Friday, August 29, 2008

Ethos, Themes and Values

Understanding our target audiences and targeting content to them is a fundamental aspect of web design. Scott (2007, p 33) advises us to identify and articulate each target audience and develop content specific to each. He recommends creating a persona for each target audience.

What information do we need for content to appeal to each persona? In his book, Culture and Persoanlity, Wallace (1963, p 101) recommends knowing the themes, values and ethos of a group to prepare appealing content. A theme is how the group sees the world. Wallace suggests a good way of discerning this is a review of the literature or theatre the group patronizes. What books or movies are their favorites?

He catalogs several themes in literature:

  • The “western” – hard to find good people must fight tirelessly to bring order to a chaotic world

  • The “detective” – idealists disillusioned with the existing order do the right thing for the wrong reason

  • The “mystery” – clever and logical heroes politely work to maintain what they believe is a righteous order

  • The “action” – well intentioned brutality

  • The “drama” – heroes not concerned with social welfare, seek gratification of private desire.
Ethos is a style or form of emotional experience. Ruth Benedict, the grand dame of the cultural and social study of groups and a professor to Margaret Mead (see Wallace, 1963, p 103), distinguishes two type of ethos for groups: Dionysian and Apollonian. The desire for the Dionysian is personal experience, while that of the Apollonian is moderation.

Finally values (p 101) are concepts or mental images that motivate a group to action. They are either positive or negative, moving a group towards or repelling them away from some idea. Health, membership in a prestigious group, leisure, and affluence are examples of such motivational food pellets.

This type of information should be stored in our customer database in addition to the raw data on demographics, and so on to help formulate a meaningful appeal after we have segmented target audiences.

Scott, D (2007). The New Rules of Marketing and PR. Wiley.

Spiller, L. and M. Baier (2005). Contemporary Direct Marketing. Pearson/Prentice-Hall.

Wallace, AFC (1963). Culture and Personality. Random House.

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