Lessons in Ad Persuasion from Aristotle


In digital advertising persuasion is becoming more difficult, complex and valuable. Often, I find it helpful to strategize persuasive techniques for clients by going back to the originator of this thought, Aristotle.

Two and a half years ago an early post on this blog discussed Artistotle’s concept of Kairos (timing) and how it could persuade behavior in the emergent real-time web. While real-time web has not evolved as fast as I may have hoped the past 2 ½ years the way humans are persuaded has remarkably not evolved at all in 2400 years.

Aristotle saw three means of persuasion. Below are my best CliffsNotes version and some real world examples.

1) Character of the speaker
In Aristotle’s world there is no brand equity, only credibility earned from the speech through intelligence, character and good will. In the technical means of persuasion, what the speaker says and how they say it is ultimately what matters in determining their character.

Great examples of the value in using intelligence (technology) in a way that creates good will (User Experience) are the iPhone, Google, Firefox.

2) Emotional state of the listener
Emotions have the power to modify our judgment. What’s important to understand here is Aristotle’s aim of persuasion was to arouse emotions in order to persuade a certain judgment, not an action.

Search ads are a great example because the action (intent) already exists. These ads then, like so many others, have to be clicking with people on a purely emotional level (hello brand marketers!).

3) The argument
We persuade when we prove something is the case. Aristotle defined two modes of argument. Deductions and Inductions. Induction proceeds from particulars to a universal in order to give an example. Deductive is the example of proof or a demonstration with premises and a conclusion.

Apple exemplifies both tactics well with their advertising. The “I’m Mac” ads use induction and the iPhone/iPod Touch ads use deduction.

What’s next for persuasion?

There’s no question we will continue to see advertising determine character, create emotions and make arguments. The sea change is that technology will underpin persuasion. Creative, while still the king, will have to adapt so it leverages and amplifies both its role in persuasion and the benefits of these new technologies.



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One response to “Lessons in Ad Persuasion from Aristotle”

  1. SEO Company Avatar

    Nice Post. Thanks for sharing.


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