The Return of Aristotelian Rhetoric in the Art of Persuasion

Chris Lee
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We need a return to philosophy in marketing (Source:

Greek philosopher Aristotle is famous for outlining three pillars of persuasion, which some politicians and brands appear to have forgotten recently. It’s time to get back to basics.

Nearly a decade ago I wrote a post for PR Week advocating that companies ditch corporate speak and started talking plain English like their audience. It’s basic communication.

The same relates to politics. Take the General Election as an example. While the Conservatives rested on repetitive soundbites and its leader failed to engage directly with the public, Jeremy Corbyn was busy out in the field, meeting people, shaking hands and constructing full sentences. We all know the result.

I understand the theory: Repeat something enough and people will get the message. The problem is that the slogans “strong and stable” and “coalition of chaos” were overused and provided easy fodder for satire.

Corbyn isn’t the most motivational of orators, but during the election trail, after the Grenfell fire and at Glastonbury he has managed to connect with people via Aristotle’s basic three tenets of rhetoric:

Ethos: He established his credibility and appealed to the audience as “one of them”. He was on their side, talking about the things that matter to them – the NHS, jobs, education and tax.

Pathos: Corbyn managed to generate an emotional response when he went to meet people. He mingled with the public while Theresa May was resistant to TV debates. The right-wing press’s character assassinations of Corbyn only helped him to appear as the underdog. Brits love an underdog.

Logos: While Corbyn and his team were famously unclear on their numbers on occasions, the basis of Labour policies stuck a chord.

The lessons for business are clear: Engage with the public, be personable, have an ethical stance. Ditch meaningless fluff, if you still include it in your marketing; just tell us what your company and your product do in plain English. Try to build an emotional connection with your audience, and back up your arguments with sound data.

It’s time to get back to basics.

Disclaimer: the author voted neither Labour nor Conservative, so is a neutral observer.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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