From the July 2006 issue of our newsletter, Let's Grow. For a FREE subscription, CLICK HERE

What Aristotle Can Teach Us About Advertising

Timeless Lessons in the Art of Persuasion

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  Who would have thought that Aristotle, the great philosopher who lived 384 – 322 B.C., could offer insights to benefit advertisers today?  But human nature remains constant, and the observations Aristotle made in his famous treatise Rhetoric contain valuable advice for modern advertisers.

In Rhetoric, Aristotle outlines the three elements of persuasion.  First and foremost is ethos, the credibility of the speaker.  If the speaker is not credible, no persuasion is possible.

How do you establish credibility in today’s advertising world?  A track record of excellent service, industry awards and recognition (such as the “Garden Watchdog Top 30” list), number of years in the business, testimonials and product guarantees all combine to help confirm your trustworthiness as a company.

Aristotle’s second element of persuasion is pathos, or emotion.  “Our judgments when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile," points out Aristotle.

We may think that sales are made for logical reason, but emotion is always the leading force.  Emotion is activated with pictures – either actual visuals or word pictures.  That’s why showing the end result of a product is so important.  There’s no joy in a bag of fertilizer, but we take tremendous pride and satisfaction in a well-groomed lawn.

Aristotle’s last element of persuasion is logos, or reason.  While we buy on emotion, we justify with reason.  We might landscape with heather because it reminds us of a delightful trip to Scotland – but we justify the purchase because it’s drought-resistant, colorful in winter and easy to care for.

More often than not, advertising skips right over the first two elements of persuasion – credibility and emotion – and jumps right to “3 reasons why…”  We’d all do well to heed Aristotle’s advice and lay the groundwork first with ethos and pathos.


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