Even though it is thousands of years since the times of Athenian democracy and the art of persuasion has developed many new tools, its fundamentals still nicely fit within the framework described by Aristotle – one of the two most prominent philosophers of ancient times.
Aristotle saw rhetoric as a tool for convincing people as to what truth is. Which is all the more relevant since, as every advertising pundit knows: the truth is that our product is superior to others and worth all our customer’s money!
Obviously, proving this statement through proper arguments is the primary and – according to Aristotle – the best way of substantiating our claims to being right. Still, the reality of contemporary marketing makes it impossible, at least sometimes, to conduct full rhetorical reasoning, which is where two other aspects of rhetoric that lend credence to our message come into play.
Firstly – the speaker needs respect
According to Aristotle, the effect of your communications, whether it is a courtroom speech, political canvassing or simply advertising, is determined not only by what you say (that is: being right objectively) but also by how you say it (to be further discussed later) and who the speaker is. How much respect and attention the speaker receives from the audience is determined by three qualities each advertising agency should hold dear:
Why is it so that toothpaste is almost exclusively recommended by dentists (who are always dressed in white coats)? Demonstration of the fact that the company whose products you sell “knows its stuff” is the first method of building a positive brand image. However, the same outcome can be achieved in several ways.
Apart from reliance on support from an external expert, it should never be a bad idea to show “how things work”. A video coverage from an assembly line or a ‘ from field to fry’ fastfood campaign are examples of great ideas on how to explain a company’s competencies. You can also prove your worth showing your achievements by asking, for example: “Who could make better computers than a supplier of hardware for the NASA?”.
Another quality, which the Greek philosopher considered to be exceptionally relevant, especially with regard to court cases, is the speaker’s integrity. Your listener must not only be convinced about your (or your company’s) competence in the area but also be sure that you have no intention of cheating on them.
Unfortunately, in this case marketing can only adopt a passive role. The key to preserving credibility in the eyes of the consumer is to deal with any potential crises before they snowball into major disasters and in the case of brands which are troubled by negative publicity – to create a reliable message about the change that has taken place in the company.
The last quality of a respected speaker proves that apart from being competent in the area and trustworthy, the speaker must be genuinely interested in helping us in some way. Any examples of charitable events or stories of products making a difference in people’s lives are the best examples of how the ideas put forward by Aristotle can be successfully applied in contemporary times.
Still, providing reliable information and winning respect may fall short of the goal. It is also important to enchant the listener.
This is the element Aristotle valued less than the others and saw as relevant only to speeches that were meant to show off one’s eloquence. Still, it remains obvious that Aristotle’s contemporaries were aware of how enormous impact you may have on people, providing you know how to provoke and control emotions in others.
It is next to impossible to sell sleeping pills using a commercial which will get one in the party mood. Similarly, comedy spots will not boost coffin sales or… perhaps it is quite the opposite? Since the times of Aristotle, our knowledge about people and their decisions have advanced considerably. Making an impact on the audience in the times of information noise may be a lot more difficult than in ancient Greece, which explains why it may pay off to resort to some unorthodox methods in order to achieve this goal.