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English Language & Linguistics

English Language


Advertising - the Features

Advertising Language is characterised by the following features.

In any given advertisement these features may appear or be largely absent, such is the great variety of advertising copy found on promo products such as promotional tote bags and T-shirts. However these features may be said to be typical of advertising in general. even advertisements which do not use the traditional features to attract inform and persuade may be described as being in contrast to the traditional features. Some modern advertisements appear to be almost dissuading consumers from their product - but this is a technique used as a determined way of not conforming to tradition. See Benetton, Marmite.

Hyperbole - exaggeration, often by use of adjectives and adverbs.

Frequent use of adjectives and adverbs

A limited range of evaluative adjectives includes new, clean, white, real, fresh, right, natural, big, great, slim, soft, wholesome, improved ....

Neologisms may have novelty impact, eg Beanz Meanz Heinz, Cookability, Schweppervescence, Tangoed, Wonderfuel ...

Long noun phrases, frequent use of pre and post modifiers for descriptions.

Short sentences for impact on the reader. This impact is especially clear at the beginning of a text, often using bold or large type for the "Headline" or "slogan" to capture the attention of the reader.

Ambiguity is common. This may make a phrase memorable and re-readable. Ambiguity may be syntactic (the grammatical structure) or semantic (puns for example).

Weasel words are often used. These are words which suggest a meaning without actually being specific. One type is the open comparative: "Brown's Boots Are Better" (posing the question "better than what?"); another type is the bogus superlative: "Brown's Boots are Best" (posing the question "rated alongside what?")
Look out for the following Weasel words:

helps like virtually
enriched worth fresh
tested guaranteed scientific
traditional home-made organic

Use of Imperatives: "Buy Brown's Boots Now!"

Euphemisms :"Clean Round the Bend" for a toilet cleaner avoids comment on "unpleasant" things. The classic exampe is "B.O" for "body odour" (in itself a euphemism for "smelly person")

Avoidance of negatives (advertising normally emphasises the positive side of a product - though see Marmite, Tango, Benetton, for whom it seems that all publicity is good)

Simple and Colloquial language: "It ain't half good" to appeal to ordinary people, though it is in fact often complex and deliberately ambiguous.

Familiar language: use of second person pronouns to address an audience and suggest a friendly attitude.

Present tense is used most commonly, though nostalgia is summoned by the simple past

Simple vocabulary is most common, my mate Marmite, with the exception of technical vocabulary to emphasise the scientific aspects of a product (computers medicines and cars but also hair and cleaning products) which often comes as a complex noun phrase, the new four wheel servo-assisted disc brakes.

Repetition of the brand name and the slogan, both of which are usually memorable by virtue of
finger of fudge, the best four by four by far; rhyme, mean machine, the cleanest clean it's ever been; rhythm, drinka pinta milka day
syntactic parallelism, stay dry, stay happy
association, fresh as a mountain stream

Humour. This can be verbal or visual, but aims to show the product positively. Verbal Puns wonderfuel and graphic juxtapositions are common.

Glamorisation is probably the most common technique of all. "Old" houses become charming, characterful, olde worlde or unique. "Small" houses become compact, bijou, snug or manageable. Houses on a busy road become convenient for transport.
café with a pavement table becomes a trattoria, moving up market aspires to be a restaurant, too cramped it becomes a bistro. Not enough room to serve it becomes a fast food servery. If the menu is English food it is likely to be traditional, home-baked or home made; if the menu is French the cake will be gateau, the potted meat paté, bits of toast in your soup will be croutons. The decor will be probably chic, possibly Provençal.

Finally potency.
David Ogilvy identifies the following words as giving news value, novelty and immediacy to a piece of copy.

free now how to
suddenly announcing introducing
it's here just arrived important development
improvement amazing sensational
remarkable revolutionary startling
miracle magic offer
quick easy wanted
challenge advice to compare
bargain hurry last chance

Vance Packard (1960) memorably said:
"The cosmetic manufacturers are not selling lanolin, they are selling hope ... we no longer buy oranges, we buy vitality. We do not just buy an auto, we buy prestige."

Make a scrapbook of advertisements you have collected showing how all the above are used in practice. Make the scrapbook large enough to hold a full page advertisement in the centre and make notes in the margin around it. What is the greatest number of the above features you can find in a single advertisement?

How effective are the features in persuading or inclining you towards the product or service?

See Bikes, an example of advertising language in practice. See Spelling in Advertising.



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