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Language in Advertising
Transcript of Language in Advertising
By Peter Lodato
Throughout history, media has been used to persuade, convince, or even manipulate an audience. Advertising is a form of communication, which uses media to persuade an audience to do something, such as purchase a product. Since the 1920's, companies have used certain techniques to carefully choose the language used in the ads in order to convince their audience to buy their product(s).
When it comes to modern advertising, many techniques will be used so that the diction of the ad will have its desired effect on the audience. These techniques are used so often that they are given names by people who study language in advertising, which are listed below. In addition to these named techniques, there is an extremely common technique involving the use of the words "better" and "best." In most ads, "better" really means "best" and "best" really means "equal to." If all brands are identical, then they must all be equally good and the phrase "the best there is" really means that the product is as good as the others.
1. Weasel Word: A word that practically negates the claim that follows (ex: "helps," virtually," etc.). Ex: "Helps control dandruff symptoms with regular use"
2. Unfinished Claim: A claim that says that a product is better, but says it without giving a comparison. Ex: "Magnavox gives you more."
3. The "We're Unique and Different" Claim: A claim that simply states that there is no other competing product like the one being advertised. It is commonly interpreted as a claim of superiority. Ex: "There's no other mascara like it."
4. The "Water is Wet" Claim: A claim that is true for every brand in a certain product category. Ex: "Rheingold: the natural beer."
5. The "So What" Claim: A claim which states that the product has more or less of something that other competing products don't or do have, respectively. Even though it doesn't explain why or how this make the product better than others, it is commonly interpreted as a claim of superiority. Ex: Geritol has more than twice the iron of ordinary supplements.
6. The Vague Claim: A claim that uses colorful words but is utterly meaningless. Ex: "For skin like peaches and cream."
7. The Endorsement or Testimonial: A celebrity appears in the ad claiming that they use the product. Ex: "Subway - the official restaurant of Michael Phelps."
8. The Scientific or Statistical Claim: A claim which uses specific numbers taken from an experiment. Ex: "Easy-Off has 33% more cleaning power than another popular brand."
9. The "Compliment the Consumer" Claim: A claim that compliments the target audience. Ex: "We think a cigar smoker is someone special."
10. The Rhetorical Question: A question where the listener/reader is supposed to respond in a way that confirms the superiority of a product. Ex: "Plymouth--isn't that the kind of car America wants?
Factors in Word Choice
Emotional associations: Some word sound better to people than other words, even if they mean the same thing. Ex: A diet add advertising a "slim body" instead of a "skinny body".
Product features: Words that emphasize the features of the product (what it has, what it can do, how well it does what it's supposed to do) in the most positive and efficient way possible. Ex: Words such as "quick," "new," "economical," "effective," "clean," etc.
Semantic differential: A method where a certain word is chosen because it induces associations with certain adjectives. Ex: "Home" is chosen because it is associated with "safe," "warm," "close," etc.
Vague words: Words with multiple meanings are chosen so that they can easily be manipulated to work in the ad. Ex: "aspect," "clear," "difference," etc.
Adjectives and adverbs: These are used more often then other types of words in advertisements. Ex: "good," "fast," "fresh," "free," "wonderful," "big," "great," "bright," "rich," etc.
Atari being "#1" is an example of the use of the word best to mean "as good as the others." Other systems may be tied for first place (the use of the word "best" is also a weasel word).
Atari making "more video game cartridges than anyone else is a "So What" claim.
"No other system gives you nearly as much choice. Or nearly as much fun." can be a vague and/or unfinished claim.
The ad has a "we're unique and different" claim that says that "only Atari has home versions of [popular arcade games]."
This ad is clearly an example of a statistical/scientific claim. ("Controlled test on 102 people shows 1/2 as many colds for Listerine users," "...it reduces mouth bacteria 98% or more, and maintains substantial reduction for hours.")
"We believe" and "while not infallible" are examples of weasel claims.
The ad uses the word "safe" when describing Listerine because of its positive connotations and as a description of how it works. (emotional connotations, product features)
Another use of the word "best" meaning superior.
It claims to "kill germs" which is a "water is wet" claim
The prominent use of the word "guts" is an interesting example of adjective association because in this context, it is associated with the word "capable," meaning that the car is very capable in being a high-performance car.
The ad states that in polls, drivers say that BMW makes the best sports sedans in the world. This could be considered an example of an endorsement.
"Has he got a car for you" is an example of complimenting the consumer because it is treating the consumer well by giving them what they want.
Since the early 20th century, companies have been using certain techniques in their advertisements which uses certain diction in order to convince people that they should buy their product. Their techniques usually have to do with cleverly using words that change meanings depending on the context or using claims that appear colorful or positive but are really meaningless, vague, or negative. Companies also look at certain factors, such as associations with emotions or adjectives, to choose their words carefully. Advertisements aren't limited to these techniques and factors. Some ads also go beyond using general forms of mass media (TV, print, etc.) and use more unconventional means. This is known as guerrilla marketing and is slowly becoming more common.