Blog.

Aristotle’s Ancient Guide to Compelling Copy

A long, long time ago, around the 5th century BC in Ancient Greece, there were a bunch of hip kids called the Sophists who loved to talk.

Actually, not just talk. They loved teaching people how to debate and come up with persuasive arguments to influence the opinions and beliefs of others through the use of rhetoric.

Rhetoric is the art of using language for persuasive ends. Not unlike copywriting.

So, the Sophists would travel around from town to town, staying in the finest 4-star mud-brick homes, eating the best roast boar sandwiches, and wearing the hottest tunics and sandals around.

They were very popular, well-paid professionals who knew how to impress and persuade an audience.

Despite their popularity, one guy was concerned that their methods of persuasion were a little too emotional, a little too flowery, a little too lacking in, well … proof.

Aristotle as a copywriter?

Aristotle was also well-versed in rhetoric and persuasion, and he thought some of the Sophists might be using rhetoric to manipulate by focusing too much on emotion, and rather handily washing over “fact” with large brush strokes.

It’s not that he was against persuasion. When you’ve got an important message that can inspire, educate, or help people, you need to be able to communicate that.

He believed there was a better way of persuading people without using bloated testimonials, yellow highlighter, false scarcity, too much poetry and fanciful language.

So, Aristotle (just like any ace copywriter) came up with his own rules of persuasion.

And even though these rules are more than 2,300 years old, when you apply them to your copywriting, you’ve got something authentic that persuades and also has integrity.

Grab a coffee and take a listen to our man of the moment, Aristotle.

When you write your sales page, web copy, or a letter to your Congressperson, include his wisdom.

Ethos (Show off those lovely morals of yours)

Aristotle pretty much said that having good morals and an above-board character wasn’t enough; you had to establish this to your audience.

In other words, it doesn’t matter how wonderful and ethical a person you are if you don’t communicate that.

This is not about putting on a front, but rather revealing your character in ways such as:

  • Sharing personal experiences. (Prove you know what your audience is going through.)
  • Avoiding inaccessible language. (Forget jargon or fancy speak. Just use plain talk, please.)
  • Displaying you have a genuine desire to help. (Offer a generous money-back guarantee if you can’t.)
  • Demonstrating you have the expertise and knowledge for what you say you can do. (Give testimonials and list any credentials you may have.)
  • Showing you’re personally experienced in what you say you can do. (Been where your readers are now and found the success they want? Let them know your story.)

Ethos is a powerful persuasive force — don’t ignore it.

Logos (Give them proof, not piffle!)

Aristotle was pretty hot on the use of Logos. (Not the brightly colored corporate image kind, but the Greek word for “word” or “reason,” and connected to our own word logic.)

To put it simply, logos means if you want to make a point, you’d better back it up with proof. You can’t just go out there making pie-in-the-sky promises.

It was what really set Aristotle apart from the Sophists, and it can set you apart as a copywriter too … if you:

  • Avoid ambiguity. (Trade in your “things” and “stuff” for concrete details, and swap out superlatives for rock-solid benefits and results.)
  • Don’t use hyperbole. (Don’t tell them their life will be awesome after reading your ebook. Inform them about what they will actually learn from it, and what they will be able to do with the knowledge.)
  • Follow every point you make with proof. (Watch out for phrases like “We all know that …” or “ It’s important to ….” Research it, prove it, and win them over.)

Pathos (Get them feeling something)

Pathos is the part the Sophists were very good at because it means whipping up emotions.

Aristotle was all for moving people emotionally to aid persuasion, as long as it was based on sound Ethos and backed up by staunch Logos.

To trigger those emotional points in your persuasive and authentic copy, you’ll want to:

  • Use stories to enhance visualization. (Be descriptive about your readers’ pain or problem and use vivid examples of what their life could be like.)
  • Ask questions to engage. (This is particularly useful when a response proves your argument or gets them to articulate their problem.)
  • Make your writing flow naturally. (Write in your own voice, build suspense, and pull your reader’s attention along.)
  • Save the end of your argument for a big push of pathos — of emotional drive — that moves your audience (to take action)!

I’m betting Aristotle would have been a persuasive force to be reckoned with were he a copywriter today.

I’m also pretty confident that he would use his persuasion with integrity — to reveal value to those who needed to know it — and not to manipulate in order to make a sale.

So if you fancy following in Aristotle’s footsteps (beard and tunic optional), double-check your copy to make sure it displays your robust character, is backed up with plenty of proof, and stirs your audience’s emotions enough to take action.

Fields marked with an * are required

Want to understand the future of content marketing?
Get our free email series, The Killer and the Poet: