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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