Aristotle on Rhetoric, ETHOS, PATHOS, LOGOS, Philosophy and marketing

How To Persuade Anyone Of Anything Using This Secret Discovered By Aristotle Nearly 2500 Years Ago. 

Written by Matthew Oxborrow, Founder, Medici Marketing.

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4th century BC, Athens, Greece.

What Plato considered “immoral, dangerous and unworthy of serious study”,  Aristotle considered  “a teachable skill that could be passed from one skilled performer on to others, who might thereby achieve successes in their practical life that would otherwise have eluded them.” 

This was a skill so powerful that success depends on it. 

But what was this skill and why did Plato consider it so dangerous?

The answer…

Rhetoric… more commonly known as… persuasion.

Let’s define Rhetoric:

“Rhetoric is the art or skill of speaking or writing formally and effectively especially as a way to persuade or influence people.”

Philosophy is often considered academic, theoretical and having it’s head up it’s rear-end. 

But what Aristotle set out to reveal to the world is entirely practical and based in reality. What he taught his students is as relevant today as it was more than 2000 years ago. 

Considered by many to be “the single most important work on persuasion ever written” Aristotle’s ‘Rhetoric’ explains how politicians, marketers, businessmen and other leaders in society rise to such heights and convince others to follow their way of thinking; to vote them into power or to bless them with unimaginable wealth. 

But why is this so dangerous?

“Rhetoric is the art of ruling the minds of men” – Plato

Is there a greater power in the world than having the skills and knowledge to rule the minds of men?

It’s used by the powerful to get young men to lay down their lives in war for the wealth and ambitions of rulers. It’s used by the wealthy to get you to buy their products and services and lay down your working careers in servitude to them. They’re able to make us believe what they want us to believe.

Plato was right then to be scared. 

Because the truth is this…

With this skill you can become a king, a ruler, a leader, an emperor. If not of an entire country, then at least of your own private kingdom or empire. 

Without it you can never be more than a pawn on somebody else’s chessboard. Moved around at their will. And what do others tend to have in store for you? Not much.

Persuasion can be the difference between a lordship and serfdom.

Because the idea is so powerful, it can be used for good or evil. It’s important to understand what separates Plato’s thinking from Aristotle’s: What is the difference between persuasion and manipulation?

In this post, we’ll be focussing on how you can use the secrets uncovered by Aristotle to grow your business, make more money and live life on your own terms, ethically… without being manipulative.

Here are Aristotle’s ideas explained for the 21st century businessman and marketer… 


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The 3 Modes Of Persuasion: Ethos, Pathos, Logos

The timing of this post is good because we have a famous, recent example of Ethos, Pathos and Logos in action…

The UK’s decision whether or not to remain in the EU. 

We can use Aristotle’s idea to explain why the Brexit campaign was so much more effective than the Bremain campaign and how you can use this to grow your business.

I’ve always believed we need more philosophy in politics.


Like the Ancient Greeks, the Bremain campaign believed logic and facts was enough to persuade the public to remain in the EU. 

It wasn’t. It never is.

You see, there are 3 aspects to effective persuasion:

Ethos (Credibility)

Pathos (Emotion)

Logos (Logic)

Ethos (credibility) comes first. You can have the best ideas in the world but if no-one likes or trusts you, people won’t listen. This is why charisma is so valued in a leader.

Pathos (empathy/ emotion) is enormously powerful. We make decisions emotionally and then try to rationalise them afterwards with logic…

Logos (logic) is useful in proving your claims and allowing your customer, who is already emotionally involved, to rationalise their decision and take their card from their wallet.

Why Brexit Beat Bremain

The Bremain campaign had Logos’ covered. We heard from economists, politicians and business leaders who had the facts and figures to support their ideas. 

They also had ‘Ethos’ covered, although they suffered a little bit by the public’s current distrust in authority figures and experts. 

What they lacked was ‘Pathos’ and they lacked it in a big way. And this was where the Brexit campaign excelled. 

The Brexiters didn’t deal in a great deal of ‘Logos,’ and when they tried it was mostly demonstrably untrue. Instead they focussed on understanding their voter base and appealing to their emotions: their deepest fears and desires.  

In this way they managed to convince a majority – who otherwise may never have voted to leave – to believe it was in their best interest to vote for enormous political change. 

The Bremain campaign failed to understand this, and with all their facts and figures were unable to emotionally connect with a voter base to appease their fears and appeal to their desires.

We’ll see why facts and figures do matter, but why you must build off Ethos and Pathos first, so you can close the deal with Logos.

Let’s take a look at how you can apply Ethos, Pathos & Logos to your business…

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Learn more about our unique approach using ancient wisdom to grow our clients’ businesses.

First things first. 


No-one will listen to you if they don’t believe or trust you. 

If you lack ‘Ethos’ the other two won’t matter because your intended audience won’t pay any attention to what you have to say anyway. This is why charisma is so valued in a leader. 

To gain a level of credibility often requires proof of your capabilities to an audience. It also requires a great deal of confidence in yourself. To gain such credibility takes time, effort and results. 

Often, when making a critical purchasing decision, you’ll bypass all other factors and choose to work with a company based solely on one thing: 

“She wrote a best-selling book, so she must be a good author.”

“He was an accountant at KPMG so he must be a good accountant.”

“I’ve seen their adverts everywhere and everyone is talking about them, so they must be good!”

These are examples of Ethos in action.

You want to build this kind of credibility. You really do. But you also want to be persuasive in the meantime…

Fortunately, there’s an way effective you can gain almost instant credibility…


By borrowing it. 

You can cite a renowned website like the Wall Street Journal in your advert or sales letter. You can reference a study. Or you can borrow from a well-known, trusted figure. That’s why companies pay so much for celebrity endorsements. If Beyoncé tells you how great this shampoo is you’re more likely to believe her and buy it. 

This article itself is a good example. 

You probably don’t know me, so why should you trust me?

If the headline of this article was “What John down the pub taught me about the secret to marketing success…” or “Here’s my secret to success…” you probably wouldn’t pay any attention. Why should you? 

But you know Aristotle’s name. If he said it and other experts have backed him up for 2500 years, that lends weight to my words. You’re more likely to want to read them, to believe them and take action on them.

8 Specific ways to build your “Ethos”
  1. Use case studies to prove results of your work.
  2. Use social proof in the form of testimonials and reviews.
  3. Show renowned clients for whom you’ve worked.
  4. Become a published author in your area of expertise.
  5. Win industry awards.
  6. Appear in the media – Radio, TV, Newspapers etc
  7. Obtain a high level title (CEO, CTO etc) in your company.
Example of ETHOS In Action
Kings Speech Academy Award Winner Poster

Wow, Academy Award Winning BEST PICTURE? It must be good. Shall we watch it this weekend?

Now we’ve covered Ethos, let’s move on…

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Emotions drive behaviour. That’s why this is the most powerful persuasion tool of all.

An apathetic person does not nothing, because they have nothing driving them.

The only way you’ll ever persuade anyone of anything is by using emotion. If your sales and marketing lacks emotional triggers, you will lose. 

This is true even in B2B situations where we think that business people are entirely rational, looking only at the numbers. We’re all wired the same. If you don’t believe me, read ‘Thinking Fast & Slow’ by Daniel Kahneman – noble prize winning behavioural economist and author. 

Pathos requires a deep understanding of your customer’s emotions. It’s often why those who scratch their own itch find a deeper connection with their customers and a higher level of success than they otherwise would.

This is because when they talk or write about their business they know the problem they solve for their customers. They know the true reasons why someone will buy from them. 

We all know that exercise is important and we should do it regularly because we’ll live longer and have more energy – and that should be enough to persuade us, but it isn’t. 

Instead, gym attendance spikes before summer when “Operation Bikini” is in full-swing because wanting to look your best and feel confident at the beach is a more urgent and powerful emotional driver than health, until your health fails you. 

So if you’re in the health and fitness industry, sex, vanity and highlighting common insecurities are more powerful weapons in your armoury than “live longer,” which would fall under the Logos part of persuasion (which we’ll come to shortly).

Warning: whilst you want to employ Pathos in all your efforts, it can backfire if you’re too overt with it.  

Famously controversial. The below ad was banned from the London underground. It created a public backlash from angry campaigners, but who’s to say it wasn’t ultimately successful in it’s goal of selling a product to an audience who were concerned with reaching an ideal body shape as the end target consumer perceived it?

Beach body ready tube underground ad weight loss advert backfire angry

Controversial ad on the London underground.

This is where you have to be careful and use your judgement. You should sell people what they want, but give them what they need.

Using our strong sexual impulse to sell can seem degrading, to both producer and consumer, but that’s just because we use it to sell lower consciousness products like cars, fashion or alcohol. 

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, it works after all. 

But what if we used it for a more noble purpose?

Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino (reviver of Platonism and friend to Lorenzo De Medici) understood the importance of Pathos. He believed it was natural to be aware of our bodily desires, and to use them to sell. 

He didn’t believe it to be manipulative at all – if used it for noble purposes.

This is the key difference between manipulation and persuasion…

Do you have your audience’s best interests at heart? 

If you’re selling just to make money and your product doesn’t solve the problem you claim it does, you’re being manipulative. If that’s you, please stop reading now. You don’t deserve the powerful knowledge in this article.

However, if what you do genuinely makes people’s lives better, you’re being persuasive, and you deserve your success.

Ficino used powerful human emotions for a greater, more noble purpose. 

Renaissance art is full of beautiful, naked women who are depicted naturally. This was new to the art world. It was revolutionary.

Ficino, with Lorenzo de Medici and his money, became a patron of the arts with a single goal in mind: to use sex and beauty to attract attention to the more nobel messages within the works. Messages of compassion, love, kindness and wisdom.

Sandro Boticelli’s ‘Birth Of Venus’ is a good example of this. It was commissioned by Lorenzo de Medici to revive an interest in classical mythology and the ideas it represented.

The renaissance humanists were deeply interested in reviving the ideas and wisdom of Ancient Greece.

Boticelli's Birth Of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence.

Boticelli’s Birth Of Venus at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. It was the first non-religious nude painting since classical antiquity.


Renaissance art was, in essence, a large scale Pathos ad campaign for the higher, more noble human values.

The leaders of renaissance Florence knew what all successful marketers know now:

If you fail to appeal to the emotions of your audience, you’ll fail to persuade them to buy what you’re selling.


If you’re able to delve into their minds and offer your audience what they want, they’ll give you what you want in exchange.

The good news is that anyone, even you, can begin to employ ‘Pathos’ in your sales and marketing efforts immediately.

Here’s how…

5 Specific Action Steps To Improve Your ‘Pathos’
  1. Understand your audience. Ask yourself these 3 questions: Who is your audience? What do they want? What do they fear?
  2. Use this understanding in all of your marketing and sales communications. Lead with the emotional power driver (Pathos), back it up with Ethos so your audience believes you and tip your prospect over the edge with Logos so they feel smart for doing business with you.
  3. Tell a story. Human’s are storytelling creatures. We get emotionally involved with a story and become hooked. A good story turns off our “bullsh*t blockers” that have become strong through years of advertising. If you can tell an emotional story, you’ll bypass scepticism and your prospect will listen attentively to what you have to say.
  4. Make your audience feel important and valued. This should be easy. The people you serve should be important to you.
  5. Use visual aids. I’m telling you this as a copywriter. Words are powerful. But you can attract attention too using visual aids to elicit an emotion. Showing a picture of a fluffy cat will make your animal loving audience go “aawww” more than talking about a fluffy cat will. 

And finally, to allow your audience to feel smart about purchasing your offer, to explain the purchase to themselves, their spouse and their friends, you need to offer them some solid logic and reasoning. Here’s where Logos becomes your best friend…


Since you’ve proven some authority on the subject and you’ve appealed to your audience’s emotional desire, you have a flood of customers desperate to hand over their credit card details. 

You’ve done the hard work. The sales are yours to lose.

There’s just one more hurdle to overcome…

No-one likes to look stupid.

You need to prove that your not duping your audience into believing something that isn’t in their best interest.

If you can prove that you care and that what you say is true. You’re over the line. You’ve won.

Here are a 4 ways you can use Logos to turn prospects into paying customers:
  1. Highlight features AND benefits. You’ve probably heard this one a lot..state benefits over features. And it’s true. Benefits are powerful and fall under Pathos but features are still valuable. The fact the car is fast and exciting is a benefit that drives emotion, the fact it has 500 horsepower is a fact that proves just how fast it is.
  2. Use Scientific Studies. You can use almost any scientific research to prove your point as scientific research by its very definition has been proven and tested. You can combine Logos and Ethos if you use scientific research from a reputable institution such as Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford.
  3. Facts & Statistics. It’s illegal to lie in an advert. Besides that, we’re wired to believe in numbers. ‘9/10 dentists recommend Sensodyne toothpaste’. It’s simple but it works. 
  4. Comparisons. Comparing the features or benefits of your product against competitors is powerful Logos in action. Think of the supermarkets and their regular price-comparisons. They don’t just say they’re cheap, they show where they’re cheaper. Hard to argue with that. 
Example Of LOGOS In Action

Sensodyne 9 out of 10 dentists recommend


In a noisy world with limitless options, simplicity is valuable. We overcomplicate everything and wonder why we struggle to decide on the best course of action.

Understand that your responsibility as a business owner and marketer is to provide a valuable product or service and to ethically persuade your audience to benefit from it.

However you choose to market your business, frame every message, every blog post, every advert, every conversation, every video with ETHOS, PATHOS & LOGOS. 

Ask yourself if you’ve proven credibility, if you’ve appealed to emotions and if you’ve backed up your message with logic and reason. 

If so, all that’s left for you to do is to make it easy for your prospects to purchase with a strong call to action.

The art of rhetoric hasn’t changed in thousands of years. It’s not going to change any time soon. Apply it to your own marketing practices and you’ll have the upper-hand forever.

If you’d like help successfully applying Ethos, Pathos and Logos to your marketing communications on or offline, contact me here.

Be persuasive, not manipulative.

The best of luck to your deserved success,


Matthew Oxborrow

Founder, Medici Marketing

P.S… For a short time only COPYWRITING SERVICES ARE HALF-PRICE. But be warned, I only work with businesses I like and believe in. Learn more about our copywriting services here.

P.P.S… Huge companies have been built on copywriting expertise. Copywriting can be, and often is, the difference between success and failure. Especially online. Find out why here.

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