Pathos is a feeling of sympathy or sorrow that that affects emotions or feelings. Pathos can be expressed with words, pictures, or sensory details.

Understanding Pathos

Here are some examples of pathos:

  • Empathizing with a friend who lost a family member
  • Feeling proud as your country’s athlete receives a gold medal at the Olympics
  • Richard Nixon declaring, “I am not a crook”
  • Saying “welfare mother” instead of “person who needs assistance” or “He’s on crack” instead of “He has a substance abuse problem.”
  • “There is a cancer growing in our nation” may refer to the drug problem or violence.
  • Using the word “heartbroken” instead of sad
  • The plays of Shakespeare have strong emotions: comedy in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, tragedy in Romeo and Juliet, and guilt in Macbeth.
  • Using humor can make your audience happy and that makes an emotional connection with them
  • Personal stories or testimonials add pathos to a speech or writing, especially if they are intense

Pathos in Ads

Examples of pathos in advertisements:

  • Animal shelters showing abused animals to make the watcher feel empathy for the animals and donate money
  • Ad for Subaru airing in 2013: “I’m overprotective… that’s why I got a Subaru.” “Love, it’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru.”
  • Images of small children in ads showing pathetic living conditions to urge you to donate to the cause or to sponsor a child
  • Any kind of ad that implies that good parents buy certain products because they love and care about their children
  • Ads meant to stop people from driving drunk that show people injured or killed.

Positive Pathos in Ads

Positive pathos is obvious in many ads:

  • Food ads showing people having a good time while eating
  • Drug ads showing active and happy people whom the drug helped
  • Personal product ads showing people with sex appeal that used cologne, perfume, etc.
  • A company that boasts that their products are “Made in America” is appealing to patriotism to get you to buy their product
  • Some ads, like designer or luxury goods ads, imply that if you buy their product, you will be part of a small group with a glamorous lifestyle
  • A group of party-goers dancing and smiling are seen to be drinking a certain alcoholic beverage, so you should drink it to be like them

Pathos in Music

Here are some examples of pathos in music:

  • Sarah McLachlan’s Arms of an Angel played on ASPCA commercials “You’re in the arms of an Angel; may you find some comfort here”
  • The song God Bless the USA is a song by Lee Greenwood that became very popular after the 911 attacks.
  • A Sousa march can inspire and evoke patriotism
  • A song or musical composition written in a minor key conveys sadness or lost hope
  • Weird Al Yankovic’s songs appeal to the sense of humor of the listener and can make him feel happier
  • Songs with a fast, energetic beat are often used to lift a listener’s mood
  • Soft instrumental music can make the listener contemplative or help her wind down
  • War protest songs stir the emotions, like: “Turn, Turn, Turn” by the Byrds and “Blowin’ in the Wind” by Bob Dylan.

Whatever the format of the expression, pathos is a successful way to generate emotion.

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