Tips on how to create persuasive content

Posted by Oliver Hogue on 15/01/2018
Tips on how to create persuasive content

Rhetoric is the art of making people believe something that may or may not be true. It’s no surprise, then, that it has formed the background of politics and law, two professions that rely on persuasion.

Persuasion works by appealing to our sense of right and wrong, our hearts and our reason. In this post, we look at these three types of appeal and how important rhetoric is to writing persuasive content.

The three appeals

Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) classified the three appeals as:

  • Logical
  • Ethical
  • Emotional

Logical appeals

Logical appeals are aimed at our reason. Most of us are familiar with Aristotle’s syllogism, a formula that uses two premises to reach a conclusion:

  • All politicians constantly lie
  • Jane and John are politicians
  • Therefore, Jane and John are constantly lying

We see this type of syllogism used in political advertisements in the lead up to elections, with ‘Labor’ or ‘Liberal’ inserted before ‘politicians’. However, this is an example of a false syllogism because the first premise is untrue so the reasoning is unsound.

One of the most useful syllogisms used in marketing is called an enthymeme. Aristotle claimed this was the best kind of persuasive argument. The enthymeme has a conclusion, but only one of the premises is supplied, the other being implied. Here’s an example:

  • Jane and John take their kids to SeaWorld
  • Therefore, Jane and John are good parents

The first premise – unspecified but implied – is ‘parents who take their kids to SeaWorld are good parents’. A TV advertisement showing a family having a wonderful time at SeaWorld, hugging each other and laughing, provides the missing premise for the viewer and creates an aspiration, in this case to visit SeaWorld.

If you want to write persuasive content about a brand, the enthymeme formula is a useful way of exploring angles you might take.

Ethical appeals

The ethical appeal targets our sense of justice. It assumes its audience is intelligent, ready to accept facts, interested in right and wrong. It is used in marketing when safety or economy are selling points – qualities that can be quantified.

If you can convince an audience that the insulation in their house could be flammable but that yours isn’t, you open up a verifiable link between their safety and your product. Volvo famously advertised on safety rather than good looks or performance, and still has that reputation. In 1959, Volvo became the first car with a three-point safety belt, and capitalised on its safety features into the 70s.

Lower carbon emissions, ethical production methods and environmental impact are all ethical appeals to customers to buy a particular brand.

Ethical appeals also make use of trusted figures in the community. Indigenous footballer Johnathan Thurston is currently fronting an anti-smoking campaign aimed at raising the smoking age from 18 to 21. The message: if you want to be a star athlete, don’t smoke.

Ethical appeals are about precision and attention to detail, so:

  • Quote experts
  • Supply sources
  • Provide case studies
  • Use testimonials
  • Don’t exaggerate
  • Don’t make promises you can’t keep

Emotional appeals

If a marketing campaign makes us angry, sad, curious or anxious about missing out, then the appeal is to our emotions.

This appeal is one we commonly find in marketing campaigns for charities. A child dying from AIDS being cradled by his mother is a powerful appeal to our empathy. Seeing a dead tiger might make us angry enough to donate to an anti-poaching campaign.

Marketing campaigns for smartphones and other technologies successfully appeal to FOMO, or ‘fear of missing out’. The anxiety of not knowing what’s going on, of not fitting in with friends, means having the latest Snapchat filter or the newest iPhone becomes crucial to happiness.

Television channels claim they are presenting ‘The Television Event of The Year’ multiple times.

Advertisements for pre-paid funerals imply that older people who don’t have insurance are going to ‘let down’ their families. Both are example of the emotional appeal.

When writing for the emotions, keep in mind that people don’t like to feel they are being manipulated. Unlike the ethical appeal, where stating a clear case is important, it doesn’t pay to be too frank. Saying ‘If you die without leaving money for your funeral you’re selfish’ is not the same as, ‘You’re such a wonderful person that we know you don’t want to leave your loved ones in the financial lurch when you pass.’

Even though the core message is the same, people are sensitive and so the message is buried. In TV ads, it’s always the elderly person who makes the suggestion to get funeral insurance, never the son or daughter. The emotional appeal must reflect societal norms. 

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