From Aristotle to Kennedy to Obama to horse feed

 The history of rhetoric reaches as far back as Buddhist and Indian cultures of the fifth century BC.  It was not until the fourth century BC in Ancient Greece that studies of the subject resulted in its principles being codified by Aristotle in his work The Art of Rhetoric.  In its earliest form the purpose of rhetoric was, through the use of speech, to persuade people to change their opinions or accept new policies developed by governments in Ancient Greece without the use of force. This tradition of rhetoric has continued into the present with people such as Presidents Kennedy and Obama being recognized as great orators.  Since those ancient days of spoken rhetoric its practice has extended into the written word which is often accompanied by imagery to improve its persuasive qualities.

Regardless of the passage of time and the extension of rhetoric into new mediums the purpose of rhetoric has remained unchanged; to persuade an audience.  That audience can be a group of people listening to a speaker in a small meeting, to politicians speaking in their debating chambers or to the presentation of persuasive rhetoric through the mass media such as radio, television, the printed press and digital communications such as the internet.  “Persuasion is everywhere in human communication” (Cook, 2012). In addition to the pervasiveness of persuasive rhetoric in our lives its presence has been described as “…this conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society” (Bernays, 1928, cited in Moloney, 2006, p. 46). 

 Advertising is a highly organized, professional and sophisticated industry which by using images, written and spoken words aims to change the habits and opinions of audiences who encounter their persuasive material in whatever format they may appear.  Advertisers want to attract consumers to by their products.  They want donors to transfer their donations to other charities. They want voters to change political allegiances at elections.  This type of activity is no different from a politician making a speech in an ancient Athenian marketplace six thousand years ago.  It is just using mediums of communication today that were not available then.

 The advertisement chosen for discussion is for a horse feed produced by a company, the advertiser, called Dengie.  It appeared in ‘Ridgeway Rider” in May 2013.  In addition to the one page full colour advertisement there is also an advertorial on the opposite page which expands on the information the advertiser is attempting to convey to its audience about their product.  The magazine is a free publication which is distributed through retail outlets supplying equine products.  It is a magazine that can be picked up and read quickly and may be read several times by one reader or by several people once.  In either instance it will be the subject of “repeated encounter”. 


Dengie ad overall image 

Illustration 1. Full page advertisement for a Dengie feed product

The advertisement in Illustration 1 is shown in full to give an impression of the overall layout.  There is a sharp focus image of part of the face of a young lady which is overlaid in soft focus by an image of a horses muzzle part of its head.  The use of the sharp focus image of the young lady could be being used by the advertiser to identify what it believes to be its target audience.  Overlaying the composite images are blocks of text which are shown in Illustration 2 in more detail.  It is within these blocks of text that the advertiser is presenting “the message” (Jakobson, 1966) about the product that once encountered by an audience will hopefully change their “organized habits and opinions” (Bernays, 1928, cited in Moloney, 2006, p. 46). In the top right hand corner of the advertisement (Illustration 1) is a diagonal yellow banner with the word “new” in bold type.  Although the word new is part of either of the main blocks of text its role within the advertisement is that of a “pre-modifier” (Cook, 2012).


Dengie ad text detail 


Illustration 2. Detail from Dengie advertisement showing text used

Three of the elementary strategies of persuasion and rhetoric are ‘logos’, ‘pathos’ and ‘ethos’.  ‘Logos’ is the use of “reasoned proof” (Cook, 2012) in presenting an argument.  ‘Pathos’ is the engagement of an emotional appeal to the audience.  And ‘ethos’ is an appeal to the good reputation of the speaker.  All three of these elements of persuasion and rhetoric have been employed in the advertisement selected for discussion to varying degrees.

The concept of ‘logos’ has been employed in this advertisement in the two blocks of text (see Illustration 2).  The last sentence of the second block of text “A high specification of vitamins and minerals….”.  This sentence conveys the persuasive message that the advertiser, Dengie, has applied some method to the development of the product by selecting the highest quality of ingredients.  The concept of ‘logos’ is further supported by the use of the word “experts” which is the second word in the first block of text (see illustration 2).  The application of logos in this advertisement is the advertiser telling its audience that they have developed a product using expert knowledge methodically if not scientifically.  In addition to text the advertiser has used a hexagonal symbol containing the text ‘probiotic feed’.  A hexagonal shape is used in chemistry to illustrate cell structures and so its use here is showing that science has been used along with the use of the word ‘probiotic’ which is a term used in human dietary advertising.   The advertiser is attempting to comfort the audience that if they buy the product they will not be feeding their horses low quality products.  They are also attempting to say that the product has been carefully prepared.  The invocation of method and science in an advertisement alone may not convince consumers to switch their trust but it is part of the process of building trust.

Horses are living breathing animals to which their owners become emotionally attached.  They have emotional appeal or “pathos” referred to in The Art of Rhetoric.  In the advertisement under discussion the advertiser employs the concept of pathos in the first block of text by saying “……because we love your horse as much as you do”.  The advertiser is trying to get the message across to the audience that they care as much for the horses welfare and being as the owners do and want to help them in that process by being “devoted to creating….” as being part of the persuasive process. 

A combined rhetorical strategy of pathos or emotional appeal and logos or logic was used in the American public service advertisement for stopping smoking directed at adults but using children as the focus for the emotional appeal.  The logos element of the advertisement is when the narrator says “Second hand smoke can hurt their ling growth….”.  There is also a play on words when children are referred to as “kids” and to get the message across that the film is not joking about the subject the narration ends with the comment “It’s nothing to kid about” (DVD00788 Worlds of English, chptr 13.5)

An additional strategy of rhetoric is the concept of “personalization” or “conversationalisation”.  These two terms have been defined as a “tendency to give the impression of treating each of the people handled en masse as an individual” (Fairclough, 2001, p.52). This is achieved by the use of words such as “we” and “you” to create the impression that the message is directed specifically at any individual who encounters the advertisement. Further personalization can be seen in the text in the bottom banner where it says “for friendly……”.  The use of the word friendly can also be construed to be a form of “personalization”.

The rhetorical concept of “ethos” is also employed in this advertisement to reinforce the reputation of the advertiser.  In the bottom right hand corner is the Royal Coat of Arms which bears the text “By appointment to Her Majesty the Queen… feed manufacturers”.  This shows that no less a person than the Queen, a prolific horse owner herself, has used Dengie products and without overtly endorsing as a celebrity would, the appearance of this emblem on the advertisement and packaging for the product gives it a sense of quality.  This emblematic seal of approval creates the impression that the manufacturer, Dengie, has been approved because it is conducting its business ethically and to standards expected by The Queen.  It is also a reassurance for the consumer that if Her Majesty is using the product then it must be a good product for them to use as well.

This concept of “repeated encounter” is distinct from that of “wholesale repetition” (Cook, 2012)  in which an entire message is stated several times as in propaganda used by dictators and despots to the extent that an argument becomes based on emotion, pathos, rather than logic, logos.  The use of repetition within the advertisement is very limited.  “Devotion” and “devoted” appear in the two separate blocks of text and “best” in the first block of text is repeated in an enhanced format in the second block of text with “high specification”. 

A simple one page colour advertisement acts as a catalyst for an historical continuum that joins the rhetoric of Ancient Greece and public speaking in a market square, to Presidential inaugurations, American public service advertisements to selling a feed to horse owners.  Rhetoric is all pervasive in human activity as we seek to persuade others to collaborate and cooperate in our lives.

Word count:  1570


Aristotle (1991) The Art of Rhetoric (trans. H. C. Lawson-Tancred), London, Penguin.

Cook, G. (2012) ‘Persuasion in English’ in Allington, D. and Mayor, B. (eds) Communicating in English – Talk, Text Technology, Milton Keynes, Open University.

Fairclough, N. (2001) Language and Power (2nd edn), London, Longman.

Jakobson, R. (1960) ‘Closing statements: linguistics and poetics’ in Seboek, T.A. (ed.) Style in Language, Cambridge, MA, MIT Press.

Moloney, K. (2006) Rethinking Public Relations: PR Propaganda and Democracy, London, Routledge.

Ridgeway Rider, ed May 2013, Devizes, Redpin Publishing Ltd.

The Open University, (2012) DVD2, Persuading in English, ‘Anti-smoking advertisement’, U214 Worlds of English – Communicating in English, Milton Keynes, The Open University.


About alangrenville

I live in southern Britain near the fabulous New Forest. While studying for a BSc in International Studies I have developed a strong belief in 'NIBAW' or 'nothing is black and white'. Hence my favourite saying "Too often we...enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought" (John F Kennedy).
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