Persuasion part 5

If you missed earlier parts of this series, you can find part 1 here, part 2 here, part 3 here, and part 4 here. please do read them in order so the following makes more sense.

We left part 4 with the promise of Richard Vatz’ second principle on the nature of persuasion: namely: spin.

We all know what it is – especially politicians!

It has other names too:

  • Hyperbole (aka hype)
  • Propaganda
  • Public relations
  • Disinformation
  • Indoctrination
  • Brainwashing
  • Newspeak
  • Fake news

Whatever you want to call it, all the above synonyms have one thing in common: Rhetoric. And that’s where persuasion begins.

To know the names and meanings of the most important rhetorical devices is useful, but to see how they can be used in real life as a means of persuasion to change the way people think is quite another.

For example, we’ve all heard of alliteration, the rhetorical device of using the same letter at the start of successive words (or words close together) in a sentence, such as, ‘We create carefully crafted copy to bring a cascade of cash to your company‘.

But it backfires when used badly as in the example above (ruining the effect because it’s so obviously fake).

Rhetoric should take us on a smooth journey and deliver us with ease to our destination. In other words, we shouldn’t notice it at all.

We don’t want our readers tripping up on their tippy toes as they attempt to glide seamlessly to our heaven made of words.

Which brings us to the rule of three or tricolon to give it its proper name.

A tricolon is a universally well known persuasive device that, like all of them, goes back thousands of years. Here’s the best known example:

Veni, vidi, vici

That famous three word phrase, attributed to Julius Caesar, uses alliteration and tricolon to deliver power without seeming to even try:

But there’s more to veni, vidi, vici than that.

It’s also an isocolon– parallel elements containing the same number of words or syllables (each element, in this example, being separated by a comma).

And just in case you’re not yet convinced how deep rhetoric goes, that same phrase is also an example of a hendiatris(because all three words/elements are expressing a single idea).

The point being that each of these rhetorical devices is different from each other, and each can influence its reader in subtly different ways depending on usage.

That is what we need to know so we can craft the best possible copy and know why we crafted it. When copy creates a specific emotion in our reader, we are more able to create the reaction (and subsequent action) we require.

Once we understand that, we are able to read other people’s copy and figure out what, if any, devices they chose to use to achieve the effect they were hoping for.

Rhetoric also gives us the power to explain to potential prospects exactly why they need to fire their existing copy team and hire us or our agency instead (of course, we’d never put it like that, we don’t need to ram messages down people’s throats once we’ve mastered our new super power).

The use of these tools and our ability to choose the right rhetorical devices, is precisely how we apply spin to our agendas.

I’ve only scraped the tip of the rhetorical iceberg so far, but if that’s tickled your fancy, and you’d like to swim deeper into the ocean of possibilities, then I invite you to become a lifetime member of the ICA and join with me in our new series on rhetoric: The Elements of Persuasion.

It starts on Monday, 2nd October 2023 inside the members area, at which point the cost of an ICA membership will rise to reflect this latest addition to the stable.

But if you’d like to get in before then (effectively getting the update for free) I encourage you to join today and beat the price rise.

And to make it even sweeter, if you become a lifetime member before the 2nd October 2023, you’ll also get a £65 discount (already applied on the enrolment form).

Lifetime membership will never be offered this low again.

Stay tuned and stay happy.

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International Copywriters Association

PS. Note hendiatris is an example of a recent rhetorical device. Like all great inventions, rhetoric is always evolving to fit changing times. Having said that, the core remains just as effective today as it was thousands of years ago.

PPS. Go here if you’re interested in finding out how much top copywriters are paid