Pathos And Marketing

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on October 27, 2013

So over the years, when the event of awarding the positions for the top things which have been able to persuade the target audience to know a product has come, 3 entities have been clinging on to the pedestal- Ethos, Logos and Pathos.

This has been due to the constant need to move the masses by titillating their sense of Personal Character, Logic and Emotions.

While Ethos indicates the appealing through an authority or celebrity, hence leading to imparting of a message by relating to the trust that the audience has in that figure; Logos is a logical appeal with the help of facts and figures hence giving quantifying information.

But Pathos is something that marketers swear upon to be the most powerful tool by making an appeal to the audience’s emotions. The emotional appeals can be directed towards the feeling of safety, well-being, anger, desire, pride, insecurity, etc.


In fact, most of our decisions are not even based on rational thoughts. Emotions have a powerful impact on our oh-so-intelligent judgments! Due to this, much of the political discourses and advertising is directed towards moving our emotions.

Pathos have been used everywhere. As Aristotle has also claimed that in order to move an audience, we need to know 3 things:

  1. Understand the state of mind of the audience when experiencing an emotion
  2. Know to whom does the audience relate this emotion to
  3. Identify on what grounds will the audience display that emotion

Let me consider the example of the emotion called Anger. While the actual causes of a war may be economic or political, and consequently linked to logos, the mobilization of a people or a nation to war inevitably consists of appeals to Pathos. Leaders gather together their followers to go to war by repeating to them their historical grievances against other groups or nations, accusing other groups for economic difficulties, and focusing on apparent insults, crimes, and carnages committed against their own citizens by others. In the twentieth century, such petitions to Pathos inspired the Holocaust in Germany, the genocide in Rwanda, and ethnic decontamination in the former Yugoslavia. Individuals were encouraged through Pathos to strike, rape, or kill fellow citizens who had dwelled near them all their lives, simply because of their tradition or faith.

Many political decisions have an emotional stimulus. For example, when a gunman with a rifle shot up a schoolyard full of kids, people were suddenly paying attention to prohibiting such weapons. Here, several emotions are implicated, but perhaps the strongest one is mercy for the kids and their families. The logical point of view for banning or not banning such rifles had not altered at all, but people were emotionally occupied with the subject after this incident and wanted to do something.

In fact, emotions can be mapped along a continuum from mild to intense. On the milder side I would say emotions are the state of being that we are in. For example: A person on the stage, who is being questioned, would want a quiet atmosphere to develop ideas; but the audience would be on the edge. Hence the state of mind the speaker tries to bring in is also Pathos.

And towards the other extreme we have a person who is so angry that he has become almost red due to the repugnance about something!

Over the years marketers have been able to capitalize on Pathos as an effective medium of communication by building their views on the following 9 sentiments:

Love, Mirth, Anger, Pity, Heroism, Astonishment, Fear, Tranquility and Disgust.

So as far as the understanding till here, Pathos does seem to be a promising tool.

Let me consider some cases where Pathos has been majorly employed.

Pathos in Public Relations:

  • An emotional Rekha giving standing ovation (on Amitabh and Abhishek being awarded the Best Jodi Award) creates more flutter than a Rekha just sitting among the audience and applauding. 
  • An angry Kamal Rashid Khan creates more buzz at the Big Boss House than a I-am-not-interested-in-any-gossip Raju Srivastava.
  • Or for that matter why else would the ‘I am in love with another woman’ statement of Arbaaz Khan create a flurry among people were till then awed by the Arbaaz- Malaika relationship.

While all of these episodes definitely belonged to Pathos, they gave these celebrities (and the products they are associated with) the required spotlight. When Rekha was emoting love and admiration for the Jodi, KRK’s statements of ‘Mere ghar mein doodh Switzerland se aata hai’ gave people the much anticipated amusement in the Big Boss house by the fits he threw. And, an Arbaaz – Malaika break-up speculation left people in a wave of astonishment.

And all this, with the use of Pathos.

Pathos can be exhibited with the help of varied media.

Pathos in Radio:

It is said when one listen to music in a minor key, one finds himself all saddened without knowing the actual reason why!

Or as the recent music poll said people feel all cheered up listening to songs sung by Mika.

Or for that matter a seductive voice of RJ Annirudh is so alluring, no matter whether the listeners are aware of his actual looks in real life, people fantasize about him being someone who looks really good! And then we have our Love Guru sessions on the same lines. They can hold you captivated for hours together. And the RJ providing information on Russia uses voice intonations in such a way that she makes it clear to the listeners- ‘This in the holiday location that looking for all these years’.

But just how the moods created by Pathos in Music can be translated into moods created by the style of language is not yet clearly known. People have even gone to the extent of reading out aloud when they write just to find out whether it has created the intended mood.

Speaking about writing;

Pathos in Writing:

Humans have a tendency to relate to things with mental images. They hear a good voice and relate it to someone good looking. Similarly when they read something they relate it an actual image.

When we describe a young girl awaiting her mother’s return for a long time, then a person who is a mother may think of her own children and hence feel a yearning to be with them. Such is the power of Pathos in communication through writing.

Hence when Dominoes says ’Yeh hai Rishton ka Time’ in the SMS we receive form them, we relate to this line as not something which is a functional fulfillment, but as an entity connected with us through Pathos. And how can I forget the emotions we convey with the fonts we use!!! So when a comic sans gives a peppy feel to the write-up where as a serif puts across a ‘No-nonsense-will-be-tolerated’ feel.

Pathos in Outdoor Advertising:

An average billboard receives only 3 seconds of attention. And in order to evoke emotions in those 3 seconds, it needs to be personal and something which conveys feelings. It needs to develop Pathos. There are times when companies put up a product on display, for example a car. So among the onlookers, a few will show emotions of joy and a few of anger.


But it is true and researchers prove that an audience can have emotions towards unrelated inanimate objects too.

One of the clever pieces of advertising which evokes Pathos is that of the man almost being crushed under a train. This one was put up at places where there was a probability of people crossing the train tracks. The image of the man is not only a constant reminder of the consequences, but also a sense of pity towards the guy in the poster.

Pathos is Print:

A simple 1 page-big image of Limca on a hot summer morning can have such an effect on the audience that people consumed it atleast once on that particular day. And all this for getting the feeling of being refreshed. Another soft drink gave its ‘Seedhi Baat No Bakwaas’ words to the nation with the following print advertisement.

Or for that matter even the Dove advertisements which left a pointer on the first page which asked the readers to go to a page for experiencing hair smoother like never before. And then we have the entire jacket page of Havells wires which had images of all the recent news items where fires have erupted with the jacket page already half burnt.

These advertisements were successful in creating the feeling of astonishment among their audience and have hence joined the advertisements which have successfully fostered Pathos.

Pathos in Television:

The advertisements of the small girl who is thalassemia affected and the man in the ad who says ‘Karke Dekho Accha Lagta Hai’ created a feeling of heroism for the people who have been donating blood and over that an encouragement for new blood donors.

How can we neglect the Airtel advertisements which not only gave us the jingle of ‘Jo Tera Hai Woh Mera Hai’ but also a plethora of different types of feelings for each of our friends,  going from love to anger to mirth to pity.

Or what more of feeling can an advertisement create than by claiming a bike to be as good as a family member with the jingle of ‘Sagon Se Bhi Sagaa Hai Tu, Apna Parivaar Hai’.

So no matter whether it is advertising or PR or for that matter a simple word of mouth message transmission by the neighbourhood aunty who makes all the news into a gossip (!); the communication become extremely effective when it comes attached with a goody bag of Pathos

This article has been authored by Deepa Kamat from Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research

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