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Autor: anton 10 June 2011
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AN ANALYSIS OF LANGUAGE FEATURES IN ENGLISH ADVERTISEMENTS
This paper presents an analytical study of the language features of English advertisements at lexical, syntactic and discourse levels. In order to conduct a data-driven study, the author builds a corpus of 60 English advertisements. It is hoped that through the detailed survey of three types of advertisements: namely, daily consumer goods ads, technical equipment ads, service ads, similarities and differences in advertising language features can be summarized and possible reasons will be given in the light of the meaning, and function of language.
This paper will be presented in five parts. The first part is the introduction and the last conclusion. The focus of the paper is laid on the three middle parts which respectively analyze language features at lexical, syntactic and discourse levels. The conclusion of this paper is drawn from the data analysis. In the analysis, examples from the corpus will be given; figures, tables and graphs will also be offered to make the paper understandable and persuasive.
It is hoped that the study can shed light on the language features of advertisements and also provide help to copy writers and advertising English learners.
KEYWORDS: English Advertisements, Lexical, Syntactic, Discourse,
1. Introduction â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦ 1
1.1 Rationale of the study â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦... 1
1.2 Definition of advertising â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦... 1
1.3 Focus of the present study â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦ 1
1.4 Sources of data â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦. 2
2. Lexical features â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦ 2
2.1 Classification of advertising and its audience â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦.. 2
2.2 Similarities at the lexical level â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦. 3
2.2.1 Few verbs are used â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦... 3
2.2.2 Use of emotive words â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦.. 4
2.2.3 Make pun and alliteration â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦. 4
2.2.4 Use of weasel words â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦. 5
2.3 Differences at the lexical level â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦. 6
2.3.1 Gender identity in advertisementsâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦. 6
2.3.2 Selection of Adjectives â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦ 7
2.3.3 Compound words â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦. 8
2.3.4 Use of pronouns â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦ 8
3. Syntactical features â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦ 9
3.1 Similarities â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦ 9
3.2 Differences â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦ 10
3.2.1 Headlines â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦.. 10
3.2.2 Comparison of headlines of different types of ads â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦... 11
4. Discourse features...â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦.. 12
4.1 Body copy of advertisements â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦... 12
4.2 Differences in body copy â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦. 12
5. Conclusion â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦ 14
Sincere thanks go to Dr. Wei Naixing for his insightful guidance and earnest help all through the searching, analysis and paper-writing stages.
The author also wants to extend her thanks to Ms. Linda Frost who has given much help in data collecting.
 Bolinger, Dwight & Sears, Donald A. Aspects of Language third edition
New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1981
 Bovee, Courtland L. & Arens, William F. Contemporary Advertising forth edition
Homewood, IL: Irwin 1992
 Gove, Philip Babcock Websterâ€™s Third New International Dictionary
Springfield, Mass.: G. & C. Merriam Co. 1976
 Gregory, Michael Language Varieties and Their Social Contexts
London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. 1981
 Jefkins, Frank William Advertising Philadelphia, PA: Macdonald and Evans 1985
 Oâ€™Donnell, W. R. & Todd, Loreto Variety in Contemporary English
London: George Allen & Unwin (Publishers) Ltd. 1985
 Roberts, William H. & Turgeon, Gregoire About Language second editon
Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1989
 Vestergaard, Torben & Schr der, Kim The language of Advertising
Oxford[Oxfordshire]; New York, NY, USA: B. Blackwell 1985
 方薇 《现代英语广告教程》 南京大学出版社 1997
1.1 Rationale of the study
We live in a world of advertising. As potential consumers, we are endlessly bombarded with all kinds of product or service information from various media including newspapers, magazines, television, radio, posters and Internet, etc. Advertising provides a valuable service to society and its members, because it defines for consumers the meaning and the role of products, services, and institutions. It indicates the difference that exists between brands of products and alternative services, as well as the distinguishing characteristics of companies and institutions. Advertising also tells the consumer what a specific product, brand or service should do when it is used and thus helps him or her to understand and evaluate experience with the products and services that he or she uses. On the other hand, by making people aware of products, service and ideas, advertising promotes sales and profits. Finally, advertising is one of the major forces that are helping improve the standard of living around the world. Combined with all these communicational, marketing and social functions. Advertising becomes indispensable in the modern world.
Naturally, advertisements in English have become an important means of communicating ideas, demonstrating a variety of linguistic features of its own. The present study attempts to examine these features at the lexical, syntactic and discourse levels, in the hope of bringing them to light and, thereby, offering help to advertisement writers and language learners.
1.2 Definition of advertising
According to the Definition Committee of American Marketing Association(方薇, 1997:2)
, advertising is defined as follows:
Advertising is the nonpersonal communication of information usually paid for and usually persuasive in nature about products, services or ideas by identified sponsors through the various media.
1.3 Focus of the present study
Usually, advertising communicates information in three types: audio, visual, and language. It is a more common case that an advertisement is a mixture of the three. In radio advertisements, music is always accompanied by language; on TV and motion pictures, music and language illustration are mixed with each other. In magazines and newspapers, advertisements are a combination of pictures and language of written information. Although music and pictures can provide some hints, or create a kind of atmosphere, the information about the product is limited. Even worse, it may lead to misunderstanding. Thus, we may say that language in a way provides more exact, detailed and dependable information whereas music and pictures only act as a supplementary means in advertising. Advertising language, playing a role of communication and persuasion, has developed its own features.
This paper will focus on the language features of English advertisements at lexical, syntactic and discourse levels. It is hoped, by a contrastive study of advertisements on three types of products (daily consumer goods, technical equipment and service), similarities and differences of the three types of advertisements will be summarized and possible reasons will be given in the light of the meaning, and function of language.
1.4 Sources of data
All the advertisements studied in this paper are taken from English magazines. They are chosen from Time, People and Newsweek (issues from 1999-2000), because these three magazines have a huge circulation, covering all kinds of audience. Almost all kinds of advertisements can be found in these magazines. In order to get valuable information for the study, a corpus of 60 advertisements was built, which consists of 20 daily consumer goods ads, 20 technical equipment ads, and 20 service ads. Conclusions will be drawn through quantitative and qualitative studies of the data.
2 Lexical Features
2.1 Classification of advertising and its audience
Generally speaking, advertisements can be divided into two types: public relation ads and commercial ads. The former tries to advocate reputation for a social group, whose purpose is to leave a favorable impression upon the potential audience. The latter leads to the act of purchasing the products or using the recommended service. Commercial ads are much more presented through mass media for the reason that manufacturers and companies are willing to spend a large sum of money to make a certain product known or to boost the image of a certain brand. In some cases, competitors, like Coca-cola and Perpsi, even spare no expense to launch advertising campaigns to win over the market share. Commercial advertising can also be divided according to the target audience into two groups: consumer advertising and business advertising. Most of the ads in the mass media are consumer advertisements. They are typically directed at consumers. By contrast, business advertising tends to be concentrated in specialized business publications, professional journals, trade shows targeting at a certain group of people involved in some business. Since consumer advertising is most accessible to common people, the present study on will focus on consumer advertising. The classification of advertising is clearly shown in the following graph:
Graph 1 Classification of advertisements
Public ads Daily consumer goods ads
Advertising Consumer ads Technical equipment ads
Business ads Service ads
The bold parts show the scope of advertisements we study. Daily consumer goods are necessities of daily life, such as food, detergent, hygiene, etc. Technical equipment is technical toys and electric equipment such as camera, vehicle, hi-fi, etc. Service covers bank, insurance, fund, etc.
Actually, advertising works effectively some of the time and doesnâ€™t work other times. The single crucial reason that advertising does not work is that in specific instances the information it conveys never reaches the consumer at all, or is judged by the consumer to be either redundant, meaningless, or irrelevant. For example, a motorbike advertisement will probably be invisible to housewives on the lookout for new cutlery. Social status and individual interest decide that consumer goods ads are mainly targeting at women while technical equipment ads are largely aiming at men. The amount of shared knowledge between the advertiser and the audience together with the thinking habit of the audience directly influences the advertising language. Since products and audience change in every advertisement in order to achieve high advertising effectiveness, language used differs in different types of advertisements. Thus, in this paper we discuss not only the similarities of language shared by all types of advertisements but also differences of language used in different kinds of advertisements.
2.2 Similarities at the lexical level
In order to make the information accessible to audience effectively, the choice of words in advertising is very cautious and skillful. The aim of the advertiser is quite specific. He wishes to capture the attention of the members of a mass audience and by means of impressive words to persuade them to buy a product or behave in a particular way, such as going to Hawaii for all their holiday needs. Both linguistic and psychological aspects are taken into consideration in the choice of words. Sharing the same purpose of advertising－to familiarize or remind consumers of the benefits of particular products in the hope of increasing sales, the techniques used at the lexical level by advertisers do not vary markedly. The following points are some prominent similarities.
2.2.1 Few verbs are used
G. N. Leech, English linguist, lists 20 most used verbs in his English In Advertising: Linguistic study of Advertising In Great Britain (方薇, 1997:20). They are: make, get, give, have, see, buy, come, go, know, keep, look, need, love, use, feel, like, choose, take, start, taste.
All these verbs listed above are also popular in the corpus we built.
You will often read such sentences in an advertisement:
Buy x. Use it. We makeâ€¦ X will give you what you need. Youâ€™ll love x. Get x. Fox example:
Weâ€™ll make this quick. (Hertz Car Return)
Get great coverage thatâ€™s so weightless and water-fresh. (ALMAY)
All you need is a taste for adventure. (Millstone Coffee)
Youâ€™ll love it even more with the 2.1 megapixel C-2000 ZOOM. (Olympus Camera)
Donâ€™t have much of a personality? Buy one. (Honda Motor)
All these frequently used verbs are monosyllabic and most of them have Anglo-Saxon origin that is the common core of English vocabulary. Linguistic study shows English native speakers tend to use words of Anglo-Saxon origin, because native words have comparably stable meaning. In advertising, these simple words can win the consumers by their exact, effective expression and a kind of closeness. Etymological studies show that the 20 verbs listed before, except use and taste which are from ancient French, all are Anglo-Saxon origin. Even the two words, use and taste have long become indispensable lexical items in the stock of common core vocabulary of the English people, developing their stable meaning and usage.
2.2.2 Use of emotive words
A close scrutiny of recent advertisements suggests that the soft-sell technique is now popular. By soft-sell technique we mean the one that favors a more emotive and less directive approach to promote a product, mainly focusing on the building of brand image. As a result, emotive words, most of which are pleasant adjectives, are greatly encouraged to use.
Data from the corpus shows that the most frequently used adjectives are as follows:
new, good/better/best, fresh, free, delicious, sure, full, clean, wonderful, special, crisp, real, fine, great, safe, and rich.
These adjectives help to build a pleasant picture in readersâ€™ minds and manage to create a belief in the potential consumer: If I buy this product or if I choose this service, I will lead a better life. In addition, comparatives and superlatives occur to highlight the advantage of a certain product or service. For example:
Nothing comes closer to home. (Vegetable and Chicken Pasta Bake)
Think Lysol is the best disinfecting spray. (Disinfecting Spray)
The worldâ€™s coolest CDs arenâ€™t made in New York, London or L.A. They are made in my apartment. (Philips CD Recorder)
The Compaq Armada family is lighter, with new rounded edges for easier packing. (Compaq)
2.2.3 Make pun and alliteration
Pun is an amusing use of a word or phrase that has two meanings which is called Polysemy or of words with the same sound but different meanings which is called Homonymy. Pun, the game of words, will leave a deep impression on readers by its readability, wit, and humor. However, to make a successful and impressive pun is not easy. Except for its own meaning, the word used as a pun is usually closely related to the characteristics of a certain product or the brand name of the product. Such coincidence doesnâ€™t occur often. Here we present several classic pun- used advertisements. For example:
Give your hair a touch of spring.
Ask for more. (More is a famous brand of cigarette)
Give your business the sharp edge. (Sharp Corporation)
By using pun, advertisements will be easily remembered by the readers. In addition, filled with wit and humor, puns help the advertised product win favor from readers.
Alliteration is the use of words that begin with the same sound in order to make a special communicative effect. Usually they are pleasing to ears because of the clever choice of the word by the advertiser. In addition, the repetition of the beginning sound emphasizes the meaning the advertisement wants to express. The following are examples picked from the corpus.
â€¦, everything you need for that big bargain basement special.
â€¦, and vitamin E to leave skin soft and smooth.
Treat your weary ghosts and goblins to a warm bowl of chill and â€¦
2.2.4 Use of weasel words
A weasel word is defined as â€œa word used in order to evade or retreat from a direct or forthright statement or positionâ€ according to Webster Dictionary (Philip Babcock Gove, 1976). The use of weasel words has become a device in advertising. Weasel words make people hear things that arenâ€™t being said, accept as truth that have only been implied, and believe things that have only been implied and suggested. Letâ€™s take a look under a strong light at several frequently used words.
Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail helps maintain urinary tract health.
It helps control the bacteria in this system.
A breakthrough way to help stop wear-out
Help finance the video equipment.
All the examples shown are from our corpus. 23% advertisements of all samples use the word help. These helps can be omitted because they have lost their original meaning: aid, assist. Yet, help in advertising English is never redundant. It has magic power in advertisersâ€™ eyes.
Help is the great qualifier; once the advertiser says it, he can say anything after it. Help qualifies everything. The audience has never heard anyone say, â€œThis product will keep you young,â€ or â€œThis toothpaste will positively prevent cavities for all time.â€ Obviously, advertisers canâ€™t say anything like that, because there are not any products like that made. But by adding that one little word help, in front, they can use the strongest language possible afterwards. And the most fascinating part of it is that the readers are immune to the word. The readers literally donâ€™t hear the word help. They only knew what comes after it. That is strong language, and likely to be much more important to the readers than the little word at the front.
Itâ€™s like getting on bar free.
Cleans like a white tornado.
Itâ€™s like taking a trip to Portugal.
Like is also a qualifier, and is used in much the same way as help. But like is also a comparative element, with a very specific purpose; advertisers use like to get the audience to stop thinking about something that is bigger than or better or different from the product which are being sold. In other words, they can make the audience believe that the product is more than it is by likening it to something else. Like help, like doesnâ€™t catch much attention. However by using it, almost anything can be said and promised afterwards.
2.3 Differences at the lexical level
2.3.1 Gender identity in advertisements
While we found quite a lot of similarities in the choice of words, we have also found some delicate differences in the choice of words in the three types of advertisements as classified before: daily consumer goods ads, technical equipment ads, and service ads.
Language, as a communicative tool, is not only to impart information, to communicate ideas about a product, etc., but also to convey information about the relationship between the addresser (advertisement) and the addressee (the audience). An intimate relationship between the advertisement and the audience is always hoped to achieve. So according to different audience, language applied is different.
What constitutes a female and a male identity, according to advertising? Table 1, based on the language of advertising (Torben Vestergaard & Kim Schr der, 1981:74), gives the commodity profile of two gender-identified magazines: Women and Playboy and also provides the distribution of the different types of advertisements.
Table 1 Distribution of three types of advertisements
Percentage of ads
Women (%) Playboy (%)
Hygiene 10 3
Beauty 18 1
Clothes 12 14
Food, Detergents 31 -
Tobacco 8 15
Beer, Spirits - 25
Leisure - 3
Vehicle - 27
Radio, hi-fi - 4
Computer - 7
Service Insurance, banking 2 -
Others 19 1
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