Linguistic Features Of Advertising Language English Language Essay

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In the present world of mass media, people are confronted with advertisements all the time. When we watch TV in the comfort of our living rooms, we are bombarded with ads; when we read a newspaper or magazine, somehow our attention is distracted by one form of an ad or another. On our way to school or office, we come across ads in various shapes or colors. Indeed, advertising, whether print, broadcast, or any other type, is part of our everyday lives. It is inevitable for us to neglect the importance of advertising.

Goddard (2002) suggested that "Although advertisements are ephemeral in that each one is short-lived, their effects are longstanding and cumulative" (p.3). There was a TV commercial in which a young male stripped down to his underwear so as to wash his Levi 501s jeans in a launderette. This commercial has stimulated an eight-time growth of the sales of that brand. It happened in 1985 and advertisements at that time were not as popular as nowadays. From this perspective we can know more the importance of advertisements. They can impose great impact on the behavior of the consumers. This is the reason why many and many scholars are working on advertisements.

Simpson (2001) acknowledges that there has been "an enormous upsurge of interest in the linguistic and discoursal characteristics of advertising" (p. 589), adding that the studies conducted have been anchored on different traditions and perspectives, such as cognitive, cultural and anthropological, genre and register analysis, critical discourse analysis, and linguistic pragmatics (Simpson, 2001, p. 590). In recent years, research has focused on reader effects of poetic and rhetorical elements in ads from a relevance-theoretic perspective. For instance, van Mulken, van Enschot-van Dijk, and Hoeken (2005) aimed to find out whether slogans in ads are appreciated more than slogans without a pun, and whether puns containing two relevant interpretations are appreciated more than puns containing only one relevant interpretation (p. 707). Lagerwerf (2007), on the other hand, examined the effects on audiences of irony in ads and of sarcasm in public information announcements. Working within the pragmatic construct of metadiscourse, Fuertes-Olivera, et al. (2001) analyzed the metadiscourse devices typically used by ad copywriters to construct their slogans and/or headlines. The researchers' analysis proceeded from the assumption that advertising English should be represented as a continuum of text functions fluctuating between "informing" and "manipulating" in accordance with the idea that advertising is an example of covert communication. By studying advertisements and its language, we can acquire more information of this special form of language and also of register. Sometimes, the language use in advertisements can even reflect the different values in a society. In this study, the main focus is on the linguistic perspectives of advertising language. A lot of studies have been done to find out the common and distinctive features of advertising language in Western society. The English advertisements in Asian society have rarely been studied. In this research, some advertisements in a magazine published in Hong Kong will be studied. The research questions are as followed:

What are the general lexical grammatical features of advertising languages? And what are the general lexical grammatical features of advertising language in Hong Kong Magazine?

Do the general features found in the advertisements in HK Magazine match with the findings of general features shown in literature review? If so, what are the reasons for the seller to use a similar approach? If not, why do they use different approach?

The answer of the first part of the research will be answered in Literature Review. While for the others, they will be answered through a textual analysis on the advertisements of Hong Kong Magazine.

Literature Review

1. Advertising

1.1 Definition and Development

The word 'advertise' originated from Latin advertere, which means "to attract people's attention.'' The basic characteristic of advertising is to arouse consumers' attention and interest towards a product so that consumers would take action to buy the product (Cao, 2008). The American Marketing Association provided a more detailed definition of advertising, namely, "a paid, non personal communication laying emphasis on promotion and visual as well as oral presentation of the sales message (Tyagi & Kumar 2004:3)." Aside from considering advertising as a paid communication and a marketing tool, Ulanoff(1977) further stated that "advertising openly identifies the advertiser and his relationship to the sale effort."

The patterns or styles of advertising change. There are different manners to advertise in different times. Three different periods in advertising were elaborated as follows (Myers, 1994:19-28):

The 1890s: making brands and getting attention. Ads were created using rhymes, repetition, parallelism, and scientific and literary language. The advertisers were just getting a major foothold in newspapers and magazines.

The 1920s: creating an image for consumption. Ads often contained embedded narratives and mock conversations, associative language, and metaphorical substitutions of one thing for another. Ads used the new media, such as radio and comics.

The 1960s to the present: addressing the jaded consumer. Ads are made using ironies, parodies, puns, ads on ads, and juxtaposition of competing discourse in the text and the images. There is an extension to new media- not only television, but sponsorship of sports and the arts.

1.2 Categorization

Cook (1992:9) proposed four ways of categorizing ads, namely, by medium, product, technique, and consumership. First, in terms if medium, Fuertes-Olivera, et al. (2001) mentioned that the text type of advertisements can be further subdivided into 'digital advertisement', 'broadcast advertisement', 'print advertisement' and 'outdoor advertisements'. As for this study, the data of analysis are print advertisements. Second, based on products, luxury item ads require distinct techniques from ads on household necessities (Cook, 1992:9). Mueller (1992) brought forward two terms: high consumer involvement and low consumer involvement. The former refers to the goods which generally tend to be higher in price and are purchased relatively scarcely; the latter refers to the goods which tend to be lower in price and are brought very often. Ebert & Griffin (2005:305) provided a more detailed categorization, namely, convenience goods, shopping goods, and specialty goods. The first one is similar to low consumer involvement while high consumer involvement products are subdivided into shopping goods and specialty goods. Specialty goods are extremely important and more expensive than shopping goods, such as wedding gowns. The data analysis in this study comprise of all three kinds of goods. Third, concerning techniques, there is a distinction between reason advertising and tickle advertising. Reason advertising is direct and simple while tickle advertising in indirect and required an audience to exert more efforts to comprehend them (Bernstein, 1974). Fourth, with respect to consumership, advertisements can be categorized by consumers' lifestyle, socio-economic class, gender, age, and so on (Cook, 1992:11).

Moreover, advertisements can be classified based on their location in the magazines or newspapers. First, display ads, like those investigated in this study, are placed in conspicuous places amongst the editorial material so as to draw the attention of readers whose main purpose of reading the publication is not to read a particular advertisement. Second, classified ads are placed in special sections and ordered in accordance with the subject as their target reader belongs to a particular group (Vestergaard & Schroder, 1985:3).

Advertising language

The relationship between text and image

There is general disagreement on the relationship between text and image. Barthes (1984) claimed that all images are polysemous with a "floating chain of signifier." Language can be used to fix this floating chain and to anchor the image (1984:39). However, Kress and van Leeuwen (1996:17) argued that text and image are not mutually dependent and that "the visual component of a text is an independently organized and structured message-

I. Lexical features of advertisements in English newspapers and magazines

1. Coinage

Coinage, according to Longman Dictionary, means "a word or a phrase that has been recently invented". Advertisements are full of coined words to be lively and eye-catching. For example:

Give a Timex to all, to all a good time. (Timex, a brand name of watch)

Timex, being a coined noun, is formed originally from the two words "time" and "excellent". The new word is short and easy to remember.


The Ultimate All Inclusive One Price Sunkissed Holiday (a seashore holiday hotel advertisement)

"Twogether" is obviously derived from the word "together", which will create the fresh effect and leave a strong memory in the readers' mind. Beside, the particular image of two persons being together is formed without great effort, which make us feel warm and longing for that holiday hotel.

2. Comparative and Superlative adjectives

In order to convince the readers that the product advertised is second to none, comparative and superlative adjectives are frequently and commonly used in the advertisements.

(3) More connections to Europe. DHL has the world's biggest logistics network.

In this example, DHL, the logistics company, highlight its advantage of being more accessible and more easily to reach with the word "more" and "biggest". Those who read this advertisement will have the impression that DHL is right choice for them because it has more locations to reach than other companies.

3. Compound word

Compound words are colloquial in form, which will gives the readers a sense of closeness. Compound words also allow more possibilities to create humorous effect.

(4) better-than-leather-miracle-covering look at the oh-so-comfortable size give that oh-so-good-to-be alive feeling

This advertisement is quite interesting by combining many words together, which sounds like someone who is exclaiming his extol. Without doubt, it is impressive because of its creativity of compound word and humorous effect.

III. Syntactic features of advertisements in English newspapers and magazines

1. Simple sentence

Generally speaking, simple sentences are quick and direct in conveying information, while complex sentences will create some suspense dragging the readers' understanding behind. Please compare:

(5) Buy one and get one free.

(5`) If you buy one, you will get one free.

(6) Time to listen. Capacity to act (Mess Pierson, Consulting Company)

(6`) It's time to listen and our capacity to act.

Obviously, sentence (4) and (5) are both vivid in rhythm and easy for the readers to get the information. Sentence (4`) and (5`) however, are comparatively redundant in conveying the meaning, though they are grammatically correct. Readers tend to remember to (4) and (5) structure, because of their simplicities. One everlasting example is Nike shoes' slogan: "Just Do It!" rather than "Let's just do it now!"

2. Imperative sentence

Imperative sentences are often persuasive in that it arises the reads' impulse to buy the product. Imperative sentences, beginning with the verbs, are forceful and tempting, which coincide with the purpose of the advertisements.

(7) Get fast downloads with no wires attached. (SmarTone, Hong Kong Telecom Company)

(8) Stop in at any Ford or Lincoln-Mercury dealer. (Ford, Car Company)

Readers are advocated and persuaded to do the action, waiting no time. By telling or requesting readers to perform in a certain way, imperative sentences are effective in exerting a subtle impression to do as they are told.

3. Disjunctive Clause

Disjunctive Clause is the exclusive syntactic features of advertisements in English newspaper and magazines. Disjunctive Clause usually chops the sentences into several parts with the cohesive device of full stop, dash, hyphen, semi-colon etc. By doing so, the advertisement is more condensed, which will save the money for taking up too much space of the newspapers or magazines.

(9) We strive to send you a vacation faster. Caring more about you. (SkyTeam, Flight Company)

In this advertisement, we can see that "Caring more about you" is split from the former. Normally, we would say: "We strive to send you a vacation faster and care more about you". The effect here is to highlight the part "Caring more about you" to leave a strong impression on the readers. So, when the ads want to emphasis something, they will tend to put them in a Disjunctive Clause to catch the readers' attention.

Cook (1992) stated that "Advertising is a prominent discourse type in virtually all contemporary societies" (p.5). The term "discourse" means text and context together and they interact in a way which participants perceived as unified and meaningful.

"Text" means linguistic forms, which is artificially and temporarily detached from context so as to carry out analysis. "Context" includes substance, music and pictures, paralanguage, situation, co-text, intertext, participants and function. Four categories of advertisement are found. They are medium, product, technique and consumer (Cook, 1992, p.9). Another scholar Goddard (2002) suggested that attention-seeking devices are presented in the language of advertising, along with the category of writer, readers and texts. Moreover, cultural variations, user friendliness, stereotyping and presupposition are also features of the advertising language.

Research Questions


A qualitative approach will be adopted in this research. A total of twenty advertisements will be collected randomly from the magazine "Times". The volume in 2012 will be used. Times magazine has 54 issues a year. The issues on January, April, July and October will be used. From each issue, one piece of advertisement will be analyzed. There should be a total of 20 issues and thus 20 pieces of advertisement. Times magazine is chosen because of its popularity and the readiness to find in the market. The types of products must not re-occur in the 20 pieces being analyzed. It means that every piece of advertisement should be promoting different products.

From the 20 pieces of advertisements, they will be analyzed accordingly in several directions. The first direction is the theory they has used in advertising. The second direction is identifying the features of advertising language. The results will be presented in tables and summary will be drawn according to the findings.