On some pragmatic approaches to the formation of advertising English

Pragmatic peculiarities of the English advertising, the purpose of which is to sell products. New ideas and methods, broadly using the innovative approaches of information providing. Lexical and terminological features of English advertising language.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
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Язык английский
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УДК 821.Ш.0:8П.Ш'38

On some pragmatic approaches to the formation of advertising English

Mykola Kuznetsov

(Lviv, Ukraine)

Стаття присвячена прагматичним особливостям англомовної реклами, метою якої є продаж продукції. З цією метою мова реклами набуває нових ідей і способів, широко використовуючи інноваційні підходи донесення інформації.

Ключові слова: прагматика, рекламний, лексичний, термінологія, інформативність.

The article deals with the pragmatic peculiarities of the English advertising, the purpose of which is to sell products. For this purpose the language of advertising tends to acquire new ideas and methods, broadly using the innovative approaches of information providing.

Key words: pragmatics, advertising, lexical, terminology, informativity.

Advertising forms part of the “marketing (communication) mix”, a number of techniques aiming at an optimal interaction between marketers and the target public. In a number of ways, advertising differs from a prototypical communication situation: not only is the coding process complicated, since the sender is a group of spokespersons rather than a single person, but the decoding process is also exceptional in that the receiver, being a part of the consumer public, is unable to provide (direct) feedback. As a consequence, in order to create efficient advertising, marketing research aims at analyzing how the consumer processes commercials. The efficiency of a commercial is enhanced if the consumer identifies with the advertising message, since this creates a positive attitude towards the product advertised. This identification process can be brought about by developing a good product image (or brand personality) or by creating group norms, which suggest that certain people or spokespersons, with whom the target public identifies, positively validate the product. In this process a number of cultural and social factors play a role, an important notion of which is linguistically registered. Advertising, which is any openly sponsored offering of goods, services, or ideas through any medium of public communication, constitutes an intrinsic feature of the English-speaking peoples' culture. Therefore at least some of its aspects can hardly be ignored in culture oriented teaching of English. Some advertising information about goods, services, etc. being promoted on a national level pervades the mind of an average native speaker to such an extent that it becomes part and parcel of his background knowledge which, in fact, makes up the subject matter of culture oriented teaching.

Generally speaking, the problem of Advertising English research is of complex character because advertising constitutes an integral part of the social structure of English-speaking countries, the USA including. The latter is famous for its advertising industry comprising technical, informational and linguistic means of influence upon people with the purpose of modeling their consciousness and behaviour. Thus, the language of advertising has been analyzed from two points of view. Some researchers concentrate on the persuasive - and often misleading - effects of advertising, i.e., how advertising makes use of pragmatic techniques such as conversational implicatures, ellipses and hedges, which make the consumer assume claims stronger than are acceptable from a strictly logical point of view. Other linguists study the discourse of advertising, focusing on the interaction between textual (connotations) and contextual elements (the music and/or the pictures or the “narrative voice” of the speaker) [5: 74]. That is, simple attributes of a brand name, such as the type of sound with which the name begins or whether the name of the product fits the product's function, may influence the ease of brand recalling. If true, application of these linguistic principles to brand name development would be a boon to marketers, who would presumably be interested in any edge they could obtain in increasing the memorability of their brand. Advertisements have to make a lasting impression if it is to affect buying behavior. It is a general principle that if a piece of language is repeated often enough, it will stick. The amount of repetition of both spoken and printed advertising in the USA is phenomenal. But there are other aids to memory, such as alliteration, metrical rhythm and rhyme. Thus, it can be determined whether linguistic features of brand names are related to consumers' memory for the ones, i.e., how the specific attributes of words influence the word memory.

One of the functions of advertising is to increase brand awareness, and there are a number of means that advertisers employ to achieve this objective: frequent brand name mentions within the ad, frequent placements of ads in various media, linking brand names to celebrity endorsers. In fact, achieving brand awareness is mainly determined by the memorability of the brand name.

Basically, it is easy to identify something as an advertisement, but more difficult to say how it is done, might be done, or must be done. Identification is even easier, for advertisements are rarely identified in isolation and retrospectively, but rather being identified in a context where they have been anticipated. For example, if we are watching private-sector TV, we know that sooner or later we will be taken through an advertising break. In other words, viewing, like most or even all human activities, has a pragmatic character in the sense that it has expected future components, and the expectation of the occurrence of those components is part of being engaged in that activity. As people actively anticipate that something will occur with them, advertisers certainly don't have to do much to get them to recognize anything appearing on the back cover of a Sunday colour supplement as an advertisement.

This knowledge is part of active advertising. The potential customer's requirements constitute the main motivation factor. That is why the quality and properties of the advertised products are, as a rule, correlated with the recipient's ones. The advertising idea, which is usually based on this principle, enables the advertiser not only to gain the potential customer's attention and interest, but also to create an illusion of the advertising mark conveying the latter's thoughts and desires. The achievement of this aim, through penetrating into the customer's sphere of requirements and motivations, is facilitated by special motivation studies, which reveal the customer's obvious and hidden requirements and desires and thus enable the advertiser “to tune up” the product quality to them. Such studies appear to discover some additional psychological values of the product advertised.

Now it is clearly the case that everyone should have minimal knowledge about advertising. Such minimum forms part of the competence of most of the world's population, little children included. It concerns the advertising purpose - to sell products. Individual advertisements are the pragmatic promotion of particular goods or services, and through the advertisement the anonymous advertiser addresses any actual consumer of the product in question. The minimal knowledge is also in need to get started on understanding and criticizing an individual advertisement. Of course, one requires knowledge of a language and culture in order to accomplish an interpretation of an advertisement. Besides, the purpose of its producing should be understandable, too.

To know that something is an advertisement is to know that something is being advertised. That is why advertisers are able to leave out the name or any image of the product they are advertising, relying on the consumer's ability to make a “default assignment”[1: 38] based on the minimal knowledge we have already mentioned. This default assignment of a product is strictly incomprehensible within the structuralism or semiological frameworks which have generally been employed in media.

One facilitator of the process of default assignment is the consumer's knowledge that an advertisement is a thoroughly prepared act of communication which is unlikely to have omitted a product's name by mistake, but rather has done it deliberately. Consequently, to be compatible with the purpose of advertising, the advertisement must contain deliberate clues permitting the recovery of the product name. This leads to a rational engaging about the product, as it is around the product that the discourse of the advertisement is built.

The contrast between denotative (literal) and connotative meanings plays a central part in structuralism and semiology [2: 17]. It was already argued that operative denotative meanings of an advertisement are not determinable without reference to contextual (pragmatic) variables. The idea of connotation is a “dummy” concept which identifies a domain in which the mechanisms at work have still to be realized in detail. At worst, and quite often, connotation is taken to be a straightforward semantic function or operation in which they figure as properties of texts or images, rather than as a result of structured operations performed upon texts or images by experienced consumers. And it is namely the pragmatic point of view to be the correct one, although some of connotations do indeed have a semantic character.

As the problem of sales gets increasingly complicated, more functional values of a product do not appear enough for it to make sales, that is why some additional values are needed for the product to become more attractive. Advertisers in the USA have found a way out in ascribing to products some additional psychological values which have nothing to do with their real qualities. For, indeed, it is easier to find some values in the sphere of advertising than in the production one. Advertising creates a certain image of the product. For example, Marlboro cigarettes turn out to be not merely “cigarettes of Virginia tobaccos ” but “cigarettes for real men ”.

If one imagines the advertisement for cigarettes in which some people are shown smoking beside a natural, rurally located waterfall (“Welcome to Marlboro Country!”), it means that the brand of cigarettes advertised forms the topic (theme), and the waterfall is part of the comment. Of such an advertisement, semiologists might say something like either A or B:

A. The denoted image of the waterfall connotes a healthy, outdoor life.

B. The denoted image of people smoking by a waterfall connotes smoking as part of a healthy, outdoor life.

If semiologists go on to consider the psychological effects of the advertisement, they may say like


C. By some metonymic substitution, we can come to believe that cigarette smoking stands for the healthy outdoor life.

D. By some identification logic, we can come to believe that cigarette smoking is the healthy outdoor life [6: 62].

Points C and D will not be considered here, though fascinating they are.

The first set of points made arises from the fact that statement A supposes an ability to select from the possible connotations of waterfalls the operative one. This selection may be facilitated by a verbal message, but not always. What is really required is a concept of the relevance of the comment to the topic (theme), compatible with assumptions about the purpose for which the image is being produced.

The purpose of advertising cigarettes is to sell them. The main obstacle to selling cigarettes is the consumers' belief that cigarettes ruin their health. The most relevant thing a cigarette advertiser can do is to try to modify, repress, or eliminate that belief. It is the consumers' ability to work this out which allows the correct (intended) connotation of the waterfall to be located - a connotation which bears directly on the main obstacle to cigarette selling. Furthermore, the way of analyzing connotations allow advertisers to create the novel ones which do not conceivably exist in any dictionary of connotations.

The second set of points made bears on the specific way in which theme and comment are related, as in connotation B of the cigarette advertisement. How is it that the producer of the connotation is not seen to intend it ironically or even satirically? Quite clearly, it is our knowledge of the cigarette advertisement purpose which is indispensable for appropriate connotation, together with our sense of the comment relevance as to the discourse of the advertisement.

Understanding that the comment interpreted as product enhancing or supporting does not, of course, commit the consumer to accept the relation communicated. The anonymous nature of advertising makes it generally impossible for the consumer to dialogically challenge the advertiser's relation to the claims made and connotations produced.

As a matter of fact, connotations are pragmatic implications of a produced text or image rather than semantic notions. For pragmatic implications of an utterance are worked out by consumers according not only to their linguistic knowledge, but also to the assumptions made by themselves.

As to advertising, the possibility of misunderstanding increases greatly because of the anonymous and one-way character of advertising communication [1: 66]. Advertisers have elaborated various methods for using language means to manipulate public opinions. They get consumers to play their game and keep their own hands clean. Of course, if consumers refused to do it, they would have to change direction [4: 71]. At this point it is advisable to deal with the question of interaction between the general language and brand name formation. The overwhelming majority of brand names are the so-called coined words (e.g. Kodak, Xerox, Norelco, Exxon) but it doesn't mean that copywriters do not make use of dictionary words. Keeping in mind that some brand names can ultimately penetrate into the literary language we can assert that brand name formation may be regarded as a source of language enrichment [3: 28-29].

Another example of lexical pragmatics concerning Advertising English is a tendency to use euphemisms. Euphemisms form a complex and contradictory phenomenon, in some cases being just to the point. Special euphemistic language penetrates literally in to all spheres of life, especially in the USA:

- crisis - depression (time when business is depressed);

- welfare state - a social system based upon the assumption;

- occupation/aggression - presence;

- pawn shops (hock houses) - loan andjewelry companies;

- used cars (second-hand cars) - pre-owned cars;

- fall - easing.

To avoid words revealing bad state of economy instead of chronic inflation gradual increase in prices and wages is used; the poor - the neediest, the needy, the ill-provided, the deprived, the underpriviledged, the disadvantaged, low-income people.

Euphemisms are of great interest in the sphere of classified professions, where very unusual words are often used:

- garbage collector - sanitation engineer;

- rat catcher - extermination engineer;

- dog catcher - animal welfare officer;

- stool pigeon - police informant [9, 10].

Speaking on social or political events, mass media use the following:

- sit-down strike - work cessation on premises;

- to exploit - to use without reward [7, 8].

Concerning the present-day terminological pragmatics, compounding remains one of the most productive ways. Usually it is a mere combination of free forms:

- barfly - a frequent visitor of bars;

- bottom-dollar - the last coin;

- a frogman - a diver;

- job hunting - looking for a vacancy;

- backroom boys - men engaged in secret researches;

- airlift - delivery by air;

- blood-money - money for an enemy killed;

- gold-digger - a woman in search for a rich protector;

- baby-sitter - one looking after a little child;

- blood-donors - developing countries;

- ghost-writer - a speechwriter [9, 10].

Speaking of the present-day compounding, it is necessary to mention an interesting phenomenon: such words as double-sealer, double-decker which have been functioning in the language for a long time, have given rise to the following neologisms:

- a five-starrer - a high rank general with five stars;

- a play-arounder - one playing love intrigues;

- a breakfast-in-the-bedder - one having a meal in bed.

The foregoing analysis shows that the American advertisers subjects the language of the advertisement to the primary purpose which consists in influencing the buying behaviour of the potential customer through all the existing means of mass communication, let alone the fact that more often than not they are far from being objective and true.

advertising lexical innovative providing


1. Гусак І.П. Структура та прагматика фрагментованих лексичних одиниць у сучасній англійській мові (на матеріалі мови мас-медіа): Дис. ... канд. філол. наук. - Л., 2005.

2. Корунець І.В. Теорія і практика перекладу (аспектний переклад): Підручник. - Вінниця: Нова книга, 2003.

3. Кузнєцова Л.А., Солошенко О.Д. Методична розробка з спецкурсу «Лінгвокраїнознавство» для студентів англійського відділення та слухачів ФПК. - Львів: Видавництво ЛДУ, 1982.

4. Arnold I.V. The English Word. - M.: Vysshaya Shkola, 1986.

5. Bauer L. English Word-Formation. - Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

6. Ullman S. The Principles of Semantics. - Glasgow: Blackwell, 1957.

7. “The Times”, 1998-1999.

8. “The Financial Times”, 1996-1998.

9. “Cosmopolitan”, 2002-2005.

10. “National Geographic”, # 6, December 1990.

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