Aristotle’s Ancient Guide to Compelling Copy

Aristotle’s Ancient Guide to Compelling Copy

Reader Comments (72)

  1. Amy:

    It’s interesting that you like Aristotle. One philosophy professor mentioned that all philosophy is a series of footnotes to Plato and Aristotle.

    I think Socrates would be a better model. In fact, if you Google “Socrates Copywriting”, you will notice an interesting article combining these two subjects.

    But seriously! I don’t want to do Aristotle a disservice. You have done a great job combining his ideas with copywriting. I just think that Socrates, by a series of penetrating questions, gets his listeners to agree with his ideas – all on their own volition.


    • Hi Randy, great point, I just spent 30 minutes of my attention re-reading about Socrates and his methods 🙂 it’s great stuff.

      For this article, I liked being able to bring it back to the elements of Pathos, Logos and Ethos and comparing Aristotle’s method to the Sophists (as i think a lot of people can relate and are tired of the Sophist-esque method). But you’re absolutely right, Socrates was a very clever guy in being able to inch closer and closer to agreement with subtle questioning. And the more you can get your audience to articulate the points themselves, the more persuasive you will be.

      Thanks 😉

    • Great points. I always had trouble understanding some of the masters. It is interesting to note that asking questions is a great way to learn.

  2. Really enjoyed reading this Amy. I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently (integrity marketing, not Aristotle!). It’s taken me a really long time to conclude that marketing with complete integrity is the only way to go.

    I’d been persuaded by very adept marketers that you ‘have’ to push people or they won’t take action and it’s for their own good. There is some truth in that but it’s how you push that is so critical. I’ve spent time and money learning ways I just don’t like!

    It feels really good to do a new sales video and not put in any crappy pressure but just tell the complete truth. I loved telling people that just buying the product won’t give them a great looking garden, they need to do the course & if they are not someone that does courses, don’t buy!

    My lesson has been assuming that more successful people’s judgement are better than my own isn’t always the case. Learning to trust my judgement / integrity & it feels good!

    • Hey Rachel, I’ve seen similar “push” methods, and if ti’s about revealing value so that a customer realises how important your offer is to them then it’s a critical skill. But if it’s about making them feel guilty, uncomfortable, or manipulating the emotions for hte sake of it, I couldn’t get on board.

      Also, there’s a massive display of confidence when you can say “this might not be for you” and walking away from the sale when it’s not going to be a good fit. Confidence and integrity. Which always helps sleeping at night. 🙂

  3. Amy, this is a fantastic post! You’ve brought history alive and presented it in a way we can apply to our own writing.

    I’d also like to endorse your “How to Get Your Sales Page DONE!” e-book. I’ve read it and used it, and can vouch for its effectiveness. You’ve created a process that explains every step clearly and makes writing a sales letter less daunting. I highly recommend it!

    • Thanks Pamela! That’s lovely. Geekily, I do think it would have been a really exciting time to be in, I would love to have heard them debate and persuade (though not sure how far my knowledge of ancient Greek would get me). It was fun to write.

      And thank you so much for the endorsement. It was a labour of love and the feedback has just been amazing. Thanks again. 🙂

  4. This is outstanding, Amy! And I rarely use that word.

    But I did notice things alway do come back to emotions.

    I was in Outside and Inside Sales for years, and it was always about hitting the Emotions and then backing it up with Logic.

    Make them want it, then give them rational justification. Right Brain / Left Brain, if you will.

    And always follow it up with Testimonials from happy customers 🙂



    • Right Brain / Left Brain. I love it, for some reason it makes me think of a boxer punching jabs 🙂

      And it makes sense that the sales pattern follows our own personal buying pattern of emotional buying justified by logic.

      Like when I get freakishly excited about buying notebooks and pens, and then tell myself how I really need all of them for all the different “business ideas” or “content ideas” I’m going to have…. and then always carry the same notebook and same pen.

      Thank God for the emotions in buying…

  5. Can’t believe it… some people remember they guy! *read not just me… 😉

    But i am pretty sure that’s Plato on the pic.

  6. Fantastic post. I really enjoyed this and it is probably one of the best reads on copywriting and persuasion that I’ve read in a long, long time. Thanks!!!

  7. Excellent post, Amy. It certainly proves that great advice is timeless. As a final touch, I’d probably add one more thing to the list — gyros — because it’s never good to write on an empty stomach.

  8. Thanks Amy for the great post – I really enjoyed it!

    I’ve always felt strongly about integrity and authenticity in marketing communications (and everything else), but it’s really nice to read it put into a simple framework that has withstood the test of time. 🙂

    • I think it’s something that a lot of people do relate to. They want to find a balance of persuasion because they’re passionate about what they do, but don’t want to cross over into the relams of greed and selling to anyone just because they “might” buy.

  9. What a great article! I really enjoyed how you took an analogy and carried it out the way that you did. Too often, titles and opening paragraphs of how-to articles start with a terrific analogy, but then all falls apart. Didn’t happen with you!

  10. Cracking stuff Amy – a blog I read (Art of Manliness) has done a series on classical rhetoric, and I’ve been pondering on how to incorporate it into my writing.

    Looks like you’re a step ahead of the pondering stage!

    • Hi Andy, I’ve got several articles bookmarked on rhetoric and love the principles, they’re fascinating! I’d love to have the confidence to make them work for me in speech, but till then i’ll keep referring to them for writing. (Also, love your blog post as the follow up to your Copyblogger guest post! – good thinking) 🙂

  11. Great article. I especially liked the advice to back up what you say and make what you write personal. Thanks for writing such a riveting article. I think I may go read some philosophy now.

  12. Great write-up….

    Your personal story- good and bad will stand above any other marketing tactic.

    Be humble, admit your mistakes and tell people how they can learn from your mistakes….that you can save them the “pain” of making the same mistake.

    I also believe in writing and speaking in layman’s terms…just because I may be further ahead of someone on this journey of blogging/making money….I don’t feel I need to use fancy language that will just confuse them.

    • Hey Carolee! Thank you for your comment.

      Definitely can’t get along with fancy jargon, it tends to come across as a bit of a smokescreen to impress anyway. Plain, straigh-talking, laying out the facts for people is a lot more convincing I think 🙂

  13. This is good, I like the way you mix the old and new to show what works. It’s so true that you can have morals but if you don’t share your morals and values in your everyday life. Thank you for taking me back to 5th century BC in Ancient Greece. It was a nice visit.

  14. I really enjoyed this post– fun and informative. As a copywriter with a background in philosophy, I have always looked toward the ancient masters for tips.

    It is worth noting, of course, that these were invented in a time of largely unwritten speech (these great thinkers were literate, but the world was based on a tradition of making your points through public speech)– and that being “non-poetic” did not mean that your orating lacked a theatrical quality.

    When it comes to making GOOD content, I always keep the classic list of logical fallacies ( in mind.

    • Hey Joshua,

      I know, and I bet it was an exciting time to see this all played out in action. And I have stolen your bookmark on fallacies. Thank you for that! 🙂

  15. That was terrific. You made history interesting for me, with your fine copywriting skills. Your story telling style is beautiful. You taught me two lessons. Ancient history (again) which I never cared for partly because my eight grade instructor was a complete bore. And I was too busy entertaining two of the cutes girls in the class.

    The other lesson is some very valuable copywriting tips. One other “thing” I am not going to pass this information on to my clients. They might fire me and hire you. Now that would be a hard lesson.

    Thanks for the education. You definitely get an A for subject matter knowledge.

    • Thanks John. I also suffered a poor history teacher, but fortunately had a wonderful Engilsh teacher who covered some of these topics in his class. Your clients are safe with you John, if you’re a regular Copyblogger reader they’re going to be getting good work from you 😉

  16. Hi Amy,
    I like your post and so does everyone that came before me so ‘well done!’ It has upset me a little bit though.

    I studied Philosophy for two whole years and all the Greek crowd were paraded around for my education very early in the morning on a Monday and a Tuesday. I never regretted sleeping through those classes; I thought that arguments and togas were a bad idea before breakfast. I couldn’t see the point.

    Now though, I feel like an idiot 🙁 all that wisdom and I can’t remember any of it. If I’d only had a regular coffee in the morning then I’d be a better copywriter now. What a miserable thought. What an opportunity missed.

    Oh well, I’m not completely inconsolable, at least you’re giving me the highlights.

    Ακαμάτης νέος, γέρος διακονιάρης.

    Thank you

  17. Well, I’m guessing google’s language translate messed up your original message, or were you trying to say:

    “Lazy young old man begging”? 🙂

    I blame your educational institution, Monday and Tuesday morning classes? No-one at school or college learns during the un-Godly time periods of “early in the week” and “morning.” There was nothing you could have done about it so don’t blame yourself. 😉

  18. Thank for for this Amy – you had me at “Aristotle” as Philosophy is so near and dear to my heart that I read it each night….I love it. In true form, I would have been just like Aristotle in many ways since, like him, I truly believe that all men by nature desire knowledge. And that quest is why we all seek to learn more…which is also why good copy can teach as well as sell 🙂

    • I second that. Anyone who prefers good old Socrates, God bless him, to Aristotle hasn’t read enough A. All study begins with Aristotle. ‘Tis a shame that all we have of him is basically notes that he would expand on as he walked.

  19. Hi Amy,

    Like everyone else, I really enjoyed your article.

    All the lazy copywriters out there should be forced to read it and copy it out at least 10 times until they get the picture.

    In in this brief, 911-word article, you’ve managed to outline three major secrets to writing successful sales letters. Secrets that other copywriters charge between $497 and $5000 to reveal.

    Keep up the good work.

    But don’t give away the farm.

    • Hey Aaron, thanks for the kind words. The funny thing is that Copyblogger has a ton of really valuable copywriting advice, but I never mention it in case they catch on and start charging… 🙂

  20. What a great way to anchor your description of strong persuasive writing. Who wouldn’t want to emulate Aristotle? It will be easy to remember the formula as you described it. Thanks for installing old wisdom in my head. 🙂

  21. I found this to be a great piece. Though training people in television journalism is my background, I am finding some of the posts in fascinating and useful. While teaching television journalism I have been following some of Aristotle’s ideas unknowingly. Telling students about my practical experience as TV Journalist. Thanks for the piece Amy.

  22. What an intriguing post. Well done, Amy. Apart from your research, you obviously put a lot of thought into thinking up this unique angle. Love it! J x

  23. Amy you really blew our minds! One of the best posts I ‘ve ever read. Surprised that you talked about “pathos” “logos” , “ethos” of Aristotle. (Also “hyperbole” is a greek work which is still use today, too). Even more surprised that you brought Aristotles methods into blogging. Well done.

    Now about Socrates. As we know, what Socrates did was posing special questions that would make you reveal the truth you had inside you but you were not aware of. So in the end you were able to answer your own questions through his guidance. The word we use for the Socratic method means “deliver a woman”. Just as the doctor helps the pregnant woman to deliver, that ‘s how Socrates helped people to express and convey what they already had inside them. I think Aristotle’s doctrine applies better in marketing and blogging than Socrates does.

    • Wow Steven, thanks for the Socrates showdown! That’s fascinating and I agree, for me, Aristotle’s methods worked really well for copywriting, whereas Socrates would have been a killer in-person salesman for sure. I can imagine him posing questions on my doorstep and buying every single domestic cleaning product he had.

      I joke, but I find these methods genuinely fascinating, especially how they are still so relevant today. Shows you how some things in human nature just never change.

      Thank yuo for your insight Steven, I really appreciate it. 🙂

  24. Hi Amy!

    I actually like Aristotle and this article of yours simply validates it. I recently quoted him in the light of my review of the Facebook movie, The Social Network. His thoughts on friendship is something we should all read.

    Anyway, I am glad that, no matter how ancient, true wisdom from a great philosopher can really withstand the test of time and still find value in the modern world. Ethos, logos, pathos are great things to consider in writing effective content, indeed.


  25. Great article – way to break it down and relate it to the classics. It’s kind of about getting back to basics and remembering what’s really important. These values have stuck around all this time for a reason, right?

  26. Not bad at all — and that’s from an Aristotle scholar who works on the interconnections between his Rhetoric, the two Ethics and the Politics.

    Good, thoughtful adaptation of Aristotle’s thought here.

    It ought to be pointed out that, although Aristotle does say that Ethos is one of the most powerful means of persuasion, he does not tell us a awful lot about it in the Rhetoric — you have to piece together a fuller account from his other works

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