Want to make more persuasive videos? Whether you’re producing a commercial, launching a campaign, or developing content strategy, you need to know how to win over your audience. How? It all comes down to timing. One of today’s most relevant “advanced techniques” is the concept of kairos, or acting at the opportune moment. In this post, we’ll give you a kairos definition, useful kairos examples, and a firm grasp of lofty concepts. Get ready to hone your timing to make stronger advertising videos.
Watch: Ethos, Pathos & Logos in Advertising
Subscribe for more filmmaking videos like this.
An overview of rhetorical appeals
Kairos is all about adapting your strategy and timing your approach, often by orchestrating an opportunity to make your point. We’ll define kairos in a moment. First, let’s look at an overview of Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle and how ethos, pathos, and logos work together.
What is kairos and how does it work in the rhetorical triangle?
A compelling argument, pitch, or advertisement ideally uses elements of all three main strategies. You'll also want to involve the “hidden” strategies of kairos and telos. These techniques also go by other terms: rhetorical appeals, persuasive strategies, and modes of persuasion.
Now that you’ve got an overview, we’ll open the vault to explore kairos. We’ll specifically look at kairos examples in digital media, commercials, and advertising.
What does kairos mean?
In Aristotle’s era, ancient Greeks used the word “chronos” to refer to chronological time (e.g., a timestamp or the march of time). In contrast, the word “kairos” signifies the proper or optimal moment to take action. To strike while the iron is hot.
Check out the kairos rhetoric definition below.
What is kairos?
Kairos is a rhetorical strategy that considers the timeliness of an argument or message, and its place in the zeitgeist. The term comes from the Greek for “right time,” “opportunity,” or “season.” Modern Greek also defines kairos as “weather.” A kairos appeal depends a great deal on knowing which way the wind blows.
For example, a Pampers ad starring contemporary stars like John Legend, Chrissy Teigen, and Adam Levine might make more sense for the brand than, say, an ad starring the cast of Charles in Charge. If you don't get that reference, that's exactly why kairos is important.
What does kairos mean?
- Appropriate tone, structure, and timing of an appeal
- The consideration of time, setting, and place
Now that the kairos definition is lodged in your skull, we’ll refine a more practical kairos meaning in the next section. After all, the best way to answer the question, “What is kairos?” is by sharing effective, modern kairos examples.
Learn More Logos Ethos and Pathos
Comparing other techniques
There are many types of rhetorical strategies. To get a full picure on how they work together, or when to use which rhetorical strategies, explore the full guide below.
EVERYTHING ABOUT Rhetorical appeals
Each of these rhetorical strategies can be effective in its own way. When combined, their potential effects grow exponentially. To fully understand the power of persusaion, these are the tools you need.
Commercials that use kairos
Kairos rhetoric fuels the best commercials, ads, and branded content. It’s the crucial “where and when” of your message. Persuasive ad techniques like these are employed all the time.
Maybe you’ve got a sweet idea for a commercial that’ll sell your product or brand. There are many strategies on how to create a branded content campaign. A tight 30-second piece that includes a lovable celebrity (ethos), an emotional hook (pathos), and relevant facts and specs (logos).
You write it, plan the shoot, and get it in the can. Everyone on your team agrees its a dynamite commercial. Now what? Post it on YouTube? Email it to everybody? Air it during the Super Bowl? Would buying time during the Oscars be a better fit?
Or maybe a gut-wrenching news story captures the world’s attention, and it would give your spot or product an unwanted flavor. If so, now might not be the right time to get your commercial out there. Maybe waiting until summertime, or the Christmas season, is the right play.
You can see how critical it is to include kairos in your content strategy.
Here’s a kairos example from 2011. It’s a Macy’s ad featuring Justin Bieber. At the time, he was the hottest new pop sensation. It sums up the “Bieber Fever” that was sweeping the world in 2011.
Macy’s uses kairos rhetoric in a 2011 Black Friday commercial
Less than seven years later, Bieber appeared in a T-Mobile commercial that aired during the 2017 Super Bowl. That ad was so terrible, a police department in Minnesota threatened to show the commercial to anyone caught driving under the influence. The result? No drunk driving arrests on the night of the Super Bowl.
For comparison, here’s the 2017 commercial. We won’t get upset if you can’t make it all the way through.
The kairos definition is all about timing
No longer the fresh new pop sensation that he was in 2011, Bieber, by 2017, had evolved into an unwitting crime deterrent. That “new star” smell had faded, and the kairos meaning of an ad with Bieber in 2017 differed from that in 2011. To avoid making a disastrous Superbowl ad, take notes from some of the best Superbowl commercials.
Another kairos example comes from Pampers. In 2019, cultural norms were shifting. Dads changing diapers? No longer a bizarre sight.
Pampers captured this trend by featuring famous “new dads” John Legend and Adam Levine in a Super Bowl commercial. Levine’s band Maroon 5 even performed at that year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show.
Here’s that kairos example from Pampers. Notice that “mom” makes an appearance at the end by Legend’s real-life wife, Chrissy Teigen:
What is kairos? It’s dads changing diapers
This commercial illustrates the kairos rhetoric definition on three levels:
- It originally aired on one of the biggest commercial days of the year, Super Bowl Sunday. Well played, Pampers.
- It features the lead singer of the band that performed at that year’s Super Bowl Halftime Show. Precision-timed casting.
- It captures a cultural zeitgeist by showing dads changing diapers while mom is away. A nod to larger trends.
Also, this commercial hints that “dads changing diapers” isn’t a one-time fluke in the world of this story. Teigen asks at the end, “Must we do this every time?” Looks like dads change diapers a lot in these families.
Kairos isn't just about the time of pop culture or shifting social norms, it can also rely on technology. In the next kairos example, Bacardi seized the moment to launch a campaign that encourages consumers to, well, seize the moment.
The brand’s 2017 “break free” campaign featured a take on the popular Boomerang social media app. Viewers could vicariously "break free" from the time loop of everyday life to party for the summer. If you’re hoping for a viral commercial, here are some tips on how to make a shareable commercial.
Seize summertime, and seize Bacardi, with this kairos example
Learn and incorporate ethos, pathos, and logos to sharpen your video advertising sword. Then understand kairos so you can strike at the right time. Lee Clow, chairman of TBWA\Media Arts Lab, says, “That’s always the goal — to do stuff that becomes part of the cultural conversation.”
You’ll wind up with more compelling content. What does kairos mean? Knowing when to act.
WHAT IS KAIROS
Using kairos rhetoric to divert
Communicating unwelcome news or a product’s “fine print” can benefit from kairos rhetoric as well. Positive images and music, happy vibes, good times — they can all create a diversion while an ad slips in deep, dark truths.
Think of the conditions and legal terms of a contest you might hear announced in an ad on the radio. These are usually spoken by a different voice actor altogether, at a rushed pace, just before the ad ends. Nothing to see here. Move along.
And how about prescription drug commercials?
In this kairos example, notice the misdirection. Pleasant music, an idyllic settings, and people loving life. By the time we get to the warnings and side effects, the distracted viewer ignores it.
Misdirection and diversions come into play in certain kairos examples
By brushing unpleasant details under the rug, the makers of this video define kairos — wait for the right time to convey the information.
If you want to grab attention, the time it right. If you want to do the opposite, make sure to draw attention away before dropping the info you want to downplay.
Prescription drug commercials can be easy to parody. And just like real-deal commercials, truly great ones are a rarity. Check out this hilarious prescription drug commercial from Saturday Night Live. It stars Amy Poehler, Kristen Wiig, and Tina Fey.
Kairos rhetoric patiently waits to mention any negative effects
Everything plugs along smoothly. Nothing unusual. After a while, though, the side effects rear their savage heads. When you reveal material you hope to downplay in your own video advertisements, you can be a bit more delicate than this kairos example. This SNL Annuale commercial does prove that good timing — the kairos definition — means a lot to comedy.
Kairos Meaning Explained
That's a wrap on kairos
Kairos is a very particular persuasive technique that requires a finger on the pulse of pop culture and current events. It can work wonders for your ad campaign but it might work even more when used in combination. Which rhetorical appeal will you explore next?
EVERYTHING ABOUT Rhetorical appeals
Master persuasive ads in five steps
You’ve studied the rhetorical pyramid. You can recite kairos meaning verbatim. You’ve watched the kairos examples in this article. Now let's up your video advertising game even further. Learn how to develop an idea that fits your brand, write a script, and shoot a commercial like a pro. Hatch your concept and make a persuasive ad right here.
Up Next: Persuasive ad techniques →
Project management for video creatives. Tasks, file sharing, calendars and more.
Manage video production timelines, tasks, storyboards, shot lists, breakdowns, call sheets. Made for video creatives, new media and film.