During certain seasons, words and phrases can get a bad rap due to its use by media or politicians. For example, in the early to mid-1900's, the word propaganda was used to describe the one-sided messaging being done during the World Wars; with much emphasis in Germany, but the U.S. had its fair share. Now, although in the academic sense of the word, propaganda isn't a bad thing, our society continues to think of it in a poor light.
Now our society has captured and perversed another word: rhetoric. Rhetoric, in the dictionary is described as the art of speaking and writing effectively, the study of persuasion. Does society use the word to its true definition? Of course not. No because of the 24-hour news cycle and the amount of talk that comes out of the mouths of politicians, people have used rhetoric to describe "persuasive talk that may not be entirely honest or reasonable."
Quite the difference.
Why should we care about this history lesson? Why should communicators know about rhetoric? Because, as the famous adage says, if we do not know history, we are bound to repeat it. In ancient times, when minds like Plato and Aristotle walked the Earth, there was much focus on rhetoric and how the art of influence affected everyday life. Yes, when civilians or landowners had arguments and needs to present a case, they went for help to people skilled in rhetoric. As this act became more common, the observers of rhetoric and education saw the importance of teaching rhetoric to be persuasive language based in truth and reason.
Fast forward to today, and are we not facing the same issues in advertising? When brands are in trouble, or need to send a message out, they seek the help of us in advertising, marketing or public relations. We have to craft influential messages and campaigns to get the desired outcome for the brands we represent. Like rhetoric back then, advertising too must be based in truth and reason. Like rhetoric today, advertising is seen as a medium used to manipulate and mislead the people it was created to serve and educate.
Rhetoric and advertising have their places firmly grounded in our social fabric. Due to this big economy with thousands of choices, people need help deciding what goods and services, what people, what experiences can help improve their quality of life. Advertising needs to be honest and reasonable in order to provide a great experience for the consumer. After all, that is what it is supposed to do in the first place.
Dwayne W. Waite Jr. is partner and principal at JDW: The Charlotte Agency, a marketing and advertising shop in Charlotte, NC. He enjoys consumer behavior, economics, and football.
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