Using Rhetoric in Digital Marketing: The Power of Logos, Pathos and Ethos

31 May 2021 - Last Updated: 2 June 2021 By: Jorge Martins Copywriting

Summary

The idea of rhetoric dates back to ancient Greece. It encompasses the many ways one can resort to logic, emotions, or authority to make a point and persuade an audience. This article shows you how to explore the notions of logos, pathos, and ethos to create more efficient campaigns and engage with audiences.

Though the ancient Greek philosophers certainly didn’t invent marketing, they were responsible for developing the theory underpinning the art of persuasion: rhetoric. Mastering the different modes of persuasion has always been seen as essential for public speakers, statesmen, lawyers, and even poets, but crafting well-presented and convincing arguments is no less important for marketing professionals.

Long before advertising existed, Aristotle understood that what makes an argument persuasive, besides its logic and veracity, is the degree to which it appeals to its audience. Since audiences can differ in their values and interests, it follows that the appeal should be targeted accordingly to have maximum impact. Here, we’re exploring effective ways to incorporate the principles of logos, pathos and ethos into your digital advertising and web copy.

Logos – the appeal to logic and reason

By using statistics, facts, and cold hard data, the appeal is made directly to the most rational part of the audience’s psyche. Importantly, it’s not about whether the argument is or isn’t logically sound – only that it appears to be so, and is appealing to the audience on this ground specifically.

What could be more persuasive than an allusion to science? Even better, who could argue with the latest technology, peer-reviewed research, or mathematics? Resorting to evidence and facts is crucial, and the more you convey the truth in your arguments, the more appealing your message. Such a message addresses the listener’s intelligence, unbiased thinking, and practicality, and inspires them to act from their own rationality. 

Appealing to logos in your digital marketing can also be supported by your stylistic choices, i.e. in the way that the evidence and facts are presented. The logos-inspired design will be minimal, sleek, and direct, for example, a clean landing page showcasing quantitative results and links to trustworthy sources. Also, consider:

  •   Data-heavy infographics with graphs, statistics, and plain, factual claims.
  •   An educational, neutral, or official tone.
  •   Phrasing such as “studies show 30% reduction in one month” or “solar power costs just 1/3 of the cost of grid-supplied energy.”
  •   Arguments delivered so as to suggest that any sane, rational person couldn’t help but agree. In essence, appeals to logos hardly seem like appeals at all, but factual observations of the plain truth, which nobody could deny.

Here we have an example of how Apple dwells on logos–meaning information that appeals to the rational side–on their product campaigns. In this case, it was used to present the features on their Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR.

 

Pathos – the appeal to emotion

With this mode of persuasion, the goal is to connect meaningfully with people’s emotional needs and values. Particularly moving speeches that inspire the listeners to act, passionate arguments against injustices, appeals to the higher moral nature of the audience, or a heavy reference to hopes and fears – these techniques work to stir up a strong emotional state in the listener, which then compels them to act. Often, the desired action is painted as something that is in alignment with the audience’s own deepest need and sentiments.

This is a technique that can be extremely potent and poetic, with hints towards an anticipated future, to remembered pains, to our shared humanity. Whether it’s a politician’s speech or merely a late-night infomercial, the appeal to pathos can connect even the smallest of claims to grander, loftier ideals like truth, justice, and love.

On the other hand, an emotional appeal can also hinge on stirring up outcry and concern. A call to action can be presented as a way to counter obvious evils, relieve suffering or contribute to the side of right. Many public health announcements appeal solidly to emotion, reworking dry statistics into the stories of real people, and invoking empathy, duty, and a feeling of justice. 

When using this form of persuasion in your digital marketing, it’s worth being careful about how and why you’re provoking a certain emotional reaction. Sincerity is key. For example, while stoking anger in your audience may grab their attention at first, you may risk alienating them if your appeals to emotion are transparent or seen as manipulative. To incorporate this mode, try:

  •   Personal case histories, real examples, and likable individuals that the audience can empathize with on a human level, for example, a children’s charity featuring the crayon drawings of real children.
  •   Stories and colourful narratives that get people excited about an important cause. Consider the ideological framing of the Black Lives Matter movement, feminist issues, or animal rights groups.
  •   Images or descriptions of down-to-earth, ordinary people that the audience is meant to identify with.
  •   Descriptive copy links a product or service to a particular state of mind or emotion, such as joy, ease, or social belonging.

Once again, let’s see how Apple resort to Aristotle’s ideas in their ‘Behind the Mac’ campaign. Now it’s pathos time, aiming to build an emotional response in the audience:

 

Ethos – the appeal to authority

This mode of persuasion doesn’t concern the listener and their state of mind, nor does it dwell on the facts of the argument itself. Instead, the appeal to authority is about the credibility and trustworthiness of the speaker. The “speaker” behind any digital marketing strategy (i.e., the brand) needs to be perceived as respectable and esteemed–in other words, someone worth listening to and believing.

Online, anyone can make any claim. An effective marketing campaign needs to distinguish a brand as “someone” and not just “anyone.” Here are a few ways to work in an appeal to ethos:

  •   Celebrity endorsements of all kinds, product placements, or promotions by influencers and notable figures.
  •   The backing of a person who has obviously derived benefits from what is being promoted, such as a person who has publicly lost weight and attributes their success to your product.
  •   It’s not always about fame and wealth though; a politician might make an appeal to authority by claiming to be from a good, working-class, local family, emphasizing the rags part of their rags-to-riches story.
  •   Using jargon and industry terms conveys a sense of insider knowledge. Similarly, experts, professors, or individuals generally perceived as in-the-know can speak on behalf of a brand.
  •   Referring to awards, academic research, or noteworthy figures who have made claims that support the argument being made.

Let’s take a look at a third example of how Apple explores the Aristotelian notions we’re discussing–this time, leveraging ethos by having musician James Blake as an endorser.  

 

Ethos, pathos and logos in advertising

Understanding logos, pathos, and ethos gives us insight into why popular persuasive techniques in advertising are so effective. By establishing ourselves as a credible source of information and providing content that is trustworthy and value-adding, we appeal to ethos. By providing case studies, data, facts, and figures to support claims, we appeal to logos. And when we realize that our audience is made of human beings and that we need to speak directly and sincerely to their emotional reality, we rely on pathos.

But, as with any marketing strategy, your results will depend on your ability to target your audience effectively. For some smaller businesses and nonprofits, it may work to appeal primarily to emotion and logic, but a smaller startup may find that they have to ramp up their credibility first in order to be noticed. Be aware of the context surrounding your campaign, and how that affects your overall pitch – given prevailing social movements, politics, and global events, how does your message need to change to be heard? Decide on the mode of persuasion that will best help you do that.

It’s possible to use skillful combinations of two or more modes. You could employ a ‘logic sandwich’ where you surround your facts and data with emotional appeals that make an impact more powerful than either mode would be on its own. You could even play one mode off against another, for example specifically making the claim that although your competitors may use emotional appeals, you know that your audience is smarter than that, and will naturally respond to the rational argument you’re making (this itself is, of course, a powerful appeal to emotion in disguise).

Finally, one more example of how Apple does a mix of the Aristotelian notions of ethos, pathos, and logos to create a message that fully resonates with their audience.

 

In creating a digital marketing strategy, it’s not enough to know who your audience is and what they want. You need to understand how they want it presented, and why. Marketing experts believe that a persuasive advertisement should hit all three notes, for example by combining reviews (ethos), quantitative data (logos), and emotive imagery and language (pathos). But the overall way these three perspectives are combined will invariably favor one mode.

Ultimately, creating an effective marketing strategy means thinking first about who you are addressing, and what will ultimately inspire them to hear and act on what you say. Marketing is, at the end of the day, communication. All communication consists of three components: the one sending the message, the one receiving it, and the message itself. As marketers, we cannot control how our messages will be received by our audience, but we can alter that message and its delivery so that it has the best chance of landing in the way we want it to. By carefully analyzing the stats, tracking data, and observing the results of our interventions, we can craft a digital marketing strategy that really works. 

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