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A rhetorical question.

Anaphora, pathos, zeugma.

Not Pokémon, but examples of rhetoric. As a copywriter, it’s essential that I understand rhetorical devices in order to make my copy persuasive, and using them has become something close to second nature. But although most people can identify rhetorical devices when they hear them used, they don’t know what they’re called or how they can improve their own writing with them.

Take ‘anaphora’, for example. By repeating the beginning of a phrase several times, the audience is convinced of your belief in your claim and begins to believe it themselves; it has the side-effect of adding rhythm to a work. Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech uses anaphora when he repeats ‘I have a dream’ eight times, and it’s this part of the speech that is most remembered and quoted today. Anaphora just seems snappy–which is why it finds its way into slogans.

Pathos is something we all want to achieve when writing for clients. We appeal to their customers’ emotion to get them to agree with the ad. You still need to understand your audience; what will work to advertise a product to a group of teenage boys won’t necessarily work for their mothers. So when advertising tires, a product typically sold to adults within a family, Michelin shamelessly pulled on the heartstrings:

Zeugma takes some cleverness to do, but if you can crack it then you’ve got the makings of a great bit of copy. It’s the practice of using a single word in two parts of a sentence that has to be understood differently in each part. “She dropped her coat and inhibitions at the door”, or the Rolling Stones’ “She blew my nose and then she blew my mind.” It makes the ad that much more memorable; humans want to make connections between words and being able to do that in one short piece of copy sticks in the mind.

You can’t get too carried away and forget the point of whatever bit of copy you’re writing in defence of your own cleverness, though. You always have to remember what you’re trying to say, and who you’re saying it to. To focus on anything else is to write a nice set of words, but a bad ad.

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