ho couldn’t use a little more power in their powers of persuasion? Whether you’re a video advertiser, MBA student, or high school sophomore trying out for the debate team, you need to know how to win over your audience.
But where do you start? Well, way back in the fourth century B.C., ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle outlined three critical modes of persuasion. It might sound dated, but this “rhetorical triangle” remains the foundation of all advertising, in every medium, to this day. And of the three main points — ethos, pathos, and logos — ethos persists as the quickest way to cut through clutter and establish trust with your audience.
In this post, we’ll provide you with a straightforward ethos definition, plenty of useful ethos examples, and an easy grasp of heavy concepts. By the end of this article, you’ll be on your way to engaging your audience and making more compelling content.
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1. Understanding ethos
Before we focus on the ethos definition, let’s look at all three major categories of advertising techniques put forth by Aristotle. Several terms describe these: rhetorical appeals, persuasive strategies, and modes of persuasion.
A compelling argument, sales pitch, speech, or commercial ideally uses elements of all three strategies.
Ethos is used as a means of convincing an audience by offering reliability, honesty, and credibility. This usually means a respected authority figure or celebrity giving a product or brand a testimonial or endorsement.
Pathos aims to convince viewers by evoking an emotional response. This can be a positive, such the joy you would feel if you bought, say, a new Buick. It can be a negative, as in, “Ouch, my headache, please make it go away.” And how about guilt? “Send money or this kid will starve.”
Logos appeals to logic and reason by using statistics, facts, and figures. Aristotle considered this the biggie. In the modern day, let’s be honest here, logic has leveled off. The top mode of persuasion is up for grabs.
Check out this video for a rundown of all three techniques.
Now that you’ve got an overview, let’s zero in on ethos. We’ll specifically look at the ethos appeal in advertising.
You want to keep reading this post. Trust us.
Why should you?
Just ask Don:
See what we did there? An ethos appeal within our article, pitching our wealth of material on the very topic of ethos ads.
Ethos examples pop up everywhere.
Just to cover our bases, Don Draper isn’t really endorsing this post. For one thing, he’s a fictional character. For another, he’s probably too busy wrestling with his personal demons to take the time to plug our blog.
We’ll tell you what ethos means so Don doesn’t have to.
What is ethos?
Ethos is the persuasive technique that appeals to an audience by highlighting credibility. Ethos advertisement techniques invoke the superior “character” of a speaker, presenter, writer, or brand. Ethos examples aim to convince the audience that the advertiser is reliable and ethical.
Ethos is used by Aristotle in ancient Greece to describe a person’s character or personality.
A quick way to establish credibility?
A celebrity endorsement. If the person persuading the viewer or reader is a respected authority or popular figure, this serves to strengthen the message. It’s increasingly called celebrity branding.
Ethical appeal examples:
- Actor Jennifer Aniston promotes Smartwater
- Athlete Stephen Curry features in Infiniti ads
- Comedian Jerry Seinfeld endorses American Express
The basic idea?
A person watching a commercial for Mountain Dew is more likely to buy a six-pack if a famous guy like Kevin Hart is guzzling the product on screen.
Or, a thirsty customer might reach for Pepsi instead of Coke if Kendall Jenner is slingin’ Pepsi. At least that’s the aim, but it has to be executed with the right tone.
Take a trip to ancient Greece. Learn about ethos, pathos, and logos. Learn how to engage the audience. Get ideas in more of our ethos examples in ads, below.
Ethos gives power to commercials, corporate videos, TV shows, and feature films. The list of directors and producers who transition between mediums is a long one. A grasp of Aristotle’s rhetorical strategies will serve you well, no matter what kind of content you’re making.
With ethos appeals, the celebrity or well-known endorser conveys credibility and reliability. This comes across both on behalf of the brand, and also as the brand itself.
How? What does ethos mean to viewers?
When (*fill-in-the-blank celebrity*) appears in an advertisement or commercial for a product or company, viewers intertwine the clout of the celeb with the prestige of the brand.
By using an ethos appeal in a commercial, brands aim for an audience member to think:
“Oh, Matthew McConaughey is in a Lincoln commercial? Maybe Lincoln cars are more big-league than I’ve considered in the past. You know what? Lincolns are cool. I could drive a Lincoln!”
Moving on, we’ll deep-dive into more ethos advertisement examples.
2. Ethos ads in action
When a brand wants to establish credibility, highlighting a well-known personality who either uses the brand’s products, or simply represents the brand in less on-the-nose ways, gets the job done, and fast.
If you want a really strong example of Ethos that also has a pretty funny meta quality to it, check out the shot list for this Heineken spot. See how many times they use foreground elements and OTS shots in this spot:
This Heineken commercial shows famous actor Benicio Del Toro at the bar enjoying a Heineken. Benicio chats about how both he, and Heineken, are world famous and instantly recognizable.
Then, a pair of goofy tourists spot him in the bar, and they call out for him to pose for a photo, but... they actually think he's Antonio Banderas.
This commercial not only uses ethos as a way to tie the celebrity of Benicio to the celebrity of Heineken, but it uses humor and the bold faced usage of ethos to make fun of the brand, people, and fame.
Have you ever heard of LeBron James? How about Nike?
Here’s a textbook ethos commercial example with both. In it, notice how deftly the story of LeBron James becomes the story of Nike.
Notice how LeBron’s professional career and Nike shoes interweave and hit the viewer with a powerful one-two punch — all without so much as a mention of the word “Nike.”
You have to look closely to even see any shoes in this ethos commercial.
LeBron James speaks openly and honestly in this ethos ad example. He's one of the most respected, credible, and talented basketball players of all time. Nike’s logo does appear, but its flash is brief and tasteful.
This ethos appeal leaves no doubt that Nike and LeBron are in it to win it, together. Even though it’s subtle.
And doesn’t this ethos commercial make you want to try on a new pair of Nikes as soon as possible? Don’t you want to be like LeBron? If you have to buy basketball shoes, might as well buy the best, right?
From a sports celebrity to a music celebrity, ethos examples in ads come in every shape and size.
Pop singer-songwriter Taylor Swift has won Grammy awards and sold a gajillion albums. Turns out she also likes to watch TV with her cats.
What does ethos mean here? It means fame, fortune, and fun. Taylor Swift in a DirecTV commercial, with talking cats, gives the DirecTV brand immediate credibility.
By associating with a pop star, the brand becomes a pop star — at least in terms of clout and respect.
These two ethos examples come off as planned by the brand and video makers. Call them successes. Truth is, most ethos ads are.
But not all.
Celebrity endorsements do misfire.
Here’s the ethos commercial Pepsi doesn’t want you to see.
Reality star and model Kendall Jenner pitches Pepsi in this ethos advertisement that aims to capture a cultural zeitgeist.
A real-live member of the famous Kardashian/Jenner clan AND social activism? What could be more hip? What could be more appealing?
The intent may have been noble, the endorsement expensive, the production value top-notch — but the result was a disaster for both Pepsi and Jenner. It went off the rails. It made people laugh for all the wrong reasons at best, and it offended viewers at worst.
The ad was pulled. Apologies ensued.
The ethos definition involves character, respect, and prestige. Misfired ethos appeals can damage every party, just as ethos ads can elevate both brand and endorser when done right.
What is ethos in any language? It’s recognition, respect, and practical sense. It cuts through cultural barriers and hits the viewer on a gut level.
“Hey, it’s that guy! Let’s make it Suntory time!”
But how can you do it right? By considering ethos as one component of the full rhetorical triangle of advertising techniques. It’s a delicate balance, and for content creators, the right tone awaits!
Even if you’re on a budget.
THE ETHOS APPEAL
3. Ethos commercials on a budget
LeBron. Taylor Swift. The Kardashians.
What if you want to make an ethos advertisement but you don’t have the mega budget of Nike or AT&T?
A critical component of the ethos appeal is goodwill and expertise. The endorser or brand representative doesn’t have to be a pop star or celebrity.
A celeb doesn’t hurt, of course. But if you can’t afford Jerry Seinfeld or Drake in your ethos ads, a relevant and credible budget-friendly personality can do the trick.
Who the heck is Bruce Grayson?
Who knows, but he’s a lot cheaper than a Kardashian.
Bruce Grayson turns out to be telegenic, an expert in his field, and a perfect pitch-man for Oil of Olay.
And if you want to promote a shopping mall, who better to hype your place of business than actual shoppers and shop owners?
And this is no laughable fluke. The makers of the above ethos commercial knew exactly what they were doing. They took the budget they had, made the ethos definition work for them, and ran with it.
As these ethical appeal examples show, goodwill and credibility don’t have to come from movie stars and sports legends. Ethos ads can be effective as long as viewers trust and respect the personalities on screen.
Now you’ve got a solid grasp of the ethos meaning in advertising and video production. What is ethos? It’s the ethics and credibility of a spokesperson or brand.
When we define ethos, we do so in the context of Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle, which also includes pathos and logos.
Ethos in and of itself gives power to your productions. But consider it in conjunction with pathos and logos. Fire these three strategies on all cylinders in your next video project to really take your message to the next level.
So memorize the ethos definition, absorb these ethos examples, and use what you’ve learned to enhance your own projects.
The top moodboard tools
You’ve seen our ethos commercial examples. You’ve learned how to define ethos. It’s all about capturing emotion and conveying a feeling.
What else can you do to achieve this? Create a mood board. Find out what a mood board is and how to easily make one in our next post.
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