From Aristotle to Jonah Berger: A few basic truths about storytelling and content marketing.

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Published on February 26, 2014

Author: TimothyCollins5



The phrase “content marketing” is ubiquitous in advertising and marketing circles. Increasingly, so is the “content” it refers to. And a lot of it is bad. Really bad. But it doesn't have to be. Aristotle was thinking about how best to get his point across--and how to get it shared--over 2000 years ago and he came up with some great stuff. Fortunately, you don't have to read Rhetoric. You can view this handy 'back to basics' presentation where I cover Aristotle's ideas and those of Jonah Berger, author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On, and a sort of anti-Malcolm Gladwell. Anyway, may I present some more content on content marketing.

Don’t do shit content. - Aristotle

From Aristotle to Jonah Berger: How to tell a story and have people share it. BY Timothy Collins BA M.Litt MAN

The phrase “content marketing” is ubiquitous in advertising and marketing circles. Increasingly, so is the “content” it refers to.

Agencies are doing content, brands are doing content, and every Tom, Dick and Harry is talking about content.

But very few are doing it well. There’s a lot of crap coming out from both sides of the agencyclient divide.

For every Heineken dropped video…

There is content on the subject of ‘male bonding’ in lieu of ads on The Jonathon Ross Show.

And for every site like Coke’s…

Or campaign site like this ‘Awaken’ piece for Weight Watchers (that I was involved with)…

There are agencies and brands clogging up the Internet with boring blog posts, cringe-inducing videos and ham-fisted attempts at social media —all in the name of content.

It’s Bad. And bad content is bad for brands.

So it’s time for many brands and their agencies to go back to school. Like, way back.

We set our scene in Athens 350 years before the birth of Christ.

Back then, an Athenian named Aristotle was working on a weighty volume called Rhetoric. He was trying to figure out how to get his fellow Athenians to remember what he was saying and, ideally, to then pass it on.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric contains many thousands of words but for our purposes we really only need to understand three.



and logos

Ethos A story or argument is more effective when it holds ethical appeal. Which it to say, a story is more likely to be persuasive when the author can be trusted.

Pathos When a story speaks to human emotions it is more likely to resonate with people. Examples of effective emotional appeals may be found in the literary canon, modern day Rom-Coms and pretty much every insurance ad ever produced.

Logos Logos, as you may have already figured out, refers to persuasion through the use of reason. The heart of argument and Aristotle’s favoured technique, the power of logos should not be underestimated.

Add some of these Aristotelian ingredients to your content and you’ll be on the right track. Add all three and, well—who knows?

2350 years after Aristotle Jonah Berger was thinking about the same stuff as he cut clippings out of the Wall Street Journal.

But Berger noticed that the Journal’s most-read and most-shared lists weren’t necessarily the same.

Maybe the things that made Aristotle’s arguments compelling and persuasive—ethos, pathos and logos—weren’t the same things that made content share worthy.

Berger set to work on a new list, and a book Contagious: why things catch on.

Herewith, Jonah Berger’s six ingredients to ‘Contagion.’ And yeah, Berger has some issues with Malcolm Gladwell, but we’ll cover those another time.

Social Currency You need to make people feel like insiders. That means no preaching. You need to attract and inform, empowering people and increasing their social capital.

Triggers The more someone is reminded of something, the more they’ll talk about it. Linking your message to environmental and contextual cues is a good way to get your story shared.

Emotion A big one for Aristotle, and a key ingredient for media companies such as BuzzFeed, emotion is a winner. Craft messages that make people feel something—preferably something positive— and you’re away.

Public If your story is hidden it will have a very tough time of trying to make it in a world filled to the gourd with content. Get it out there.

Practical Value Content should provide value. It hardly seems fair to expect people to engage with your content and not give them anything in return. Whether it’s a laugh or a great new recipe, a brand’s content will only be shared if it has some kind of utility.

Stories People have been sharing stories for thousands of years. Why push against the weight of history? Tell an interesting story and people will share it on your behalf.

None of these things are revolutionary.

But then much of the crap being generated in the name of content marketing isn’t either.

Going back to basics won’t necessarily make your Vines go viral or see you amass an army of new Twitter followers, but it will give your content a fighting chance.

As a final word on the matter, I would add that content has to be genuine. You’re not trying to trick anyone here. Save the sales messages for your ads.

This presentation was inspired by this New Yorker piece. Thanks for reading and be sure to join me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

And Tweet all about it! Share with your friends and colleagues.

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