Want to make more compelling videos? Whether you’re directing a commercial, launching an ad campaign, or developing branded content, you need a clear purpose. You also have to appreciate that viewers approach your content with goals of their own. Meeting in the middle is where marketing and advertising magic happens. How do you deliver the goods? In this post, we’ll give you a telos definition, useful telos examples, and a solid grasp of lofty concepts. Read on to hone your message and make stronger advertising videos.

Watch: Ethos, Pathos, Logos — Persuasive Ad Techniques

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Understanding telos

What is the purpose of your video? What is the brand’s intent in showing it to a viewer? What specifically are you trying to get the audience to agree with?

Go into each and every project asking yourself and your team these questions. The answer is your tailor-made telos definition.

That is, the end goal of this particular project.

Before we formally define telos, we’ll explore Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle.

Consider the three main strategies when you create any kind of content. You'll make more persuasive TV commercials, digital videos, and ads if you get a good grasp of these concepts, detailed below.

Aristotle’s techniques also go by other terms: rhetorical appeals, persuasive strategies, and modes of persuasion.

rhetorical triangle

What is telos? It’s a persuasive strategy that resides in the ethos, pathos, and logos pyramid

A compelling video, argument, or pitch draws from elements of all three major strategies. You'll give your message a boost if you also involve the “hidden” strategies of kairos and telos.

Ethos is used to convince an audience by offering reliability, honesty, and credibility. In practical terms, this often means an authority figure or celebrity endorsing a product or brand.

An ethos-filled strategy would involve famous people or experts acting as the face of the brand or product. The idea is for the messenger’s authority or superior social status to lend legitimacy to the video’s appeal.

Pathos appeals to viewers by evoking an emotional response. The response can be positive, such the joy you would feel if you bought, say, a Chevy Tahoe. It can be a negative, as in, “Ouch, my cramps, I need medicine.” And how about guilt? “Adopt this puppy or else it’ll starve.”

A pathos-filled strategy would elicit pity, energy, or even make a viewer choke up. It appeals to compassion and feeling.

Logos forges an audience connection through logic and reason by using statistics, facts, and figures. Aristotle considered this an appeal to the viewer or listener’s rational mind.

A logos-filled strategy would contain data, charts, graphs, and a high level of logic and reason.

What is telos? Where does it fit?

We can define telos as the function, purpose, and end goal of your entire effort. This applies to individual videos as well as overarching content strategy.

Your full content strategy might involve hundreds of videos, posts, ads, and efforts. Telos keeps your eyes on the prize.

For the record, imagine someone with an English accent saying, “Tell us! Tell us!” That’s how you pronounce telos. (Exclamation points optional, of course.)


What is telos?

Telos is the purpose or intention of an undertaking. It’s the central aim of a video, speech, social post, ad, or appeal of any kind. The Aristotle telos concept, which originated in ancient Greece, denotes a goal, or the end. The final cause. Aristotle put forth that all arguments, living beings, and objects have a function or purpose. By identifying and defining function or purpose, we sharpen our understanding of form. What a message aims to achieve, or what a being or object exists to do, informs what it is, and vice versa.

Telos meaning:

  • End result of a goal-directed process
  • Inherent purpose of a thing (object, argument)
  • Ultimate reason for something being the way it is

You can see that the telos definition ranges from the practical — “it’s what I’m trying to convey in this sentence” — to the heady and philosophical. “It is what it is, man!”

One big confirmation that telos matters in advertising? Check out this Google Ngram chart that tracks the popularity of the term “telos” in published material over time.

Notice it’s pretty low and flat until the late 1950s and early 1960s, when it skyrockets. Smack in the middle of the Mad Men era, when modern advertising first rose to unprecedented prominence — where it has remained ever since.

Telos Definition - Define Telos - What is Telos- Graph

Telos increased in popularity during the rise of the Madison Avenue advertising era

Telos informs every aspect of your video or commercial. Do you want to generate clicks? Sell shoes? Simply make people aware of your brand? Or get them interested in finding out more about your products and services?

Honing in on your work’s telos meaning determines the form it will take. Maybe a comedy skit would best achieve your objective. Maybe pure data and a “call now” phone number is the way to go.

There you have the telos definition. But to really understand “what is telos,” we’ll look at examples in the next section.


What is telos doing in videos?

When you want to take your brand’s message directly to consumers, a commercial or video advertisement does the trick.

And the news gets even better. Since you and your team determine the message, you also get to control the nature and flavor of its delivery.

Here’s a good example of an ad that started with the telos of being a company’s introductory video, and snowballed into a sensation.

In 2012, Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle’s chief marketing officer, said of the burrito chain’s Back to the Start video, “It was never intended to be an ad.”

The telos, or goal, was to make people aware of Chipotle’s new loyalty program. The video went up on YouTube as a creative and honest embodiment of Chipotle’s values.

After that, Crumpacker says, “It just spread so quickly and virally. So then, we thought, let’s put it in theaters, and when we did, we got reports back that people were applauding in theaters.”

The full video — which has all the emotion and whimsy of a Pixar short — would go on to air during the 2012 Grammy Awards as the brand’s first national TV spot.

Here it is:

Define telos for your videos and exceed your wildest expectations

By setting out to announce the brand and introduce its ethics and mission with this video, Chipotle wound up redefining what a commercial can be.

It’s more than two minutes long, it’s animated, and it doesn’t show any tacos or burritos. Not what you’d expect, but it fills its telos, and then some.

Next, the telos train keeps chugging.

Let’s say you’re Old Spice. You’ve conducted research, and it turns out most guys don’t buy body wash.

They use it, sure, but they use whatever’s in the shower, and that means lathering up with their wife’s, girlfriend’s, sister’s, or mom’s body wash. In other words, whatever females buy, that’s what men use.

And so, ad agency Wieden & Kennedy came aboard to create an ad with the telos of getting women to buy Old Spice for the men in their lives — but the ad couldn’t alienate men.

The telos? Promote Old Spice by appealing to both women and men. A tricky balance.

It had never before been tried by Old Spice.

Here’s the now-famous result:

“Look at your telos, now back to me”

What is telos? It’s doing your research, honing in on your purpose, and then being creative and using every trick in the book to make your appeal.

Now for another telos commercial example, this time for a Super Bowl ad. Super Bowl commercials pose a challenge for video advertisers and creative agencies. They need to cover a lot of bases.

Appeal to the masses, but stand out as fresh and unique. Strengthen brands, but make them accessible. Feature celebs and Hollywood production value, but not lose sight of the simple hook.

In 2019, Hulu’s dystopian drama The Handmaid’s Tale interpreted these murky waters as an opportunity to make a splash.

The telos definition for Hulu? Be assertive, get noticed, grab viewers, and make them open their eyes. And make them check out the new season of a cool show.

As June Osborne, played by Elisabeth Moss, says in the spot: “Wake up, America.”

Telos and kairos work together in this effective Super Bowl ad

This example would make Aristotle proud. Telos and kairos join forces to convey an effective message.

The telos, or purpose, was to shake things up and go against the grain to get The Handmaid’s Tale noticed. The kairos — otherwise known as timing, or the propitious moment to take action — of airing this trailer during the Super Bowl strengthens the ad’s purpose.

The most macho, red-blooded, all-American television event of the year? A perfect opportunity to advertise a show that makes people question American fundamentals.


Using telos to fuel your videos

For Aristotle, telos acted as a spark that could ignite a powerful rhetorical appeal using all persuasive strategies.

Is the purpose, or telos, of a video to make the viewer feel angry, sad, or touched? Would the best aim of a certain commercial be to elicit strong emotions in the audience? If so, your telos just told you to strengthen your pathos.

Is your goal with a new video to prove that your brand has more followers, devices, coverage, or reliability than any rival brand? If the answer is yes, your telos just told you to lean into your logos.

Maybe the telos meaning for a new campaign comes down to upping your brand’s respectability and status. You’ll aim to do this by hiring a well-loved celebrity to hawk your wares. Congrats — your telos just convinced you to flex your ethos muscles.

Here’s a funny example of a commercial that fires on all cylinders — and it all starts when the creators define telos.

The goal of this piece? To stand out on a day when every commercial does everything in its power to stand out.

If your telos is to get noticed and be funny, you can playfully turn every Super Bowl ad into an ad for your own brand.

It’s a Tide ad, and a telos definition

Actor David Harbour, well-liked for his role as Jim Hopper on the Netflix series Stranger Things, gives this commercial a strong dose of ethos. The laughs give it pathos, and the second-by-second comedy timing and Super Bowl placement give the ad kairos, or opportune timing.

This video uses every strategy in Aristotle’s rhetorical pyramid, as well as bonus techniques from the pyramid’s hidden vaults.

Your next job? Review the rhetorical pyramid, get a firm grasp of ethos, pathos, logos, kairos, and telos, and start making more compelling videos.

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.


Explore more rhetorical devices

Telos is a highly effective rhetorical appeal but there is much more to explore, including kairos and ethos. Or dive into more rhetorical devices that help construct and support these appeals, including hypophora, hyperbole, and parallelism. When you've mastered these techniques, your ability to convince and persuade in your writing will be unmatched.

Up Next: Rhetorical Devices Index →
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