A Different Way Of Looking At Cosmetic Adverts


Aristotle pointed out that a really good argument is one that addresses three different ways of making the point.  He called these ethos, pathos and logos.  Ethos is the authority and personality of the person making the case.  We naturally defer to people of power, influence or who embody virtues of which we approve.  Pathos is the term he used for appeals to emotion. Logos is the name for logic and reason.

A lot has changed since the time of Aristotle, but the way our brains work is still the same and his observations on how to create a compelling case remains just as valid today.

Cosmetic adverts, particularly those from the big professional companies, can often be analysed in exactly the way Aristotle suggested.

This example for L’Oréal’s Revitalift illustrates it well.   In Classical Greece you would have needed to get a philosopher to lend ethos to your product.  In the Middle Ages a religious leader would have been the last word.  Today of course, we all look up to celebrities because they are better than us.  So the ethos is provided by the lithe, luscious and lovable Andie Macdowell.

The pathos comes from the words of ordinary users.  These are quoted prominently in the middle section of the advert where your eye naturally falls when the advert attracts your attention.  The things they say are just the kind of thing you might expect to experience if you buy the product creating an emotional bond.

The logos is sometimes called the ‘science bit’.  Indeed in one television advert Jennifer Aniston once actually introduced it as such.  In our Revitalift example it is the references to the 15,000 member clinical trial at the top and  the wrinkle measurements at the bottom.

It is interesting, and rather sobering for a scientist like myself, to observe just how little logos most cosmetic adverts have.  In this one it is about 10% of the total advert, which is about typical.  It needs to be there – it adds to the overall case just as Aristotle points out.  But we don’t make purchasing decisions on pure logic.  In fact, it isn’t that big a part of it at all.  The people selling you stuff know this very well.

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