I just read a really interesting article by Robert Stover on his blog, Breakthrough Copywriting Ideas, called “The Antidote to 'Howler Monkey' Copy – The Ethos Effect.

“Howler Monkey” means copy that shouts or is full of hype. It sounds phoney or contrived. And it puts a reader's guard up because it lacks believability .. and yet you can't help but trip over examples of over-hyped websites and sales material all over the web.

But the question for most of us who make our livings marketing on the web is how to be persuasive without resorting to extravagant claims.

To answer this, Stover refers us to the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who wrote about persuasion in his work “Rhetoric.” Aristotle said there are three tools used by great persuaders.

The first is “Pathos” from which we get our word, “passion.” Pathos refers to emotion. It excites either the fear of pain or loss, or it promises pleasure or gain. Pathos is key to any persuasive copy and is always the core of any sales material worth its salt.

But the danger with Pathos is it can be overdone, resulting in hype. Once that line is crossed, your credibility is gone and cannot be regained.

The second tool is “Logos” from which we get our word, “Logic.”

Logic is never as persuasive as emotion, but in most cases it must be included in good copy. It seldom persuades, but it is always conspicuous if it is absent.

Finally, Aristotle gives us the tool of “Ethos.”

Ethos is character and credibility. Stover points out that your family doctor usually has high ethos, whereas a used car salesman stereotypically has very low ethos. Unfortunately, ethos is often left out of online copy and websites suffer when this important element is missing.

Stover describes two keys to ethos: The first key is when the seller has expertise. The second is when you perceive that the seller has your best interest at heart.

To illustrate these two keys, he gives two examples of financial counselors. One is your brother who has just started a job as a financial advisor. You would probably trust your brother to have your best interests at heart, but you might not consider him to have much in the way of credibility.

On the other hand, you might know of a millionaire stock broker who obviously knows investments and is an expert in his field, but you may not trust him to put your interests above his own.

I don't want to give away everything in Robert Stover's article, so I encourage you to check out “The Antidote to 'Howler Monkey' Copy – The Ethos Effect to read more about the power of Ethos and how to establish it on your own website or marketing materials.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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I suspect Joe Wurzelbacher was ready to fall out of his chair Wednesday night when John McCain used him as an example of why he disagreed with Sen. Barack Obama's tax plan.

Wurzelbacher, aka "Joe the Plumber," has become an instant celebrity after he asked Obama a question about how the candidate's tax plan would effect him.

But my point here is not to discuss politics, but how putting a face to your ideas and issues can propel them far beyond mere facts or figures can. What McCain did was nothing more complicated than to tell the Ohio plumber's story as a way of getting his political message across.

All of us have messages we want to convey. In business, one of the most compelling stories any company can tell is about quality.

  • Why do your building materials save energy costs?
  • Why do your burgers taste so great?
  • Why do your clients gain so much more than your competitors' clients?

Another persuasive story form is the success story.

Success stories are small vignettes about real people your products or services have helped. They focus on how these people were able to solve their problems because of a business relationship with your company.

Success stories are extremely powerful for the same reason Joe the Plumber's story is a better way to illustrate tax plans. Few of us understand the inner workings of economic policy (although lately it could be argued that we are all becoming experts), but we do understand about people.

When I read about a client who overcame a serious legal problem because of the hard work of his lawyer, I understand (and more importantly, I believe). When I read about a good marriage counselor that was able to help a couple work through their problems and save their marriage, I cheer them on and I form a bond with the people this story was about.

Stories sell because they communicate on a gut level. They let us experience the emotional joy of witnessing a problem being solved and a stressful situation overcome.

So the lesson here is to go out and find your own "Joe the Plumber" story that you can use to help communicate your message. Illustrate your facts and figures with real life examples using real people. Put faces to your communications and they will resonate.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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Let's talk about Sarah Palin and smart marketing.

I think the GOP campaign has committed a major blunder in the way it has gone about "packaging" Gov. Palin. This blunder was very evident in her interviews with Katy Couric and in her debate with Joe Biden.

It has to do with her lack of top level skills in foreign policy. She is obviously a quick study who has done massive amounts of homework on the subject in the few short weeks she has been on the campaign trail. But whether you like her or not, the fact remains that foreign policy is not her strong point.

In the last three decades, there have been four presidents who were governors before they ran for president. By the very nature of the job, a governor does not have a lot of foreign policy experience. It just isn't part of the job they do.

So what these four men have done when they were elected president, was to assemble teams of foreign polciy gurus on their staffs (no I will not get into a discussion about how good these teams were or what decisions they adviced their presidents to make).

No president comes into office with extensive skills in every area of the job. They have to rely on their staffs to help them and advise them.

But what Palin has done has been to make claims that because Alaska is very close to Russia, she has foreign policy experience. No wonder Tina Fey, David Letterman and Jay Leno have had so much fun at her expence.

What if, instead, she had just admitted that governors come along with other skills. What if she had cited Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush to point out that governors have experience as chief executives but not as foreign policy wonks?

By admitting her lack of foreign policy experience, she could have shifted much of the spotlight to her extensive energy experience and to the fact that she is the only person among these four candidates who has ever been a chief executive.

Dan Kennedy, one of the greatest copywriters alive today, even goes so far as to look for flaws, faults and limitations in the products he sells. When he finds them, he highlights them, shouts about them from the roof tops and makes sure his readers know he is not claiming that his product will be all things to all people.

And in so doing, he positions the product so he can talk about its strengths. When a marketer freely admits that her product has a flaw, don't we then "listen up" to find out what the good points about it are?

No one will ever believe a marketer who claims his or her product does everything better than any other product anyway. But a curious thing happens when we admit a flaw. Buyers start paying close attention to the message to find out what the good things are.

Admitting limitations puts more of a focus on the benefits you do claim. And doing this gives you much more credibility in the process.

If you refuse to do this, you may - just may - find yourself being paradied on Saturday Night Live.

COPYRIGHT © 2008, Charles Brown
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