Editing Internet Texts/Persuasive Language in Advertising

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Non-product ad
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Persuasive Language in Advertising - the aim of this project is to acquaint the readers with the concept of persuasive languge which is ever present in advertisements all over the world. We are constantly surrounded by various types of commercials whether it's on the radio, television, on the Internet or on the buildings of our towns. This constant contact with persuasion has a great impact on our perception of the world and greatly influences the process of making a choice not only when it comes to buying products, but also in other areas of out lives.

Advertising[edit | edit source]

The basic meaning of advertising is related to its etymology which comes from Middle French advertiss and means "to take notice of" [1]. However, as the study of advertising has developed,other, more complex, definitions have emerged. According to Cook [2] advertising does not only limit itself to simple product promotion but it also performs a very important function for the modern technology. Ads act as a mirror that reflects the current changes which occur in the social, economic and personal relations. "[Advertising is] a form of persuasion which is directed at large numbers of people by means of the media" [3]


Cook's Categories of Advertisements[edit | edit source]

Ads can be classified depending on [2]:

  1. the medium in which they appear - the medium of advertising influences the form in which the advert appears, for instance TV advertisements use music and moving pictures whereas those found in magazines and newspapers can only rely on printed images and text.

  1. the product they promote - luxuries such as perfume and expensive delicacies are advertised in a different way to necessities being products of everyday use.
  2. whether they try to sell a product or not: non-product ads and product ads (for example:government and charity advertising, trade and technical advertisements, prestige, business and financial advertising)
  1. the technique they use to advertise:
Technique Definition
Hard Sell a direct appraoch to advertising
Soft Sell a subtler way to promote a product; such advertisements usually suggest that the advertised product will have positive impact on the consumer's life
Slow Drip when ads appear (on TV,radio, in magazines or billboards) rarely in a long period of time
Sudden Burst when adverts appear often in a short period of time
Short Copy a short text or other form of advertisement (a short radio announcement or a short video clip)
Long Copy a long text or other form of advertisement

Functions[edit | edit source]

It is popular to assign only the persuasive function to advertising, this is due to the fact that people want to make a clear-cut distinction between ads which are used to sell products (product ads), and other types of discourse. However, Guy Cook [2] mentions other types of ads which do not exactly follow the standard function distinction, these are non-product ads which aim at warning, informing or encouraging the society about some important issues. Another function of advertising is mentioned by Helen Katz [4] ,the function to inform through entertainment. "Advertising in the media performs the dual role of informing and entertaining. It informs us of the goods and services that are available for us to purchase and use. And, along the way, it often entertains us with some humorous, or clever use of words and pictures".

Sport Events

Forms of Adverts[edit | edit source]

Dyer [5] ennumerates different forms of ads used to influence the audience, they differ in the mode of address that is used:

  • direct exhortation/ direct address- the advertiser seems to have face-to-face contact with the audience
  • monologue on behalf of the advertiser- in such a commercial there is a presenter who speaks in behalf of the advertiser, for instance, a celebrity who is connected with the brand. An example of this form of advertisement could be a commercial by Ivy Park an active wear line co-founded by Beyonce who also appears in the role of the presenter in the Where is Your Park commercial.
  • dialogue in domestic playlet- this form of address involves ordinary people who perform everyday activities. This kind of commercial gives the audience an insight into someone's lige, an effect of "eavesdropping". For example Reebok's The Retro Shopcommercial, which features an everyday scene from a barber shop.
  • dialogue interview with an "ordinary" customer- these interviews give an impression of testimonials of products and are usually conducted by soomeone who is well known to the customers, for instance a celebrity or a popular broadcaster. An example of this form of address may be a commercial for Reebok's Be More Human campaign in which a science journalist interviews passers-by on the streets of an American city.
  • interior monologue- in this form of advert the audience gets an insight into the thoughts of the character seen in the ad. This technique aims to make the audience identify themselves with the person in the advert. This kind of advert is usually in the form of a stream of thoughts. An example of this technique can be founf in Nike's Find Your Greatness commercial.
Book advertisement

Language[edit | edit source]

Lakoff [6] states that “ language is, and has always been, the means by which we construct and analyze what we call ‘reality’”. Although this definition does not apply specifically to the language of advertising but to language in general, we can clearly make out that by means of language – an invisible device – we can control others, gain knowledge and experience, and express ourselves – and that’s precisely what the language of advertising does, it shapes our way of thinking by the right selection of words in ads and makes use of what’s familiar to the consumers in order to propose new, unusual products. Endless combinations are possible, every combination of words in an ad introduces new meaning, new images and different associations.

Saussure[2] identified different types of relations into which the signified and the signifier enter to form meaning, in rhetoric these are usually referred to as metabolas, whose fundamental part is substitution of one expression for another:

Metaphor is a figure in which one signifier (word) or vehicle refers to two signifieds (concepts) or topics. According to O’Shaughnessy [7] it is the most powerful tool to change attitudes of consumers because a large part of our language and perception is based on the structure of a metaphor. An example of this figure of speech can be noticed in Nike’s slogan “I am the bullet in the chamber”. Other figures which are used in advertisements and can be described by the ‘S’ over ‘s’ equation is metonymy, synecdoche and symbol.

Metonymy Metonymy is “using one entity to refer to another that is related to it”[8], an example of using one for the whole in advertising can be calling a product by its brand name for example when someone says “I need to get new Nike’s” meaning “trainers”.

Synecdochy Synecdoche is a type of metonymy which in characterized by the part of the whole referring to the whole object; for instance when somebody says “I’ve got a new set of wheels”[6] where the part of the car, a “set of wheels” stands for the whole car. An example of a sportswear advertisement which makes use of this feature is Nike’s slogan “The sneaker unleashes the monster” which refers to the brand in general by means of just one type of product which the brand produces.

Symbol The relationship between the signifier and the signified of a symbol is similar to that of metaphor with an exception that “the connection is effected more by convention than by any perceived similarity, allowing reference to be made directly from the signifier of one entity to the signified of another”. Symbols in advertising are used in slogans as well as visually. Advertisers’ goal is to make their product into a symbol that is positive to the consumers; for instance the logo of Nike is a “V” which symbolizes victory-the goal of every sportsman or sportswoman.

Block language Leech [9] defines the language of advertising as block language. It is characterized by “a generalized absence of articles, a predominance of nouns and nominal groups and a concomitant rarity of verbs and frequent syntactic disjunction” [10]. Block language only uses words which are necessary to communicate the message. In order to use little space and to transmit as much information as possible the finite verb is omitted. Advertisers make use of simple sentences and minor sentences; simple sentences have only one clause with a single subject and a verb, whereas minor sentences do not adopt grammatical rules, they consist of only the nominal phrase without other constituents which are normally considered obligatory (for instance they do not have a finite verb) examples of minor sentences are headings, stereotyped expressions (Hello!) and emotional expressions.

Imperative mood Simple language and a direct apostrophe to the addressee are a great way to drag attention, especially the use of the imperative mood, which is more common in advertising than declarative mood; examples of such advertisements are “Just do it”(Nike), “It’s a big world. Go run it!”(Asics).

Colloquial and unofficial language Language of advertising is very often colloquial and unofficial, it usually stems from the limited airtime (on television or on the radio) but also from the fact that it tries to “imitate some aspects of real speech” [11]. The narration is frequently very direct and when wrongly used it can be considered by the consumers as rude, sexist or generally insulting, for example a Nike’s slogan “One more thing for men to rule”.

Idioms Advertisements also make use of idioms, scientific language and even legal language depending on the purpose and character of the advert. “There are many advertisements which use features strictly appropriate to another role”[12]. Scientific vocabulary is used in sportswear advertising in order to convince the audience that their products are created with the best materials and provide comfort at the highest level.

Adjectives in the superlative and comparative Adjectives in the superlative and comparative are very often used in advertisements to point out superiority or some unique features of a product. “You see the best player in the world. He sees room for improvement”(Nike), “Becoming stronger than your strongest excuse” (Under Armour).

Weasel words Weasel words, words which have an extra meaning apart from their dictionary meaning, are used on purpose for their ambiguity so that advertisers can freely describe their products without being held accountable for assigning specific features to them, such terms are also used in order not to offend anyone because their function is to ‘weaken’ the literal meaning or force of a statement. The term used to name such words “weasel words” comes from a slang phrase “to weasel out of something” which according to The Free Dictionary means “to escape responsibility for something” or “to squeeze one's way out of something”. Examples of such words are: “is like”, “virtually”, “improved”, “helps”, “is useful”, “many”, “most of”[13]

Open-ended comparisons A strategy of open-ended comparisons is frequent in advertising, according to Winkler it is a process in which a product “is grammatically being compared to nothing but the consumer is left with the feeling that it has been” [13]. Consumers usually interpret such comparisons as being compared to the business rivalries on the market. “See better, feel better, look better” (Columbia), “Move more. Move better.” (Nike).

Modal auxiliaries Advertisers often use modal auxiliaries in order to adjust the statements they have made about their products, with the use of could, will, should, may, can and might they provide us with additional information about the verb that the modal auxiliary governs and simultaneously have a “clear effect on the total meaning of the utterance” [13]

  • must- necessity or obligation is expressed
  • will- certainty is expressed
  • should– a slightly weaker obligation is expressed
  • can– ability, possibility is expressed
  • may- possibility is expressed

Examples of modal auxiliaries used in sportswear adverts are Nike’s slogans: “We will run more km than ever”, “I will protect my home court”, “We will reinvent running”, “ You can do it”, “If no one thinks you can then you have to”, “If you can see it you can reach it”.

Parallelism Parallelism is a device frequently used in advertising, according to A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory “[paralellism] consists of phrases or sentences of similar construction and meaning placed side by side, balancing each other”[14]

Repetitions and paraphrases are in structure to parallelism because they repeat something that has been mentioned before. An example of parallelism in advertising can be noticed is Asics’ slogan “Unload your mind, unleash your power”.

Airlines Poster

Persuasion[edit | edit source]

Effective advertising is, almost always, persuasive advertising[15] advertisements were made to persuade, if one does not manipulate its audience - it’s not doing its job - and at the same time - not fulfilling its purpose. Of course, the public tries to assure everyone they are not convinced by the persuasive side of advertisements but if that were the truth, why would companies give away humongous sums of money on useless advertising and marketing every season? It is a fact that persuasion in advertising is incredibly effective, even though people say it does not, but can we pinpoint to what persuasion really is? Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary [16] provides a definition in which persuasion is defines as an act which brings people about to do or believe something: the act or activity of persuading people. Hallmark and Virtanen [17] see use of language in general as persuasion, they mention Chaim Perelman’s view according to whim persuasion can be assigned the features of argumentation “[...] argumentation [...] covers the whole range of discourse that aims at persuasion and conviction , whatever the audience addressed and whatever the subject matter”[17]; This point of view is shared by O’Shaughnessy, he declares that each act of communication, performed by a person, that is broader than just a message of kindness can be idntified as a form of persuasion “even when we are promising or complaining about something, apologizing or guaranteeing, we are still aiming to persuade in that we are implicitly soliciting the trust of others in the truth or sincerity of our words”. Each kind of social contact is seen as persuading and being persuaded, we are always making judgment about things, others and situations whether they are positive or negative and share such opinions with other people to receive their agreement (evaluative language). Hence every form of discourse (evaluating, explaining, describing, predicting, prescribing, recommending etc.) can be classified as persuasive because we want to convey a specific message to our interlocutors, we aim at receiving a particual response.


Persuasion vs Influence[edit | edit source]

We frequently connect persuasion with influence, some of the time we even use these two terms reciprocally, yet they are not the same. In spite of the fact that influence is a method for persuading, not all influence is persuasion. The contrast between the two is in the intention; a person can impact someone else's convictions or qualities without being aware of doing so, a case of this can be a celebrity who does not intend to be a good example to others yet unexpectedly progresses toward becoming looked up to; in the event that somebody wants to convince someone else into doing or thinking a specific way it must be done purposefully (it's their intention to control somebody). Another perspective in which these two phenomena vary is the trust factor, when some person influences us or when we influence them the trust component is of no significance, with regards to persuasion, trust is critical to frame devotion between the customer and the seller of a product “loyalty means the consumer cares and may even care for a brand which does not play an important function for him or her [...] trust presupposes, as a minimum, that the other party is not out to deceive and is sincere” [5].

Successful Persuasion[edit | edit source]

There are four principles without which effective influence would be impossible, the first, attention value is the use of unique, unusual language that is often shocking to the public and which makes a specific commercial emerge among others. The principle of listenability or readability, contingent upon the medium in which the adversitsement shows up (TV, radio or magazines), articulates that the content must be enojoyable to read or to listen so that the group of onlookers keeps up enthusiasm for whatever he or she is perusing. Memorability expresses that the content must be recognizable to the group of onlookers. The principle of selling power is the ability to encourage the clients into purchasing and promoting a specific item.

Rational vs Emotional Persuasion[edit | edit source]

Keeping in mind the end goal to get the desired response of the buyers, publicists need to use the right invitation to shed light on certain issues, give an alternate definition to an issue or to demonstrate an alternative answer for something. There are two points of view of promotions: the emotional and the rational one. The emotional viewpoint makes use of feelings - advertisers stir the buyers' sentiments towards something in order to make it matter to them; once individuals have more grounded sentiments towards something they quit being unbiased, “emotions engage us with their objects in such a way as to make them lose their neutrality: they become marked by being lovable, disgusting, exciting, fearful and so on” [15]. The rational perspective is in total opposition to the emotional perspective since it is concerned with facts and depends on logic instead of instincts and sentiment. Despite the fact that these two methodologies contrast essentially and in spite of the way that the emotional perspective is more successful in provoking certain actions, (for example, a purchase) there is additionally a demand for social acceptance of that activity and a requirement for it to be rationally explained, in other words a customer needs to be assured by the society that their purchase was necessary and that it is approved of. In order to make a successfully persuasive advert, both of these viewpoints should be taken into consideration by the advertiser.


There are different systems used by advertisers in order to stir the customers' feelings:

a)Synonymy is normally used to redescribe an issue to make it more appealing to the emotions of the audience, the correct choice of vocabulary makes a difference in advertising because it helps to create different images in the minds of the receivers. This technique is similar to connotation, it relies on associations. “Twice the guts. Double the glory.”

b) Statistics is an important figure in advertising since it works as "hard evidence" for whatever the promoter proposes to be valid; for example a notice asserting that 90% of respondents are content with a specific item is more appealing to the customer than an advertisement which expresses that only 10% of the respondents were unhappy with it( despite the fact that the message they pass on is precisely the same).

c) Anecdotes and narrations are said to be very influential, customers find adverts with anecdotes in them (about how the item was made and what lead to its finding) a lot more authentic. Anecdotes are a powerful tactic as they can highlight convincing components and invoke emotional visions.

d) Genealogy is a kind of portrayal which concentrates on how something came into being. Advertisers often share the whole production process in order to give it more credability and uniqueness than other products which are of similar character.

e) Classification can persuade by associating a particular subject with the image that comes to mind when one thinks of its category. For example when a product is classified as healthy food it is always associated with health and well-being. Or, when a health condition is put in the category of “disease” it is more probable that the patient takes it more seriously.

f) Definition is the acknowledgment of the advertisement's suggestions and outcomes. The path in which the advertiser characterizes his product influences the way in which the consumers see it. Once the general public acknowledges a specific definition, persuasion is the matter of logic.

Rhetoric and Persuasion[edit | edit source]

There is a close connection between rhetoric and persuasion seeing that a demonstration is best performed by a speaker or orator who is familiar of the three methods of persuasion distinguished by Aristotle as ethos, pathos and logos. The principal method of influence, ethos, is dependent upon the authenticity of the speaker or on his individual character, for instance a person who is a specialist in a certain field. This sort of influence is to be accomplished after the individual makes his/her discourse, it cannot be based on prejudice (neither positive nor negative). The second method of influence, pathos, is the emotional effect a discourse makes on the recipients it puts them in a specific mood. Not exclusively does it use metaphorical language (metaphors, similes) to achieve the persuasive effect but also simple, straightforward sentences, contingent upon the context. Infrequently it can be used to arouse fear in consumers. The third method of influence, logos, gives evidence for what the speaker is saying. Dyers [5] characterizes rhetoric as the effective or artful use of speech and writing [that] is used to clarify or add strength and impact to persuasive oratory”. She likewise asserts that rhetorical techniques ought to be viewed as violations of a norm, since they break the principles of language structure, logic and manners. The same applies to advertisins, "[it] frequently breaks ‘rules’, such as those of spelling or grammar”.

Rhetorical Techniques in Advertising[edit | edit source]

There are two noteworthy operations in rhetorical figures: addition and suppression. The previous happens when components are added to a sentence. The latter one deals with taking out components from a word or a sentence. There are two operation which derive from addition and suppression; mostly substitution, which is erasing a component and later replacing it with an alternate one (suppression followed by addition), and exchange which comprises of two corresponding substitutions and creates a mirror-like effect in a sentence. Rhetorical figures are grouped by the connection between them, regardless of whether they depend on similarities or contrasts between the components.

Figures of Addition[edit | edit source]

  1. Repetition is the reproduction of the same sound,word or group of words. It is usually done to draw attention and to make the slogan more memorable for the consumers. An example of this figure in sportswear advertising is Nike’s slogan “My better is better than your better”.
  2. Similarity can be divided into the similarity of form, which is rhyme and the similarity of content, which is a comparison.
  3. Opposition is the process of juxtaposing two contrastive objects or ideas in order to give an impression of a clash which is shocking to the audience. For example “The moment lasts a second. The legend lasts forever” (Nike).
  4. Paradox or ambiguity are rhetorical devices which play with what is real and what is not. In the former one the visible similarity of two objects or ideas is in fact masking a difference between them, whereas in the latter the visible difference between components conceals the similarities between them. An example of ambiguity in sportswear advertising is Nike’s slogan “She runs the night”. There are two meanings:
  • the physical activity of running after dusk
  • the act of being in charge

Figures of Supression[edit | edit source]

  1. Ellipsis is contrastive to repetition. When we look at repetision, we can see that an element is repeated a few times, an ellipsis, however, is the deletion of a word, frequently the object or person. An example of ellipsis is Asics’ slogan “Doubt can weigh you down [it’s] time to cut weight”.
  2. Tautology is a process in which a word is repeated, though it is used in a different context the second time, the reason for using it is not obvious to the receiver.

Figure of Substitution[edit | edit source]

  • False homology is use of word play and puns which include the witty use of ambiguous words and phrases. An example of false homology can be “Be satisfied with the grass on your own side of the fence” (Asics).

Figure of Exchange[edit | edit source]

  • Inversion is similar to repetition; the repeated phrase or word may stay the same but the order of the words in a sentence or phrase can alter.

Check yourself[edit | edit source]

Please name the persuasive techniques present in the following slogansː


Everyone loses games. Few change them.


You will notice. You will scream. Because you want it to happen. Will to win.


I am the bullet in the chamber.


Serious runners don’t put on airs.


Happiness is pushing your limits and then watching them back down.


As beautiful as lowering your own time.

Please identify the rhetorical techniques used in the following slogansː


My better is better than your better.


The moment lasts a second. The legend lasts forever.


She runs the night.


Doubt can weigh you down, time to cut weight.


Be satisfied with the grass on your own side of the fence.

  1. The Free Dictionary.com
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Guy Cook,The Discourse of Advertising, Introduction:ads as a discourse type, Routledge, 1992.
  3. O'Donnell and Todd, Variety of Contemporary English, English in Advertising,Routledge, 1992, p.88
  4. Helen Katz, The Media Handbook, What is the media?, Routledge, 2003
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Gillian Dyer, Advertising as Communication, The Language of Advertising, Routledge, 1982.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Robin Tolmach Lakoff, The Language War, Language:The Power we Love to Hate, University of California Press,2000.
  7. John O'Shaughnessy and Jackson O'Shaughnessy, Persuasion in Advertising, Psychology Press,2004
  8. Robin Lakoff and Mark Johnson,Metaphors we live by, Metonymy, LondonːThe University of California Press, 1980, p.36
  9. Geoffrey Neil Leech, English in Advertisingː A Linguistic Study of Advertising in Great Britain, Longman, 1972
  10. Paul Bruthiaux, The Discourse of Classified Advertisingː Exploring the Nature of Linguistic SImplicity, Oxford University Press,1996, p.24
  11. Angela Goddard, The Language of Advertisingː Written Texts, Psychology Press,2002
  12. Gillian Dyer, Advertising as Communication, The Language of Advertising, Routledge, 1982, p.116
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Elizabeth Winkler, Understanding Language, Language and Advertising, Continuum, 2007.
  14. John Cuddon, A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory, Wiley-Blackwell,2013, p.511
  15. 15.0 15.1 John O'Shaughnessy and Jackson O'Shaughnessy, Persuasion in Advertising, Psychology Press,2004
  16. Merriam-Webster,https://www.merriam-webster.com/
  17. 17.0 17.1 Helena Hallmark and Tuija Vortanen, Persuasion Across GenresːA Linguistic Approach, Persuasion Across Genres Emerging Perspectives, John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2005.