If you communicate to persuade, you owe a lot to Aristotle. Without the benefit of modern neuro- and behavioral science that has since proved him right, he defined four “modes of persuasion“: ethos, pathos, logos, and kairos. These four represented the four contributors, as Artistotle saw it, to what makes someone say “yes” to an action or idea.
- Ethos is what I’ve referred to in the past as “domain of authority” — the person (or company) speaking is deemed persuasive based on their credibility to talk about the subject
- Pathos is the emotional argument, the one that engages and activates someone’s feelings
- Logos is the rational argument, the one that, to quote Aristotle himself, proves “a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question”
- Kairos is likely the least known of the three, but this is the one that leverages the urgency of the moment
When it comes to persuading people to wear masks, you can likely see where all four can come into play.
- Do you believe the person or organization making the case? That’s ethos.
- Are your emotions engaged? Do they sway you towards action? That’s pathos.
- Do you agree with the evidence and reasoning of the case? That’s logos.
- Do you feel the issue is urgent enough to act on now? That’s kairos.
The more you can get a “yes” to each of the four levers, the more likely you’ll persuade someone towards the action you’re looking for.
But a “no”? A no is fatal to an argument for action, even if there’s a yes to everything else.
The tricky thing, of course, is that you, as the persuader, aren’t in control of how your audience chooses to answer those questions. You can only do the work ahead of time to raise your probability of success. To do that, you need to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. As honestly as possible, you need to ask yourself whether or not the person or people you’re talking to are likely to agree on all four points.
(Side note: I call the ability to do that “polytropos” to build on Aristotle’s original model. Polytropos means “many faces,.” I believe it’s the most critical skill for creating actionable change: understanding how to alter your argument to fit the audience you’re talking to.)
It’s fairly rare, outside of debate club, to see multiple arguments made for the same idea, all in the same place. That said, when you do have that opportunity, it’s a great time to pull out your inner message analyst and see how you’d “score” those messages on Aristotle’s four points. In the latest episode of “What’s Missing From This Message?,” you get to do just that.
I look at two entries into a contest run by New York State to find the best public service announcement to convince New Yorkers to wear masks (and thanks to Rick Pollak for pointing out the contest to me originally!).
Whether or not you agree with the issue at hand, it’s a great chance to see what works for you — and doesn’t — about each ad, and why. Your answers may help you figure out how to improve your own “polytropism,” and your messages.You, as the persuader, aren't in control of how your audience chooses to answer those questions. You can only do the work ahead of time to raise your probability of success. Click To Tweet
Please note that many of the links are affiliate links, which means if you buy a thing I link to, I get a percentage of the cost, and then donate it to charity.
How do you convince someone to do something that they may not want to do? You better make sure that there’s not much missing from your message, these winners of a recent New York state contest about wearing a mask in the pandemic show you exactly what you can do to make your message stronger.
Let’s start with the ad that I don’t think worked very well. And we’ll talk about what was missing from this message as we go along. All right. Let’s watch. Okay. We see you guys on a platform. He’s got a shirt on that says, “That guy.” And he’s breathing easy. He’s kind of looking like a bro. I don’t know. And there’s people around him walking around, he’s looking for the train, kind of what’s going on. And then it says, don’t be that guy. And I got to say, right at this point, unless you knew this was an ad about wearing a mask, it’s not really clear that this is about an ad to tell you to wear a mask, right? It’s not until this next part where it goes, “Oh, okay, cover your nose, cover your mouth,” that we understand what, “That guy,” actually means. The other thing is that this hashtag New York tough, wasn’t really tied into the message of the ad at all.
Okay. So what was missing from this message? Biggest thing I would say is audience perspective. First of all, the audience perspective of what context they already had now in the context of watching these ads, knowing it’s a contest to figure out which one will become an ad to help people wear masks. You can look at that, through that lens and go, “Oh, I know this is an ad about wearing masks,” but if you saw this without any of that context, I think it would be very confusing. And so I don’t think we really know. So how you can make that message stronger because it’s an important message, is to make sure that it’s clear earlier what it is that the issue is, what is that guy doing? Make it much more concrete what the problem is. The second thing is, and this is a little bit more subtle, but the kind of messaging that says don’t do this, don’t be that guy sometimes can have the opposite effect because it triggers something that’s called psychological reactance.
So it’s what happens whenever somebody tells you to do something and you’re like, “Heck no!” Well, that’s actually a known thing. It happens when you’re a little kid, but you never really grow out of it. And that psychological reactance can help you or keep you from doing things that you actually want to do or even think is important. So that second piece of the audience perspective that I would say would make this particular message stronger is flipping around that kind of negative accusatory language into something that’s a little bit more supportive. And you’ll notice that the ads that not only won, but I think were the most effective actually do that. This next ad was the one that was my favorite. So let’s watch and see what I thought was strong and what I didn’t think was missing from this message. And we’ll take a look at how it compares to the winner.
The first thing is I love they’ve included this, “We are tough,” and, “New York tough,” right out of the gate. Second thing is I like that it’s demonstrating the behavior. I also liked that it’s kind of got this, “Let’s prove it together,” which is this kind of attitude that I think is pretty clear in New York. So we’ve got this kind of hashtag New York tough. And to me, I think that really, really works well. It’s very specific to what the message is, it’s very clear what they’re talking about. It’s very clear about what the expected behavior is. And I just thought it all worked really, really well together.
Now wasn’t in your face. Wasn’t pretty dominant, none of that. But I actually thought it was just from a messaging perspective, the one that was most likely to be effective because it was clear, it was the message tied into the overall message that they wanted. And it was presented in a way it was most likely to be heard, but I can absolutely see why the winning message won because the winning message has just the right amount of New York attitude. And that’s important too. So let’s take a look at that one.
Now this winning one, you can just even see from the splash screen is going to speak to New Yorkers specifically. And I think that’s probably what took this one over the top and made it the winner. But let’s watch.
I love New York.
We love New York.
We’ll be stuck inside our homes.
While our everyday heroes have been working overtime.
All right. So one of the things that I love already, and this was something that Rick pointed out too, was that there’s a variety of voices. Also very clearly New York voices right out of the gate. So while my favorite really focused on a single interaction, this ad really captures kind of the spirit of New York and the diversity of New York. A lot of people would recognize themselves in this ad and that makes it really, really strong,
For New York to reopen.
And stay open.
We all need to do our part.
So I love this one because it actually leads with a goal that people have. So we all want New York to reopen, in order to do that this is what has to happen. We have to play our part. So it’s, here’s the thing that you want. Here’s a way to get it.
And show that we care
I wear a mask to protect you.
You wear a mask to protect me.
Let’s all wear a mask.
To stop the spread of coronavirus.
And save lives.
So I want to pause here because the only part of this I think, and this is the reason why I had this one second. It wasn’t my first choice, but it was my second choice was that one little piece in there is really relying on this shared belief that I’m going to protect you and you’re going to protect me. And I think as we’ve seen, and the whole reason why these masks… We’ve had a question about why we need a mask out in the first place, is there, is that not everybody feels that, and I’m not sure this ad makes the case that protection is important. If you already believe it, it’s going to resonate with you. But if you don’t, I’m not sure it makes that case. It’s the reason why I liked the other ad better, because it was really just saying, “Hey, this is the right thing to do just because we’re about helping other people, not because I have a shared value of protecting you.”
… Showing up in a mask.
We’re showing up for each other.
Show your love for New York.
Because New York loves you.
So, I think it would be stronger if they like dialed up the aspect of show your love for New York, where rather than, “Hey, show your love for protecting your fellow person.” If you basically said, “Hey, when you wear a mask, it shows that you love New York.” That’s a thing that I think more people can buy into and why ultimately I think the combination of elements in this ad made it successful. It’s still my second favorite, but it’s still super strong. So what was missing from that third message? I think what was missing from that one was just, again, some level of the audience perspective and awareness that not everyone’s going to start with that shared belief that protection is important. And so in a little way, this was actually preaching to the converted.
At the same time, the elements were there to make this just absolutely perfect, I think by having so many different voices and showing people different images and different accents, so people could see and hear themselves in the ad. So they would recognize themselves and say, “Oh, I see that.” By tying into the fact that we want New York to reopen, which is a shared goal by tying into the fact that people love New York by potentially making even more of the point that by wearing a mask, you show your love for New York. I think that would have been the way to really, really anchor this message overall. That said it’s a super strong ad, and I see absolutely why it won this contest, but I’m super curious if you were to go and watch all five, which one would you have chosen and why? I’d love to hear more from you and your own messages. You can send those to me email@example.com. Thanks so much for watching this episode of What’s Missing from this Message. I’m Tamsen Webster of tamsenwebster.com.
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