The 'Modes of Persuasion' are at the root of all advertising. Those modes are called ethos, pathos, and logos. How can they work for you?
The heart of all advertising is persuasion. And the modes of persuasion don't just help people advertise.
They help people sell ideas.
They help people sell TV shows, movies... even themselves.
Bottom line: If you want to succeed on any level in entertainment you need to be a master of the modes of persuasion.
Today, in this post, we're going to get you to that level of mastery.
The first step can be broken down into three words: ethos pathos, and logos.
So what do these words mean, and why does everyone in advertising talk about them?
Let's get started.
How Ethos, Pathos, Logos Define Advertising
Aristotle in Advertising
Most of the storytelling we deal with harkens back to Aristotle's "Poetics." It was the building block for drama and became a must-read for anyone interested in crafting their own plays, movies, televisions shows, and now advertisements.
As advertising leans more and more on storytelling, "Poetics" has become even more important today.
In "Poetics," Aristotle said:
Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself.
But what were the three modes of persuasion Aristotle found?
The Three Modes of Persuasion
- Ethos (ἦθος—disposition or character)
- Pathos (πάθος—emotion or passion)
- Logos (λόγος—argument or discourse)
These modes are referred to as ethical strategies or rhetorical appeals.
They're based on the idea that persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character. By the speaker, I mean the author of the advertisement. You want to seem credible as an author. Whether that's the writer, director, or anyone working in that space.
Your persuasive ideas must stir something in the reader. An emotional reaction
This cannot just be through your written or spoken words. You have to exhibit an inherent or apparent truth. That way, you appear to have all the answers to the question you asked the reader.
All this manifests itself in each of the aforementioned modes.
Let's define each and view examples.
Ethos is the use of ‘ethics’ to make a moral argument. It refers to stated credibility or an authoritative stance on a subject.
You could use the words of an instructor, doctor, expert, or philosopher. The point is, ethos is achieved by citing someone knowledgable and producing facts. So come prepared to make your audience feel smarter for listening to you. Give them numbers and citations that make you seem trustworthy. 4 out of 5 readers love this definition.
Ethos in advertising
Advertising with ethos is about convincing a consumer that your company is more reliable, credible, and trustworthy than any other one. That's why they should buy from you and patronize your stores. Ethos often uses celebrity endorsements, factual statements, and real-life examples to certify their prominence.
Ethos examples in ads
Any celebrity endorsement is the work of ethos.
I like to focus on the Michael Jordan commercials here. Specifically, the one where he and Mia Hamm face off. This black and white commercial asserts them both as athletes at the top of their game. They have command in their sport, and any other sport you can think about.
The dueling here allows them both to endorse the one thing they agree on; Gatorade.
What about something more traditional?
Trident has been pushing the "4 out of 5 Dentists" line forever. Dentists are authorities on teeth, and getting their recommendation to use the gum is maybe the simplest form of ethos out there.
Pathos is the use of the "pathetic appeal." But not the "pathetic we know." This is appealing to people’s emotions or sense of identity- think "empathy." If you can make consumers feel an emotion, or appeal to their sense of identity, you’re using pathos. This is all about what you evoke in others. Can you make them angry about a cause? Can you get them to feel guilty for not doing something?
You're using pathos.
Pathos in advertising
Pathos is all about audience manipulation. You want to make sure you gather emotional responses from viewers. It can be positive or negative, but each has to pop. Think about ads for acid reflux. We see people in pain, but medicine makes them better. Or think about ads where we see people having fun or doing good works. How can your product help improve their lives?
Pathos examples in ads
What kinds of ads rely heavily on pathos?
How about beer commercials?
Sure, many of them focus on people having a blast, but Budweiser also knows how to tug at your heartstrings. They've become perennial favorites with their animal ads during the Super Bowl.
The "lost puppy" one is one of my favorites.
It stuck with me and brought a tear to my eye.
Other moving ads that deal with Pathos can be targeted at certain groups.
Toys R' Us ran an incredibly successful campaign targeted at parents who wanted to share Star Wars with their kids.
This ad not only has cute babies but the maturation of a kid who grows to love and understand her father. It uses humor to sneak into your heart and stays there.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=TYGabbHaOZU
Logos is the use of logical argument and empirical evidence to support your point of view. Here's where facts, research, and even a consumer's inherent logic come into play. If you throw an apple up, it falls, that proves gravity. But if you tell them the story of Isaac Newton, and talk about his process to find gravity, including the apple falling from the tree, and write out the math of gravitational force, you're using logos.
Logos in advertising
An advertisement using logos will give you the evidence and statistics you need to understand what the product does and how it can make your life even better than it was before you used it. The facts used here should be the "straight facts." things like "You get 100% of your vitamin D from a glass of milk," or "an hour of play helps prevent childhood obesity."
Logos examples in ads
Facts are mostly used to sell products and services in print ads. They are taglines on the bottle like "10% more than other brands" and "get 100% of your daily dose of XYZ."
But they definitely occur in digital ads as well.
Think about Billy Mays and Oxy Clean.
His popular infomercial was just a showcase of the cold, hard, facts about his product.
Sure, it had glitz and glamour, but at the end of the day he was leaning into practicality.
And what about other ads?
Like something for toilet paper.
Charmin wants you to know how soft they are. To do that, they measure the size of their sheets and so them side by side. We see that Charmin stacks up higher and must be softer.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtWLhs179n4
What about Kairos?
Kairos is defined as the right time or place to have done something.
It means that you're specifically calling to people when they need to hear it. The "Gettysburg Address" is a great speech, but it was the right thing Americans needed to hear to keep them invested in the Civil War just like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s "I Have a Dream" speech was even more powerful because it was during the civil rights movement.
When you're constructing your advertisements, think about how kairos fits into the moment.
How Ethos, Pathos, and Logos Work Together
Now that you understand the words and what each mode can do, let's talk about how they work in tandem.
While you can create an advertisement that just uses one of the words, these ideas a kind of like the infinity stones, they work best when unified.
Companies are always going to try to target their campaigns to use all three.
Take something like the crying Native American pollution campaign.
Not only are we given facts about the planet dying in front of us, but those facts are delivered by a person who is crying. And it's not just any person, it's a Native American in a full headdress. A type of person who, possibly regressively stereotypically, is seen as "one with nature" or an authority on the subject.
That campaign is one of the most famous of all time.
The reason it got so popular was that it keyed in on every mode of persuasion.
Its pathos, logos, and ethos are upfront and still somehow imperceptible. Hidden behind our response to each of the techniques.
The same goes for something like "Where's the beef?"
Our authority figures are a bunch of grandmothers. People who KNOW how to make a great meal. The facts are that there is no meat in the dishes served, and that makes them upset.
Seeing these people upset illicit laughs but also a strong response to happy childhood memories and the taste of a great dinner.
Suddenly we're like putty in the beef lobby's hands.
All tender inside...
So what other ways are logos, ethos, and pathos used in advertising?
How to Create a Persuasive Advertisement
Persuasive ads don't just work because of the words above. They have lots of other strategies that help engage consumers and make money. Let's take a look at the 20 most popular advertising techniques and break them down one by one.
All of these use a combination of ethos, logos, and pathos to make their points.
The 20 Most Popular Creative Advertising Techniques
1. Amplification Hypothesis
This is when you express absolute confidence in an idea or absolute skepticism. Using this makes people think you know what you are talking about.
2. Conversion Theory
The minority viewpoint within a group can actually disproportionately affect the majority. That means you can use the "stand our from the crowd" strategies to make those views feel unique.
3. Information Manipulation Theory
This needs a persuasive person to purposefully break one of the conversational rules:
- Quantity: You have all the info
- Quality: The info is accurate
- Relevancy: The info is about what we're talking about
- Manner: Information is easily expressed
Stimulating people to think about certain words or phrases can get people's attention. Like when a magician asks the audience to look at his one hand and uses the other to perform a trick.
5. Reciprocity Norm
This is a quid-pro-quo. It plays on people owing you a favor.
6. Scarcity Principle
Act like your services are in a short supply and you can manipulate the demand.
7. Sleeper Effect
Information gathered from low-influenced sources have staying power because they are easily repeatable.
8. Social Influence
We are strongly motivated by how we are perceived by others. So telling people they need to have something to fit in or stand out is attractive.
9. Yale Attitude Change Approach
People at Yale studied humans and learned that we flock to attractive speakers who either speak last or first. So try to find ways to message with that idea.
10. Ultimate Term
Certain terms in the English language, like power words, carry more weight than others. There are three categories of these terms:
- God terms: words that demand willingness like "progress"
- Devil terms: words that evoke disgust like "fascist"
- Charismatic terms: words that are intangible like "freedom"
11. Avante Garde
The idea that this is cutting edge tech and puts you ahead of the game. Apple often uses these strategies.
12. Weasel Words
This is my favorite thing. It's words that don't force you to prove anything concrete. Soap that gets you virtually bacteria-free. Things that cost "next to nothing" or services that only charge "pennies on the dollar." Weasel around your original intention.
13. Magic Ingredients
Make it sound like you have the key people have been searching for. Like weight-loss products found in the Amazon or diet drinks that taste just like regular.
The idea that purchasing this product shows the love of country, like when products brag about being "Made in America!"
Use positive words, images, or videos juxtaposed against your own stuff to make the feelings transfer.
16. Plain Folks
Suggest that regular people need this product or service to be part of their life.
17. Snob Appeal
Make a promise that if you buy or participate you'll be part of an exclusive or elite group.
Add something extra to your sale. Like a free drink with popcorn.
This asks you to join with the crowd so that you all fit in.
20. Rhetorical questions
Ideas like "Who wouldn't` want to save money?" and "Who doesn't want a longer vacation?" help you convince people one way or another by having them ask questions of themselves.
Ethos, Pathos, and Logos Summation
Pathos, ethos, logos were defined by Aristotle hundreds of years ago, but they’re as relevant today as they were in Ancient Greece. They can inform, educate and persuade people to get your message and your ideas.
Don't forget to consider the time and place, or kairos, of the message at hand.
You might even want to let current events inform you.
I can't wait to see where this knowledge takes you next.
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