The Art of the Act of Convincing

The Art of the Act of Convincing

As I sit in the metro on my way back from the office, I see a child coaxing her mother for an ice cream. I turn my head to the other side, I see a fri

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As I sit in the metro on my way back from the office, I see a child coaxing her mother for an ice cream. I turn my head to the other side, I see a friend trying to convince the other for a game of tennis. As soon as I get down at the metro station, I am surrounded by a swarm of auto- drivers, each one trying its best to persuade me to travel with them. As I sat in the auto making my way through the traffic to my way home, I decided to listen to the radio, which was precariously hanging from the socket. I heard Mr Arvind Kejriwal, the Chief Minister of Delhi, persuading us to fight against corruption as a team; as a family.

Every day we are confronted by persuasion. From movie studios wanting us to see their blockbusters, to a restaurant tempting us to try their food, or even persuading a child to eat their meals. Persuasion is pervasive. I remember using persuasion myself as I tried to convince my dad with puppy eyes to let me go to the UK for my master’s degree; and I am glad it worked. And dud to such usefulness of influence and confluence, persuasive techniques have been observed since time immemorial. However, it was only in the 20th century that social psychologists formally started studying it as a subject and hence we get the formal definition. According to Perloff (2003), persuasion is “a symbolic process in which communicators try to convince other people to change their attitudes or behaviors regarding an issue through the transmission of a message in an atmosphere of free choice.”

Hence, it comes to us as no surprise when I say advertising is fundamentally persuasion. And the art, yes not the science, of persuasion is quite unexplainable and a many a people make mistakes or unable to quite convince the target audience. As a part of my internship, a part of my work is with an ad agency ‘Dentsu’, and I can safely say I am being amply exposed to the persuasion technique in the advertising. As a student of physics would put it, advertising is the driving force that makes it possible to sell more merchandise due to its persuasive nature. But, the technique and the language of persuasion are absolutely essential to be a successful advertising campaign i.e. boosting patronage of idea, product or service. The focus of persuasion is not limited to only the sender or the message or the receiver, but it focuses on all three of them equally.

In this highly over-communicated world of ours, it is undoubtedly important to stand out, be different; but that should not overshadow or surpass the whole purpose of an advertisement. The audience should buy your proposition and give in to trying or using the product or service.  Otherwise, they will end up becoming just ‘another brick in the wall’. Take the recent McDonald’s campaign as an example. Let’s not deny that we cannot imagine a life sans Internet. Whatsapp, Facebook, Google, Youtube are our lifelines. Many researches have pointed, more time we spend on net, more psychologically a loner we get. Brands like Cinthol and McDonald’s maybe doing the job of a messiah to promote a life sans internet by launching a brand new campaign #KuchPalOffline urging people to spend some quality offline moments at McDonald’s. Even though we know the real objective of this campaign is to increase consumer spending in their brands, the campaign effectively addresses the issue and highlights how McDonald’s can effectively deliver real life experiences. Well after all it’s not a matter or joke to be the world’s leading food service retailer with more than 31,000 restaurants in 119 countries serving 50 million customers globally and 6.5 lakhs in India each day.

What are the modes of persuasion?

Greek philosopher, Aristotal, believed that persuasion could be classified into three modes of “rhetoric”: Ethos, Pathos & Logos. Like the three musketeers, all three have the same purpose, to develop patronage, but different personalities.



The first mode ‘Ethos’ (Greek for character) stands for the appeal to credibility or character. Aristotle considered the ability of the organization to be the most important attribute of any communication. The audience has to find the product/brand’s character reliable, honest, trustworthy and credible and hence these ads involve statistics, expert’s advice or endorsements.

We have seen several billboards with Shahrukh Khan wearing Tag Heur or Aishwarya Rai endorsing Loreal; explaining the benefits of the products to the layman. But, Toshiba India went a step ahead and ‘co-created’ the Cricket TV with Sachin Tendulkar. Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who was the brand ambassador for more than 13 brands, had the highest endorsement value in the country, surpassing Tendulkar, the Khans and even teammate Virat Kohli.

The toothpaste ads, which use the credibility of the doctors to further, strengthen their brands. Statements such as nine out of ten dentists use ‘XYZ’ lend weight to the advertisement, which the present day audience consider untrue. In the book, publishing industry, more the book is reviewed by bigger newspapers, blogs or magazines, more worthy it becomes for reading. Thus, books use persuasion through testimonials.

Pathos’ which means‘suffering’ or ‘experience’ in Greek, refers to the appeal to emotions. We all remember the Hutch ad, in which the network was personified as the extremely adorable pug, which followed its little owner wherever it went or the zoozoo campaign, which highlighted the human sentiments and behaviorism. But, of them created a strong image of the product in the mind of the viewers. Advertisements using pathos attempt to evoke emotional response like the dove’s beautiful/average campaign, which tried to convey the message, “If you love yourself you will automatically feel beautiful”. For sometime dove has laser focused on the women’s concept of beauty and championing “real women” to see themselves as beautiful. And the above campaign is doing so. Women who originally choose the “Average” label regret on doing so till they decide to chose the “beautiful”. Dove has received overwhelming admiration for its work from both critics as well as Dove consumers. However, advertisements can also illicit negative emotions like pain or cloy; stain retention on using an inferior quality detergent; or fear/guilt such as the frightening vs. more frightening campaign.



The third and the last, logos, or appeal through reason or logic, uses statistics and evidence to fully explain what the product is. In fact, have you ever found yourself arguing with a friends trying to explain and convince them to accept your argument, to believe you? In such a situation, Logos is the most helpful strategy, we use knowingly or unknowingly. Specially, when a capitalist like me argued against a communist like my best friend. The information given here are more quantifiable and helps then rationalize their decisions through data on money saved, time saved and so on. The advertisements give “straight facts” like the new Oats Maggi endorsed by Madhuri Dixit persuaded the healthy as well as the tasty aspects of the new variant of Maggi noodles. But, people may also require a personal touch or the emotional connect to believe the logical data, the comparisons. Thus, the presence of Madhuri Dixit, who is a brilliant dancer and a fitness freak, may have made the advertisement more believable by audience.

But, many a times that ad-makers combine all the three rhetorical appeals to tell how many people have liked the ads and have been persuaded to buy the good or service or the idea. This approach, known as the social proof approach helps reduce the perceived risk (pathos) by introducing like-minded personalities (ethos) and depicts the picture of the market using hard data (logos)

How do we use persuasion in advertisements?

The understanding of the three modes of rhetoric in incomplete, if we as future marketers do not how to implement them. Persuasion techniques are segregated into three levels: basic, intermediate and advance.

Some examples of basic persuasion techniques are bandwagon, association, beautiful people, bribery, celebrities, experts, testimonials, fear humor or even plain people.

The Bandwagon technique targets the need or the desire of a person to fit in. It is like a peer effect but on a much larger scale. This technique may have been in use for a very sometime now. But, the first most accurate example of the use of this technique would be the 1985 Pepsi commercial that pushed ahead the adage “ the choice of the new generation”. ‘ Yeh Dil Maange More’ or the ‘Yeh hain Youngistaan meri jaan’ are the other Pepsi campaigns, which have followed the same philosophy. This technique was used to appeal to its audience by creating an impression that only the ‘cool’ and the ‘happening’ people drank Pepsi. Researches have shown that people want to be a part of the ‘IN’ Crowd. One of the most infamous examples known for instilling these bandwagon techniques is that of Amul, the Taste of India. All its ads are on the latest trend people can relate to whether it is Saina Nehwal winning the gold or the diesel prices going down.

The association technique is used to link an idea, product or service with something already liked or desired. The media doesn’t make explicit claims to provide you all that is desired but still the association is implied. Association is a very powerful technique. A good ad can establish a strong emotional connect by creating an associated imaginary with the brand (family=Cadbury, victory=Nike). This can also be called as emotional transfer. Several of the other persuasion techniques like beautiful people, warm and fuzzy, fear are specific types of association.

Bribery, through promises like sales, discounts, rebates; coupons or even free gifts try to persuade the consumers to buy the product. Special offers, contests and even sweepstakes are all forms of bribery. The “Big Billion Day” sale by Flipkart which invited a lot of attention by the competitors, policy makers, consumers etc was also another example of bribery as the gave discounts as high as 90 per cent.


Amul- The Taste Of India



Unfortunately, we don’t really get something for free – part of the sales price covers the cost of the bribe.But, then there are intermediate and advance persuasion techniques. Intermediate techniques include the use of symbols, scientific evidence, simple solutions etc. Extrapolation, flattery and rhetorical questions are others.

Advanced persuasion techniques are Ad hominem. Analogy, Glittering Generalities/Card stacking, Cause vs. Correlation, Denial, Diversion, Group dynamics, Majority belief, Scapegoating, Straw man, Timing. (, 2001) Like card stacking which shows only the positive side of a product but not the negative aspects, many other techniques make advertisements more manipulative. For example the soda and fast-food advertisments neglect to mention about the empty calories while focusing on the taste aspect only.

Thus, advertisements creates brand equity and generate sales consequently wealth. It adapts and mirrors the current trends in the society. However, social impacts of advertising have social costs (Folkerts & Lacy, 2004). Advertisements can be manipulative and can influence news and entertainment. Like the ‘my choice’ video of Deepika Padukone that went viral, which seems to be a shampoo ad. To conclude I would say, “Persuasion will change shape, but will never end”