The following chapter is dedicated to my family, whom I love dearly, and the many people who are not yet sure what their purpose is. Navigating our life path is challenging, with ever-changing obstacles and people with varying motivations in our way.
Keywords: Persuade, Inform, Explain, Definition, Purpose
Put a finger down for every time you have read a source and thought to yourself, “I have no idea what the main takeaway is,” or “how does this apply to me?” We have all been there, and if you are like me, you are out of fingers. So, keep reading; this essay is for you. Purpose can be defined as “something set up as an object or end to be attained” (Merriam-Webster). The ambiguity of the term can make identifying the author’s purpose a challenge, which is why I care about teaching you, a reader who struggles in the same way I once did, how to identify and hopefully implement purpose: both in rhetoric and throughout everyday life. The following essay analyzes the application of P.I.E. (a mnemonic for persuade, inform, or explain) in governmental speeches and advertising, to provide a framework for readers to effectively identify the purpose(s) within the everyday content we consume. By the conclusion of this piece you will obtain an understanding of the rhetorical strategies pertaining to purpose. I argue that the ability to identify purpose is critical to processing the intent of the message, leading to a greater appreciation of their work and a more accurate interpretation.
One purpose of communication is to persuade. Persuasion can be defined as the use of appeals, values, beliefs, and emotions to convince a listener or reader to think or act in a particular way (Nordquist). Aristotle’s infamous linkage between communication and effective persuasion can best be described by the following styles:
- Ethos: persuasion through personality and stance;
- Pathos: persuasion through the arousal of emotion;
- Logos: persuasion through reasoning. (Altikriti 48)
The primary purpose of our government and advertising agencies, for example, is to persuade the public. For instance, Obama’s 2009 Inaugural speech states:
At these moments, America has carried on not simply because of the skill or vision of
those in high office, but because We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forebears, and true to our founding documents. So it has been; so it must be with this generation of Americans. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. (Altikriti 50)
You often see the implementation of one, if not all, three modes of persuasion in campaign ads or speeches. In the example above, Obama asserts his vision for a new America with a spirit that appreciates the sacrifices of the ancestors to reach progress for the nation. According to Altikriti, political and presidential language plays an important role in enhancing the power of persuasion. persuasion in politics can often be associated with the phrase “call-to-action” to persuade the public either to take political actions or make political decisions (Altikriti 50). Obama uses persuasive tactics of asserting his belief in the equality factor of men and women as one of the axes of the new era (56). Obama is motivating people, especially the new generation, to be part of the success and growth of our nation (Altikriti 56). Interestingly, Obama’s first inaugural speech consisted of 60.44% persuasive appeals, as the emphasis was on coaxing Americans with new policy that differs from previous presidential strategies (Altikriti 62). Hence, affirming his image and seeking audience sympathy for persuasive ends: achieving his goal of a “new era of responsibility,” and ending plutocracy through messages of change, hope, and unity” (Altikriti 62). In addition to persuasion from government officials, in today’s society, the primary vehicle for many persuasive appeals in the world of advertising is the mass media.
Advertising is everywhere: everyday you encounter countless billboards, posters, bumper stickers, bus and cab displays, each with a separate advertising appeal. Each day, “more than 257 million internet users worldwide check more than 11.1 million available websites featuring a range of information, propaganda, and merchandise for sale” (Pratkanis & Aronson 5). This force of millions attempts to persuade others to purchase everything from cars to shoes to small appliances, contribute vast sums to needy charities, enlist in the military, or enroll in a specific college (Pratkanis & Aronson 5). According to Aristotle, persuasion is a sort of demonstration; the orator’s demonstration is an enthymeme, and this is, in general, the most effective of the modes of persuasion (Aristotle). Thus, advertisements present a unique opportunity to combine purpose and persuasion through demonstration. In other words, advertisements’ ability to demonstrate correlates to persuasion because they can easily communicate a purpose through illustrations with visuals or short slogans. We all know Coca-Cola’s famous “open a Coke, open happiness” ad. Coca-Cola’s success revolves around its emphasis on its brand over product. Coke doesn’t sell a drink in a bottle; it sells “happiness” in a bottle. Thus, their campaign is centralized around the idea of selling a feeling to their consumers. The purpose of persuasion in advertising is often defined by the “call-to-value” principle, placing value on a specific product (Pratkanis & Aronson 6). Branding the product’s benefits is the best way to captivate an audience and get an emotional response.
The purpose of communication is also to inform. According to a study from Purdue University, “informative communication happens through illustration, instruction, defining terms, describing certain events, people, or places in detail, amongst many other ways to engage the reader through providing them with information.” The author’s purpose to inform can be exemplified by examples such as: providing the reader with access to enlightening material such as textbooks, non-fiction works, expository essays, biographies, and newspaper articles, etc. Is it hard to identify the difference between being informative and persuasive, and why is it crucial for you to be diligent in identifying the subtle differences? The short answer is yes; identifying the difference between informative and persuasive purposes in governmental speeches and advertising can be difficult. However, Aristotle argues, all forms of speaking and communication are persuasive (Aristotle). Thus, informative and persuasive rhetoric often work in tandem to move an audience or impact them in a way that forces them to think about something in new ways. For example, President Obama, in the 2016 State of the Union Address, states:
Let me start with the economy, and a basic fact: The United States of America, right now, has the strongest, most durable economy in the world. We’re in the middle of the longest streak of private sector job creation in history. More than 14 million new jobs, the strongest two years of job growth since the ’90s, an unemployment rate cut in half. Our auto industry just had its best year ever. That’s just part of a manufacturing surge that’s created nearly 900,000 new jobs in the past six years. And we’ve done all this while cutting our deficits by almost three-quarters.
Obama shares information through statistical data, explicitly referencing the number of new jobs created, unemployment rates, as well as other verifiable facts. Notably, the President almost always assures Americans that the country is in good hands, specifically through the use of statistics to show the growth of our country under his term.
Likewise, in the world of advertising, messages are both informative and persuasive. “Firms advertise in order for their products to be known to the public, but they also advertise to persuade consumers to buy their product rather than their competitors” (Nilssen & Sørgard 2). Informative rhetoric is essential to differentiate a brand or product. The incorporation of information to differentiate ultimately serves as a form of persuasion, influencing the audience to believe that a particular product is the best option for them and their individual needs. The purpose of informative advertising involves presenting information to form or change beliefs and explain features and benefits. For example, Billie’s ad from June of 2019 entitled “Red, White, and You Do You” is informative and persuasive. First, the ad itself is informative, offering shave “starter kits” for just $9 a month. Billie’s website features information about the brand and benefits of purchasing. For example, 1% of their revenue to support women and important causes worldwide – currently, they partner with Every Mother Counts, YWCA, and Black Girls Code (Billie.com). The brand challenges its competitors by showcasing full-grown body hair on women of all body shapes, sizes, and races. We usually see razor brands depict thin, beautiful women with perfectly shaved, smooth skin without an in-grown in sight. This unrealistic portrayal of women is precisely what Billie seeks to combat, thus separating the brand. Since this advertisement’s release, many women (22 million to be exact) have chosen to switch from their generic razor brand to Billie, a brand that ultimately shares the truth behind being a woman with hair (Billie.com). Billie is a successful female-first shave and body brand, and by posting advertisements showing women being confident with or without their body hair, they indicate they are devoted to portraying accurately the day-to-day experiences of their target audience: women. Like Coca-Cola, Billie ads heavily rely on informative advertising to display their brand image and differentiate their product, thus persuading their target audience to click the “purchase” button at checkout.
Lastly, another purpose of communication is explanation, specifically entertainment, to attract attention to a cause. Entertainment communication is “designed to captivate an audience’s attention and regale or amuse them while delivering a message” (Wrench et al.). Like more traditional informative or persuasive communication, “entertainment communication should communicate a clear message, but the manner of speaking used in an entertaining rhetoric is typically different” (Wrench et al.). In both the political and advertising world, social media is frequently a platform for the purpose of entertainment. A relevant example of rhetorical entertainment strategy in politics is Donald Trump’s Twitter feed. Trump’s Twitter feed consisted of countless outlandish claims accompanied by roasts towards other political figures. Trump’s actions via social media can be a form of entertainment, attempting to draw attention to him and his campaign. Wrench and others point out a rather important element of entertainment rhetoric: the word “entertain” refers not just to humor but also to drama. Thus, the goal of an entertaining speech is to stir an audience’s emotions, which Trump certainly accomplished. Ultimately, the purpose of his preposterous tweets (to entertain and attract attention towards his campaign) worked as he gained an enormous Twitter following.
One of the ways to produce entertaining advertising and marketing campaigns is through the “buzz marketing” approach. The goal of buzz marketing is to create organic word of mouth, often by staging something unusual, funny, memorable, intriguing, or unique. Entertaining advertising campaigns through buzz marketing often receive fast viral propagation in a short period and spread broad awareness. An example of entertainment advertising is the ALS ice bucket challenge, which raised over $100 million in the first 30 days of the campaign. Like persuasive purposes and strategies, advertising often relies on entertainment to draw attention and spark engagement towards a “call-to-action” cause. Entertainment seeks to achieve propagation – sometimes with incentives or the social benefit of everyone knowing you supported a cause by completing the viral challenge.
Understanding the purpose of each form of communication matters. Therefore, “modern rhetorical theory is based on the notion of an orator as a purposeful agent in a rhetorical context who seeks through persuasion or identification to affect the minds of others” (Flower 529). Purpose is a complex web of meaning which you try to infer. It asks you to refine your theoretical understanding of how individual purposes interact with the main message. Understating the purpose of a message asks for a broader vision of reading as both a constructive, cognitive process and a rhetorical event in which readers use their knowledge of human purposes to build a meaningful and coherent text (Flower 549). Understanding the significance of purpose in rhetoric and how it is implemented, specifically through persuasion, information, or explanation, is necessary to understand how we are influenced by everyday signs, ads, and interaction. Thus, the ability to recognize the ways in which P.I.E. is implemented from a consumer perspective puts the public in a powerful position, to enjoy and understand communication. Similarly, this lesson translates over to our everyday lives as well, as we have to evaluate the purpose of our own actions and the messages of others when they interact with us.
Altikriti, Sahar. “Persuasive Speech Acts in Barack Obama’s Inaugural Speeches (2009, 2013) and The Last State of the Union Address (2016).” International Journal of Linguistics, ResearchGate, vol. 8, no. 2 Apr. 2016, pp. 47-63. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/303037491_Persuasive_Speech_Acts_in_Barack_Obama’s_Inaugural_Speeches_2009_2013_and_The_Last_State_of_the_Union_Address_2016.
Aristotle. “On Rhetoric.” The Internet Classics Archive. http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/rhetoric.1.i.html.
Flower, Linda. “The Construction of Purpose in Writing and Reading.” College English, vol. 50, no. 5 Jul. 1988, pp. 528–550. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/377490.
Merriam-Webster. “Purpose.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/purpose?utm_campaign=sd&utm_medium=serp&utm_source=jsonld.
Nilssen, Tore, and Lars Sørgard. “Strategic Informative Advertising on TV.” ResearchGate, 13 Jun. 2000, pp. 1-20. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/5097110_Strategic_informative_advertising_in_a_TV-advertising_duopoly
Obama, Barack. “Remarks of President Barack Obama – State of the Union Address As Delivered.” Obama White House Archives, The United States Government, 13 Jan. 2016, https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/01/12/remarks-president-barack-obama-%E2%80%93-prepared-delivery-state-union-address.
Pratkanis, Anthony R., and Elliot Aronson. “Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion.” Macmillan, 2001, pp. 1-325. https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=9LsuMoEtSV4C&oi=fnd&pg=PR11&dq=Pratkanis,+Anthony+R.,+and+Elliot+Aronson.+Age+of+Propaganda:+The+Everyday+Use+and+Abuse+of+Persuasion.+Macmillan,+2001.&ots=OSX4xHgvGJ&sig=IQoKzOOmS0kDJBi2EAB3-UMjtoE#v=onepage&q=Pratkanis%2C%20Anthony%20R.%2C%20and%20Elliot%20Aronson.%20Age%20of%20Propaganda%3A%20The%20Everyday%20Use%20and%20Abuse%20of%20Persuasion.%20Macmillan%2C%202001.&f=false
Purdue University. “The Rhetorical Situation: Authors’ Purpose.” Purdue Online Writing Lab, OWL at Purdue, https://owl.purdue.edu/owl/general_writing/academic_writing/rhetorical_situation/purposes.html
Wrench, Jason S., et al. “Understanding Entertaining Speeches.” Public Speaking:
Practice and Ethics, vol. 1, Creative Commons, https://saylordotorg.github.io/text_stand-up-speak-out-the-practice-and-ethics-of-public-speaking/s21-01-understanding-entertaining-spe.html