The Rhetorical Secretions of the Civet Cat

What should a woman do for love? Apparently you need a short temper, a pink car, and a hundred-dollar bottle of perfume.

In case you have any doubts, no, this does not constitute a highly logical argument. But then, neither is perfume, which is made of stuff like herbal distillates, turpentine, and the glandular secretions of the civet cat.

And neither is rhetoric, the art of persuasion. Critics of my books often say that every argument should be based on nothing but pure, odor-free logic. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big fan of logic. I occasionally use it myself. But as Aristotle, Mr. Logic, said, logic won’t get you action. Because of our “sorry human nature,” as he put it, you need stronger medicine. To get someone to take an action, you have to tie that action to the audience’s desire.

So what does the market for Miss Dior perfume desire?

Love (duh).

This ad contains all the beautiful nonsense I enjoy about advertising: a story about a woman in a touch and go relationship and a willingness to get her nice clothing wet, music about swinging from a chandelier, a touch of Madison Avenue style feminism…and a great slogan. (Bonus tip: “slogan” originally meant a war cry. Logic won’t get you charged up for battle.)

So what does this have to do with rhetoric?

Rhetoric changes a person’s mood—from, say, anger to cuddling [clip]. It can change a mind--lead a horse to water, so to speak. And it can get the horse to drink. But that last step is the hardest of all. You don’t convince a horse to drink by telling the beast its hydration levels are dangerously low. A horse drinks because it’s thirsty. That’s a desire, a need. And we human mammals are no different.

Want to persuade a person to love you? Or inspire a group or a nation to do the right thing in common? Or, heck, sell expensive perfume? Find out what your audience desires most. Then try to attach the desire to the action.

That’s rhetoric. Do it for love.