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Ethos, Pathos, Logos Essay

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French Onion Soup Fallout: Aristotle’s Persuasion Model


Think about the last time you persuaded someone to do something. More than likely you did not just think about what to say at the spur of the moment. You thought about what to say, how to say it, and when to say it for a longer period of time. There was deep thought put into the conversation that was going to take place. Panera bread, a well-known restaurant across the United States recently found itself in a conundrum when it took the French Onion Soup off of its menu. Panera taking this soup off of the menu led to customers posting hateful things on social media. With the help of Panera Bread’s public relations team, Panera was able to persuade its audience to quit posting unnecessary and hateful things online by the use of a video that went viral. With the help of Aristotle’s Persuasion Model, Panera was able to get back onto its feet again.

Summary Of Case

Panera Bread has various sandwiches, soups, bakery options, salads, yogurt bowls, and pasta all on its menu. While some of the foods may stay, some of the foods may be interchanged with other foods. In this case, Panera Bread introduced French Onion soup onto the menu in the early fall of 2019. The goal of Panera Bread’s soup introduction was to make it a seasonal soup; therefore, the soup would only be on the company’s menu for specific and certain times of the year (Entis, 2020.) This soup was not going to be a permanent menu option. Panera took the French Onion soup off of the menu in late fall and early winter. The customers were not happy about this decision. The customers were so unhappy about the removal, that they posted many negative comments directed toward Panera (Entis, 2020.)

The customers were not happy based on the social media comments; therefore, Panera had to figure something out and it had to be fast. Since this situation was very different from previous menu removal, the public relations team thought they had an opportunity (Entis, 2020.) The public relations team had to think of something to one, put an end to the backlash Panera was receiving from removing the soup. Two, find a way to inform their customers that the soup was coming back and three, to make amends with the customers. The backlash from the customers started in late fall, early November of 2019, and the new campaign was released on January 8. This was a very short period for Panera to come up with a successful campaign; however, they achieved their goal (Laura Entis, 2020.)

Panera Bread’s public relations team got together and decided to launch a video campaign using mass media. Mass communication is where professional communicators use technology to send messages to a large number of people in hopes to influence them (Pearson, Nelson, Titsworth, & Harter, 2008, p. 3.) The video would be published online on Panera’s social media channels. Panera’s campaign was focused on addressing the mad customers. Using social media was the best way to reach their customers, especially because it is how their customers reached them.

The video consisted of Phyllis Smith reading negative comments the Panera Bread customers sent while sitting at Panera Bread’s headquarters office (Entis, 2020.) This short video was released on January 8 and was a huge hit. It was viewed more than ten billion times; set new viewing records for Panera, and generated more than forty earned media placements (Entis, 2020.) Panera didn’t mention anything about how and if they achieved their goals, but by the showing of views and comments the campaign received, it was found to be beneficial to the restaurant. The efforts put toward this campaign would not have fallen through without specific techniques and models used.

Aristotle’s Persuasion Model

The French Onion Soup Fallout campaign would not have been successful without careful planning from the public relations team. The team produced the campaign with the help of Aristotle’s Persuasion model. This model consists of three different categories: ethos, pathos, and logos.

Ethos is persuading someone by the use of the credibility of the speaker. It provides the audience with a sense of trust when the speaker is communicating (Lemesianou, 2008.) In public relations, ethos is strongly needed for the public to trust a company or organization. Stocia explains how credibility can be found with the internal and external public (2019.) To bring a company together; you must first need to show credibility. To do this, one must show that the ones’ in charge and make the co-workers feel comfortable. Building ethos in the internal public not only helps the business when something bad happens but also creates a tight bond within (Stocia, 2019.) On the other hand, creating ethos for the external public is a little different. Stocia explains that using Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a way for the external public to learn to trust in the company. CSR is giving back to the community. (Stocia, 2019)

Logos is based on statistics, facts, or other data that amplifies the “truthfulness” of an argument (Lemesianou, 2008.) For example, a journalist who includes statistical and current numbers when writing about the increase of people affected by influenza makes the audience believe the writer more. This is because the audience sees data/numbers showing information. The writer includes statistics, data, and facts to prove they have done their homework and have proof to back themselves up.

Lastly, there is a pathos appeal. Persuading someone using pathos involves using some kind of emotion; whether that be, through a sad story, humor, scarcity, love, fear, or hate. Using pathos persuades the audience to take part in a specific action (Lemesianou, 2008.) For example, an animal abuse commercial may ask for money by showing animals that were victims of abuse; therefore, the viewer feels sad for those animals and sends money to the company.

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Xueya Wang explains in past crisis communication crises, the use of three appeals: ethos, pathos, and logos were used the most when trying to persuade an audience (2017.) Wang further explained specifically, that the Tianjin Blast case’s press conference effectively used ethos and logos to persuade its audience. Through ethos, they were able to persuade their audience to believe them by debunking all of the other resources the public was getting their information from (2017.) Ideally, Tianjin was able to gain credibility by constructing expertise and similarity. Tianjin also used pathos appeal by expressing depression, appreciation, and determination (Stocia, 2017.)

Kevin Read explains the importance of the pathos appeal when communicating to an audience. He explains as corporations grow, the more risk there can be; therefore, public relations practitioners should understand how to identify a crisis, how to manage the crisis, and how to deliver messages using pathos (Read, 2007.) If all is used correctly using pathos, the response of the message will be better responded to. (Read, 2007.) Read explains in a past case study how the nuclear industry attempted to gain acceptance through various tactics involving the pathos appeal. Through research, the nuclear industry found most people disliked the idea of using nuclear energy due to the damage it can do, the distrust in the industry, and safety (Read, 2007.) Since their public wasn’t on track with the industry’s goals, a change was needed to rebuild their reputation. The nuclear industry decided to explain the importance of nuclear energy through the use of pathos instead of past techniques (Read, 2007.) This way the audience can use the information given and connect it to their daily lives. The industry’s spokespeople were then trained on how to connect rational and emotional together; therefore, when asked questions, the spokespeople didn’t refute the protagonists, rather they answered and spoke from an emotional perspective. (Read, 2007) Using Aristotle’s pathos appeal as a crisis communication model can help industries with low levels of risk (Read, 2007.)

Case Model Analysis

With the help of Aristotle’s persuasion model, Panera Bread’s campaign ended up being very successful. The campaign included using Phyllis Smith, who is a St. Louis native and also a celebrity (Entis, 2020.) Using Smith as the main character in the short video, created an ethos appeal demonstrating credibility. Panera Bread was created in St. Louis; therefore, I believe it is why it made sense to have her star in the video. The second reason I believe the public relations team asked her to star in the video is that she is known for being on a worldwide comedy show, “The Office.” Already being a celebrity before this viral video, made the video involve an influencer. Using an influencer is a good way to create content, and spread content because of the status they already have and the network they have (Vangelov, 2019.) Using Phyllis Smith as a native and as an influencer creates ethos in this video. It adds a sense of credibility and makes the viewers want to obey the persuasive message, “to stop sending hateful messages”, and also to realize the soup is back.

The producers also added the social media manager, Barbra Detch, at the beginning, and end of the video. Showing a representative of Panera also appeals to ethos. Her duty in this video was to show seriousness and point out that the soup is coming out and the social media team isn’t happy about the negative comments being projected at them. I believe showing Detch in the campaign video shows that Panera Bread has one, has got the messages about the negative comments, and two, that they would like the negative comments to stop. Therefore, using ethos, to persuade the customers to stop the comments.

“The Office,” being a comedy, one might correlate the show with this video. Smith reading the negative comments in this film shows comedy and disbelief at the same time. Smith reads the messages and then comes back with a comment under her breath about what she thinks about the rude comment. I am assuming the public relations team wanted to show humor in this scenario. Using an actor from a comedy show makes it seem less serious than using an actual office worker for Panera Bread. The film starts by showing a representative from Panera Bread being very serious implying they have been getting awful comments, then switches to the humor with Smith. I think the public relations team started with a serious appeal, switched to a humor appeal, and ended with a serious appeal again to show in a light-hearted way that their negative comments have been heard. However, taking a cultural standpoint, those who don’t know or watch “The office,” may not get the references Panera made in the video. Not everyone watches the show; therefore, not everyone would find the humor appeal Panera Bread was trying to portray.

In a way, the campaign video did show the logos appeal. By Panera Break involving Detch explaining that the goal was to bring back the soup anyways includes facts from the business. In a way, Panera was ideally trying to explain to their unhappy customers that the soup was coming back and there wasn’t a need for the negative comments. I think the use of the logos appeal in this campaign was really small, but the use of ethos and pathos made up for it.


Due to the success of this campaign, those in the public relations industry should pay close attention to it. This campaign was successful in the use of its appeals to its targeted audiences. This campaign shows the importance of listening to customers because, in the end, it did help Panera.

Aristotle’s method can be used in a vast amount of ways. A public relations team can help a company show ethos to its internal or external public. (Stocia, 2019) In regards to the internal public, Aristotle’s model can help build relations inside of the company and help show credibility. A public relations team also can help an organization in times of crisis by persuading and providing information through ethos, pathos, and logos. (Wang, 2017) For example, a company is trying to regain its image back and show sincerity in a situation. The public relations team should encourage the company’s spokesperson to show emotion and credibility. This way the public would believe the sincerity more.


Panera Bread used Aristotle’s persuasion model in their video campaign and it went viral. Using Aristotle’s Persuasion model on a campaign can be successful if used correctly. The use of Aristotle’s persuasion model works best when it is used interchangeably. When ethos, pathos, and logos are all used in the same conversation, it creates more of an impact. All of these appeals can be used singularly or in an ever-crossing way; however, if one is to include all three the chances of getting more of a positive outcome are greater (Stocia, 2019.)


  1. ‘Corporate pathos’: New approaches to quell hostile publics. (2007). Journal of Communication Management., 11(4), 332.
  2. Lemesianou, C. A. (2007). Persuasion in Advertising: Analyzing One of the Public Faces of Corporations. Communication Teacher, 21(3), 87–92.
  3. Marsh, C. W., Jr. (2001). Public relations ethics: contrasting models from the rhetorics of Plato, Aristotle, and Isocrates. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 16(2/3), 78–98.
  4. Pearson, J. C., Nelson, P. E., Titsworth, S., & Harter, L. M. (2008). Human communication. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill/Connect, Learn, Succeed.
  5. STOICA, D. S. (2019). Public Relations: A Rhetoric Approach. Argumentum: Journal the Seminar of Discursive Logic, Argumentation Theory & Rhetoric, 17(2), 71–88.
  6. Wang, X. (2016). Appeals to Ethos and Pathos in Post-Crisis Communication: A Case Study of Press Conferences Handling Tianjin Blasts. International Journal of English Linguistics, 6(1), 100. DOI: 10.5539/ijel.v6n1p100
  7. Vangelov, N. (2019). Efficient Communication through Influencer Marketing. Styles of Communication, 11(1), 72–83.

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