts and figures, persuading you that the British have a problem with health and fitness. You’re then presented with a solution to this problem – the freeletics app, which can help you to exercise, even if you don’t have lots of time.

 

Full article here.

 

For the notorious flat tummy tea, using influencers (ethos) like Khloe Kardashian in her paid Instagram post below, to say things like “how CUTE is this shaker bottle?!” (pathos) alongside photos of themselves where they look great (more pathos) and have a flat tummy (logos), the fundamentals are all brought together; though according to medical experts this is often done in a somewhat unethical way.

 

 

 

In Strategy and Planning

As well as keeping ethos, pathos and logos in mind when focusing on individual tactics, strategy can also benefit from focus into these. A huge part of Nike’s strategy has been almost entirely pathos focused, and they’re able to do this because their ethos compliments their message. Nike’s “dream crazy” campaign of last year has a huge emotional pull:

 

 

the video advert doesn’t mention any of the practical benefits of Nike’s products, but it didn’t need to.

 

Whereas UK supermarket Aldi, who for years was an underdog to other larger supermarkets in the UK, is the perfect candidate to use the opposite strategy. Over the years, they have focused their strategy purely on logical arguments, focusing mostly on price, and it’s certainly worked for them:

 

 

 

What does this mean for me?

Next time you’re crafting any sort of persuasive message, whether it be as part of your job or trying to convince a friend to help you move furniture, think about which fundamentals to focus on. What is your audience’s profile? Will they be swayed by emotion or logic? Or do they need to be sure that you’re an expert in your field? And next time you’re being targetted by advertising, think about how different brands use different persuasion techniques, and which are successful for which products.

 

How do we put this into practice at Propellernet?

When we take on a new client at Propellernet, our Planning team will take a thorough look at relevant audiences and seek an understanding of the journeys they go on, as well as their attitudes, motivations and behaviours. We gather a wealth of data which we distil into insights around the audience’s motivations, beliefs and behaviours. This allows us to effectively market specific and relevant content or products, using a combination of logos (logic), pathos (emotion) and ethos (credibility) in our marketing campaigns.

 

And next time you’re watching a courtroom drama, think about how you might convince the jury of the defendant’s innocence using ethos, pathos and logos.