Persuasive Techniques in Advertising
An advertisement may be a TV spot, a billboard, a two-hour long video, or a few words on a website. It may be a picture, a dialogue, or a story. It may attempt to motivate a purchase or change an opinion. Advertising can take a near-endless number of forms. But it is always an attempt at persuasion.
There are hundreds of tactics available in modern marketing and advertising. But with minds fully focused on the present, it is also important to have grounding in the fundamentals of persuasion. After all, the tactics of persuasion were being perfected thousands of years before advertising became a craft.
For as long as humans have been communicating with one another, we have been persuading one another. Aristotle, a Classical Greek scientist and philosopher, is among the most important thinkers in the development of Western thought. In the treatise Rhetoric, we see Aristotle’s keen intellect applied to the art of persuasion.
Aristotle’s Rhetoric addresses a wealth of topics, and one can find applications to advertising throughout. Of particular note is the thinking on modes of persuasion that orators use when speaking to an audience. These same modes of persuasion are used in advertising. All advertisements use at least one mode of persuasion, and many use all three.
The three modes of persuasion are:
Logos – Persuasion based on the argument being made to the audience.
Ethos – Persuasion based on the audience’s impression of the speaker’s character when hearing the argument.
Pathos – Persuasion based on the audience’s emotional state when hearing the speaker’s argument.
Here’s how they apply to advertising.
In an advertisement, the selling proposition or the main idea being communicated could be seen as the logos. The ad may be funny, creative, artistic, or emotional. But its main idea is usually a simple and clear written or spoken statement, followed by a call to action.
Naturally, one would assume that the main idea being communicated is always based on logic or reason. Not necessarily. There are many popular brands that are basically irrational purchases. However, if the brand’s communication is meant to be rational, then it should make logical sense. If the brand’s communication isn’t meant to be rational, the communication should be compelling enough that people look past that.
Many advertisers, particularly in the B2B and Healthcare spaces, think making a strategic argument is sufficient to attract attention and inspire a purchase. In most cases, it’s not. The audience does not have the time or attention span to think about a brand communication they’re not interested in. Creative advertising concepts and executions are still necessary to attract an audience and make the argument compelling.
Attempts to build the perceived credibility of the advertisement in the eyes of the audience is ethos. Consumers are a cynical bunch — and for good reason. Advertisers are notorious for making claims that are not credible. Sometimes the ad is over promising. Other times, the brand’s reputation belies the glowing things it’s saying about itself.
The audience’s reaction to the advertisement is highly dependent on the perceived trustworthiness of a brand’s products and services. Customer testimonials, expert recommendations and celebrity endorsements are classic advertising techniques because they make the message more credible. An ad about a company’s history and experience also adds trustworthiness and credibility.
An advertisement’s effort to influence the audience’s emotional state is its pathos. Humans are emotional creatures. In most cases, we make decisions on an emotional level before we rationalize ourselves into it. An emotional appeal doesn’t have to be serious. An ad with attempts at humor is also trying to influence the audience’s emotional state.
Advertisers utilize emotion and humor to attract attention and deliver a message. One wonders if bombarding the audience with these emotional appeals leads to diminishing returns. Unfortunately, that is sometimes the case. But if the ad is empathetic and relevant to the audience, it can have a positive impact.
As mentioned above, every advertisement utilizes at least one mode of communication. Most use two, and some use all three. When multiple modes of persuasion are used, one must ensure they complement each other and support the overall message.
It’s also important to remember that an ad’s persuasion isn’t only in words. Image, design, fashion, casting choices, and sound also have serious influence. All the elements of an advertisement should be crafted in tandem so they make maximum impact. Here are a few recent advertisements produced by bfw Advertising, viewed through the lens of the three modes of persuasion.
A sound diversification strategy helps your investment portfolio survive the ups and downs of the financial markets. Incapital is making a factual argument that fits squarely in the logos mode of persuasion. The body copy reinforces this argument and also addresses ethos, by affirming Incapital’s experience helping clients diversify their portfolios. Overall, this ad demonstrates how clever imagery can greatly enhance the message of a factual selling point.
Elders have knowledge and wisdom gained over the course of a lifetime. Interim Healthcare has over 50 years of experience providing excellent home health care workers to seniors and their families. This ad beautifully communicates with the ethos and pathos modes of persuasion. Seniors and their families can count on compassionate and experienced care from Interim Healthcare.
In congested cities and busy shopping areas, businesses depend on their customers finding a good place to park. Fortunately, Parktoria “makes parking friendlier and more human.” This ad ties the emotional aspirations of a business owner to the need for smart parking systems. It’s an appealing use of ethos to communicate a message about providing greater efficiency.
Do we actually think about logos, pathos and ethos when we’re working? Nope. We’re focused on creating work that works; work that connects. Every assignment, every execution. But it’s nice to know that Aristotle would approve.
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