In the fifth century B.C., Aristotle wrote his three-volume Poetics, providing advice to those preparing to argue cases in Greece’s courts. His second volume still serves as a striking study of human nature in which the philosopher outlines three basic types of appeals which can be used to motivate and persuade audiences. Aristotle labeled these persuasive appeals “ethos,” “logos,” and “pathos.” Marketing experts still apply them to their work, and writers charged with the task of creating persuasive messages can benefit from their use as well.
Today, we think of ethical practices as being right, just and true; and we think of ethical people as being of good character. Thus, using ethos or “ethical” appeals means relying on character or personhood as a means of persuasion. Using ethical appeals involves providing “testimony” from people that we admire, respect or like. Effective ethical appeals involve “endorsement” by quoting:
· celebrities - people we admire and emulate because of their talent
· experts or authorities – people we respect because of their knowledge
· our friends and neighbors – the people we like because they are just
“Logical” appeals are rooted in reason and proof. Using logos involves providing an audience with reasons for adopting a proposed attitude, belief, value or practice. Those reasons are then supported with “evidence” drawn from facts and figures, studies and statistics.
“Emotional” appeals are rooted in feeling. Emotional appeals tap our capacities for laughter and tears. Thus, using pathos involves providing illustrations and examples of people’s experiences as recounted in real life or literature.
When we understand Aristotle’s basic appeals, it is easy to spot examples of their use in our media and apply them to our own persuasive messages. A word of caution, though, is important here. When advertisers use these appeals, they tend to use them exclusively. In a single print item or thirty-second spot, an advertiser will probably use only one type of appeal. In longer messages pay someone to do my homework, though, the exclusive use of any one type can actually “boomerang” or backfire. When a writer seems to endlessly quote others, an audience begins to wonder if he or she has anything of his or her own to provide. Audiences generally have to work to fully grasp the meaning of statistics or scientific data; thus, their overuse can have a numbing effect. And, finally, too much emotion can result in maudlin or melodramatic messages that end up putting audiences at bay. The classical Greek principle of “moderation and balance in all things” is a wise one to follow when it comes to persuasion.
So, when it comes time to place supporting material in your persuasive messages, look for a healthy balance of testimony, evidence, and illustration. After all, “nine out of ten doctors recommend” a balanced diet.