The Language of Persuasion in Advertising. A Corpus-based Critical Discourse Analysis

Master's Thesis, 2020

76 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Framework
2.1 Advertising
2.1.1 Native Advertising Format
2.1.2 Objectives and Functions of Advertising as Form of Communication
2.1.3 Defining Advertising Language
2.1.4 Factors Influencing the Language of Advertising
2.2 Language of Persuasion
2.2.1 Modes of Persuasion: Ethos, logos, pathos
2.2.2 Persuasion Techniques in Advertising Language
2.3 Linguistic Devices of Persuasive Language
2.3.1 Phonetic level
2.3.2 Lexical and morphological level
2.3.3 Syntactic level
2.4 Critical Discourse Analysis
2.4.1 Key elements of Critical Discourse Analysis
2.4.2 Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis
2.5 Hypothesis

3. Methodology
3.1 Data Collection Method
3.2 Data Analysis Procedure

4. Analysis
4.1 Ethos, logos and pathos
4.2 Textual Analysis
4.3 Discourse Analysis
4.4 Social Practice Analysis

5. Results and Discussion

6. Conclusion


List of figures

Figure 1: Hierarchy of Effects Model by Lavidge and Steiner (cf. 1961: 61)

Figure 2: Fairclough's three-dimensional framework (1995: 98)

List of tables

Table 1: Discourse Strategies

Table 2: Persuasive Linguistic Devices

Table 3: Persuasive Techniques

1. Introduction

Among the most important tools of persuasion is language. Language has the ability to influence people's actions and behavior if used properly. Advertisers try to influence consumers’ buying behavior by promoting ideas, goods and services through various media channels. Their aim is to persuade target consumers to buy a product or service by disseminating persuasive advertising messages (cf. Khan 2007: 248). Therefore, to be able to use persuasive language effectively has become increasingly important to stand out from the competition.

Over the past years, the principle of advertising has changed dramatically. The development of the internet not only changed the way people communicate, but also the way how products are being advertised. The shift towards online advertising has become a highly effective method as it provides the advertiser with many different channels to reach consumers. A relatively new form of digital advertising is online native advertising, in which the advertising content is embedded as seamlessly as possible within editorial content. The concept of native advertisement is becoming increasingly common among publishers, as it has become a good source of revenue (cf. Wojdynski 2016a: 202f.).

Studies have already explored that both more traditional advertising and online advertising use persuasion to influence consumers in their purchasing decisions (cf. El-Dali 2019, Romanova & Smirnova 2019, Leech 1966, O’Shaughnessy & O’Shaughnessy 2004, Armstrong 2010). However, no study could be found in relation to persuasive language use in online native advertising. Therefore, the aim of the thesis at hand is to find out whether online native advertisements rely on the same persuasive linguistic devices and techniques as more common and extensively researched methods of advertising. For the analysis, a number of persuasion methods were selected based on frequency within the analyzed native advertisement and the findings of earlier studies on other advertising methods. In this context, a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) was conducted. The native advertisements were analyzed on a textual and on a discourse level, providing interpretative approaches. Finally, the social practice analysis critically discusses the concept of online native advertising.

The thesis at hand puts a special emphasis on the use of persuasive language in online native advertisements from The New York Times. After careful examination, the corpus will be compiled of three native advertisements from the field of technology, by the sponsors Intel, Dropbox and Slack. The limitation to these native advertisements and persuasive linguistic devices and techniques was necessary with regard to the scope of this thesis. As no linguistic analysis of native advertisements could be found, there also was no reference to follow. Therefore, the thesis at hand lays the foundation for further research in this area. The aim is to conduct a corpus-based Critical Discourse Analysis in order to investigate and answer two main questions:

1. Do online native advertisements make use of the same persuasion methods as previously researched for other advertising types?
2. What are the most prominent persuasive linguistic devices and techniques in the online native advertisements from The New York Times?

In addition to the CDA, the corpus-based approach is expected to provide quantitative evidence of the existence of discourse and to identify repetitive linguistic patterns of persuasive language use in native advertising.

The thesis will be structured as follows. First, the theoretical framework provides general information about the functions and characteristics of advertising, while further focusing on native advertisement and the language of advertising. It continues with explaining the concept of persuasive language on the basis of ethos, logos and pathos and introduces some powerful persuasive techniques in advertisement. Further, linguistic devices of persuasive language on the phonetic, lexical, morphological and syntactic level will be defined. Additionally, the concept of Critical Discourse Analysis will be explained in detail, as the thesis at hand follows the CDA framework of Fairclough (1989, 1992, 1995a). The data collection method and data analysis procedure will be outlined in Chapter 3. This is followed by an analysis of three online native advertisements from the publisher The New York Times. After the analysis, the results will be presented and evaluated in order to assess the hypothesis. Finally, the conclusion provides a summary of the findings and suggests further research opportunities.

2. Theoretical Framework

The following chapter will discuss the theoretical framework of persuasive language in advertising. It starts by giving a definition of advertising in general and then provides a more detailed definition of online native advertising. Further, the language of advertising will be discussed, followed by an introduction to the objectives and functions of advertising. Additionally, persuasive language techniques with regard to ethos, logos and pathos will be explained. Finally, some frequently used persuasive linguistic devices in advertising will be introduced on the phonetical, lexical, morphological and syntactic dimension.

2.1 Advertising

Advertising has become an inevitable part of today’s capitalist consumer society as we are constantly surrounded by it in various forms such as product placements in series or movies, on television or on websites online (cf. Arens et al. 2010 1982: 8). Apart from the advertisements that we are exposed to in our homes through television or smartphones, it has become impossible to leave the house without being confronted with advertising. Whether while shopping in the mall or on the way to work in public transport, there is no way to escape advertising (cf. Cook 2001 1992: 1).

At this point, it must be clarified that the terms advertisement and advertising are typically used undifferentiated (cf. Fletcher 2010: 1). According to Goddard (1988), the word ‘advertising’ has its origin in the Latin verb ‘advertere’ which means ‘to turn toward’ (ibid.: 6). This is very suitable considering that companies want to achieve exactly this effect through their advertising: turning the consumer to themselves and their product. Dyer (1982) provides a simple but adequate definition of advertising, by stating that advertising means “drawing attention to something” or “notifying or informing somebody of something” (ibid.: 2). Similar to Dyer’s (1982) idea of advertising, Fletcher (2010) defines it as “a paid-for communication intended to inform and/or persuade one or more people” (ibid.: 2). The key information we get from these definitions is that advertising aims to inform, persuade and influence.

Arens et al. (2010 1982) have formulated a concise and comprehensive definition of advertising that includes and elaborates on these three important aims of advertising: “Advertising is the structured and composed nonpersonal communication of information, usually paid for and usually persuasive in nature, about products (goods, services, and ideas) by identified sponsors through various media” (ibid.: 8). The aim of advertisers is to bring their messages and ideas closer to the potential customers to increase awareness and the popularity of the products and/or services they are offering (cf. Khan 2007: 248).

One of the prerequisites for a successful advertising campaign is the development of an effective way of distributing the advertising message among the potential customers and the target market. When conducting an advertising campaign, there are many different options to choose from in terms of fitting media channels. There are traditional media channels and digital media channels, however advertising professionals should consider mixing different media channels when planning their advertising strategy to ensure consumers are aware of their product. The easiest way to decide on the media to include in the campaign and the media to exclude to have a successful advertising campaign is by considering the pros and cons (cf. Clow and Baack 2017 2001: 218).

Some examples for traditional media are television, radio and print media like newspaper or magazines, which are all still important means of advertisement despite digitalization (cf. ibid.: 236). Digital media channels on the other hand include “all of the components of e-commerce, internet marketing and mobile marketing” (ibid.: 243). The Internet is becoming an increasingly important medium for companies, because consumers tend to compare products, search for product reviews or exchange information with others about certain products or services before purchasing them. Therefore, it is nowadays essential to make use of digital strategies when conducting an advertising campaign (cf. ibid.: 243).

The constant technical improvements and the continuously increasing number of Internet users have had an impact on online advertising within a short time. Adding new animations and more interactive elements to advertisements has proven to be an advantage for the advertiser. Online advertising has many competitors, which is why it is especially important to stand out from the competition and be recognized. Among the competitors is not only all other information and advertising content on the Web, but also “all kinds of hyperlinks, pages and sites that are offered in its closer and wider setting” (Janoschka 2004: 131). Moreover, the new generation of interactivity and the demand for immediate action by users is an important aspect of online advertisement compared to traditional advertising methods. Since the demand for interactivity requires a certain amount of effort of the user, online advertising must adapt its activation strategies accordingly (cf. ibid.: 131).

2.1.1 Native Advertising Format

The strong growth in the population's consumption of online and mobile content has encouraged the spread of digital advertising formats. The aim is to target consumers, ideally on all possible formats on which potential customers are present, with the new strategy of presenting content rather than advertisement (cf. Evans and Wojdynski 2020: 1). “These formats include, but are not limited to, sponsored content, native advertising, advergames, sponsored social media posts, influencer videos, paid product reviews and blog posts” (ibid.: 1). These are all different types of digital advertising with the ability to reach potential costumers immediately, leading to higher brand awareness. The technological possibilities and the increasing use of digital media in consumers' daily lives offer several significant advantages over other channels, e.g. new possibilities to engage and interact with the audience (cf. Belch et al. 2020: 336).

Online native advertisements are regarded to be a rather new category of persuasive communication that uses persuasive strategies. On closer examination of any two native advertisements, it is noticeable that they can differ greatly in areas such as their scope, extent, media used, type of content and goal. One reason for this is that there is no established typology of native advertising types or a lexicon in which native advertising terminology is adopted. Another reason for the differences of native advertisements is that their aim is to be unnoticeably integrated into the platform, which is why native advertising on social media sites differs greatly from advertising on news sites (cf. Wojdynski 2016a: 206f.). Furthermore, besides the seamless integration of native advertisements into a website or platform, the persuasive power of native advertising messages is also seamlessly integrated into the content presented to consumers, making native advertising particularly successful as a marketing strategy, because it ensures increased message authenticity, while at the same time reducing the probability of the message reactance (cf. Naderer et al. 2020: 274).

According to Wojdynski (2016), “[n]ative advertising is a means of presenting consumers with a commercial persuasive message that resembles the non-third-party content provided by the same publisher” (ibid.: 5). Einstein (2017) defines native advertising as advertising “created to feel indigenous to the site on which it appears” (ibid.: 190). These definitions accurately describe the goal of native advertising: it wants to remain unrecognized within the editorial content, thus not giving the reader the impression of being exposed to an advertisement.

There are six different types of native advertising, according to a study by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB): “paid search units, recommendation widgets, promoted listings, in-feed units, in-ad with native element units and custom formats” (ibid.: 190f.). In-feed advertisements and custom formats are the most widely used forms of native advertising. In-feed advertisements are displayed within social media feeds and newsfeeds. Custom advertisements, as the name suggests, are customized for each advertiser individually and are usually produced by the publisher. However, in all native advertising formats, it is important to ensure that the advertisements do not appear to be commercial content (cf. ibid.: 191).

There are a few features that can help to recognize in-feed advertising. On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media sites for example, they appear inconspicuously in the feed and are supposed to look like posts from friends but are created by advertisers. These sponsored articles can mostly be recognized by the presence of labels like ‘sponsored’, ‘ad’, ‘advertisement’, ‘promoted by’, ‘sponsored post’ or ‘promoted’. All native advertising postings on social media must indicate that they are advertisements, however, this occurs in such an inconspicuous and almost invisible way that the consumer does not immediately recognize it (cf. Einstein 2017: 191f.). In a study conducted by the University of Georgia, only 8 % of the participants were able to identify native advertisements (cf. ibid.: 195).

In addition to social media sites, websites such as BusinessInsider, Vox or BuzzFeed also use native advertising. Especially BuzzFeed is known for its use of the most common native advertising form, the endemic in-feed units. These are usually produced by the publishers marketing unit to ensure that they fully reflect the image of the website. Although the articles include a reference to sponsorship at the beginning, little is done to increase consumers' awareness. However, the difference between BuzzFeed and their competition is, that BuzzFeed cooperates very closely with its clients while producing the articles and is therefore able to seamlessly integrate the advertising content into the articles (cf. ibid.: 192).

News and entertainment websites like The New York Times or Washington Post rather make use of custom native advertising. The content of a custom native article is extremely difficult to separate from the editorial since the editor produces the article in a unique way that makes it indistinguishable from the rest of the website and ensures that readers will not perceive it as different from any other article. While BuzzFeed also produces custom content, in this case, the content is not intended to be displayed within a newsfeed (cf. ibid.: 193).

As an example of customized content, Einstein (2017) describes how The New York Times published an article about women in prison. The structure and layout were designed like any other article in the newspaper. However, it was not a journalistic article, because on closer inspection, it was noticed that it was a paid advertisement of the new Netflix series ‘Orange Is the New Black’. Writers, with both journalistic and marketing experience, are assigned to write articles of this type, because the articles contain in-depth coverage. However, it is questionable whether these types of articles can be considered news (cf. ibid.: 193).

An et al. (2019) conducted a study on consumers’ reaction to native advertising appearing as news content with the focus on consumers’ recognition of advertisement and their reaction when realizing that content, they thought was news, was in fact advertising. They argue that native advertising should provide more sponsorship disclosure and reveal their sources instead of merely aiming to entice consumers to look at their content. The aim of the study was to explore the negative effects regarding consumer commitment to the message, after the manipulation has been exposed, and what difference it makes whether the advertising was visibly marked as such or not (cf. ibid.: 1421f.). The results showed that consumers who recognized the advertising as such concluded that the advertisers had intentionally manipulated it. Consequently, consumers developed a less positive attitude towards the brand and were less engaged with the advertising message. This also caused consumers to be less willing to buy or share the advertised product (cf. ibid.: 1432).

In another experiment on native advertising perception and recognition by consumers, Wojdynski and Evans (2016) argue that disclosure language plays an important role in native advertising recognition. The use of language that is more precise and recognizable will lead to higher advertising recognition in comparison to advretisement disclosures that use unclear or abstract language. The Persuasion Knowledge Model (PKM) suggests that disclosure language should inform about three aspects to ensure better advertising recognition. First, it should inform whether it was paid for the publication of the advertising message. Second, it should inform if it was created by the publisher or some external third party. Finally, it should inform if there is any kind of identification whether the advertising message is different from the usual content published the same way (cf. ibid.: 159).

As already mentioned, the aim of native advertisements is to reflect the appearance of the non-commercial content on the same website so as not to attract unwanted attention. Through native advertising content, companies seek to reduce the traditional competition between the content that consumers actively look for and want to see, and the rather unwanted, but necessary advertising that supports their production. According to Wojdynski (2016a), there are two aspects that make native advertising interesting and desirable for advertisers as well as academics. First, the wide range of available formats in which advertisers and publishers can distribute native advertisements. Second, the remaining grey area in terms of what amounts to a deceptive, legal and ethical representation of content on the internet (cf. ibid.: 202f.).

There have been a number of studies (Gillespie and Joireman 2016; Ponikvar 2015; Cole and Greer 2013) and industry reports (IPG Media Lab 2016) on native advertising, which have proven that consumers not only pay more attention to them and trust them more than conventional advertising, but also remember them more clearly. In this context, Ponikvar (2015) highlights that:

Native advertisements are viewed 53% more often than traditional banner ads. Not only do consumers view native advertisements more often than traditional ads, they also take subsequent action much more often after being exposed to native ads. Studies have shown that consumers share native advertisements with friends and family more frequently than banner ads (ibid.: 1191).

These positive results create a strong incentive for companies to produce native advertisements, making the decision to produce native content evident. Considering the many influences consumers are exposed to today, companies are hoping to stand out with innovative approaches like native advertisements.

Lynch (2018) explains that advocates of native advertising believe that it is so well received by consumers because native advertisements offer good content while following the rules of storytelling, adding value to the reader. This success, however, is related to the extent to which native advertising is mistakenly perceived by consumers as editorial and serious content, something which native advertising is often criticized for (cf. ibid.: 7). This is why critics (e.g. Carr 2013; Garfield 2014) view native advertisings more as a deceptive practice aimed at persuading consumers to read their advertisements by using the credibility of the publisher. Given the criticism levelled at native advertising, there are discussions on whether the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) should regulate this type of advertising and protect consumers from deception (cf. Ponikvar 2015: 1195f.).

The question of who is responsible for controlling native advertising is not easy to answer. There are different constellations of national and international regulatory administrations in each country. The self-regulation of native advertising by supervisory entities for the professions of journalism and advertising and their varying degrees of formality make the standardized regulation of native advertising even more difficult. Although the FTC adopted guidelines and labels for labeling advertising content, inconsistencies remain (cf. Lynch 2018: 9f.).

2.1.2 Objectives and Functions of Advertising as Form of Communication

Advertising works as a tool that helps companies to increase the sale of their products and/or services. Nevertheless, generating sales from an advertisement depends on many factors and is hardly to be achieved immediately. Most advertisements are long-term investments, which may or may not produce sales in the future. Therefore, to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of an advertisement, the whole process from the first publication to the purchase of the advertised product or service must be observed (cf. Lavidge and Steiner 1961: 59).

Several theories exist on the creation of an effective advertisement campaign. One of them is the Three Exposure Theory developed by Herbert Krugman. It shows that advertising can have an influence on consumers' buying behavior regardless of their initial desires and needs. In this context advertising strategists assume that people need to be exposed to an advertisement at least three times to get their attention and thus making the advertisement effective (cf. ibid.: 216). However, Recency Theory argues that people's needs and desires guide their buying behavior and their perception of advertisements (cf. ibid.: 236). The theory analyzes, whether the order of advertisements influences their effectiveness. Therefore, the effectiveness of advertising and the resulting rememberability of an ad by consumers depends on the last advertisement they were exposed to (cf. Belch et al. 2020: 351).

In this context, Lavidge and Steiner (1961) introduced the Hierarchy of Effects Model, which is used to establish a structured series of advertising message objectives consumers go through before they purchase what is being advertised. The advertising campaign’s objectives are awareness, knowledge, liking, preference, conviction and finally the purchase. These six steps demonstrate how advertising has an influence on consumer’s purchase decisions with the underlying idea that the advertiser’s aim is to guide potential customers through all six stages. There are also some exceptions, such as an impulse purchase, in which case a product is purchased without the consumer going through all stages (cf. ibid.: 59f.).

The Hierarchy of Effects Model serves as a useful tool for defining the objectives of an advertising campaign and can help to increase advertising effectiveness. Clow and Baack (2017 2001) argue that the six steps in the Hierarchy of Effects Model can be divided into three types of message strategies, which also represent three dimensions of consumer behavior: cognitive, affective and conative. They start with defining message strategy in advertising as a specific tactic used to deliver the message, which describes the key ideas behind an advertisement (cf. Clow and Baack 2017 2001: 176).

Figure 1 illustrates the six stages of the Hierarchy of Effects Model and how the three dimensions of consumer behavior are connected to them. The cognitive stage or awareness and knowledge stages are related to informing the target audience about the existence of a product or service and what it has to offer. The affective stage or the liking and preference stages refer to consumers developing a positive attitude about a product and prefer it over other possible options. Finally, the conative stage or conviction and purchase stages indicate that the target audience not only prefers the product but is also convinced that it is the best choice, which finally leads to the purchase (cf. Lavidge and Steiner 1961: 60f.).

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Figure 1: Hierarchy of Effects Model by Lavidge and Steiner (cf. 1961: 61)

It is hardly possible to sell products and make a profit without any kind of advertising. The functions of advertising ensure that consumers are encouraged to buy. Some of the functions mentioned by Khan (2007) include creating consumer demand. Furthermore, advertising attracts attention to the product/brand and its special attributes. Advertising also helps companies expand their market and build their reputation. In addition, advertising makes consumers aware of the price of the product or service, which plays a major role in purchase decisions (cf. 2007: 250). Informing consumers of the prices and the quality of goods and services that are being offered in the competitive market is one of advertisings social functions (cf. Kaldor 1950: 1). Kaldor describes advertising as “a provider of market information” and compares it rather to the stock exchange than to information and knowledge providers like newspapers or schoolbooks (ibid: 1).

The importance of advertising in today's consumer society is beyond question, as the availability of information about products and services plays an important role in purchasing decisions. Kaldor (1950) further argues that consumers also would be willing to buy the information about products if advertisements were not freely available. Therefore, the social function of advertising is unquestionable. However, it should be considered whether the advertisement fulfils the function satisfactorily and thereby does not waste resources that could have been used for other purposes (cf. ibid.: 5).

However, there is more behind the functions of advertising than introducing new products to consumers: “over the years it has become more and more involved in the manipulation of social values and attitudes, and less concerned with the communication of essential information about goods and services” (Dyer 1982: 1). Critics have also claimed that advertising has the same effect as myths, especially in the eyes of primitive societies. Through myths and by sharing simple stories and explanations, ideals and values are conveyed to the society. Thus, they make it easier for people to understand and give meaning to the world they live in, which also applies to advertising (cf. Dyer 1982: 1).

Some might argue that advertising is not always a reliable source of information, considering that its main function is to create demand among consumers and entice them to purchase products or services. Advertising has much more power than one might think; it creates a desire in consumers that has probably not existed before just by the way it is presented. Therefore, advertisers focus more on influencing consumers than informing them (cf. ibid.: 4). In this context, it is necessary to bear in mind that the advertiser is often more concerned with their own profit and the creation of desire and less with the actual needs of the consumers.

According to Kaldor (1950) there is an important differentiation between the informative and persuasive elements used in advertisements. In his essay ‘The Economic Aspects of Advertising’ he explains this distinction on the basis of an advertising slogan for beer (“XX is Good For You”) (cf. ibid.:6). The company may be able to make profit and sell their beer using this slogan, but the only informative content the consumer gets out of this slogan is that the beer company believes that consuming their beer benefits the health of the person drinking it (ibid.: 6).

Through the repetition of the advertising message, companies want to ensure that the public believes and remembers the information provided in the slogan (cf. ibid.: 6). In such cases, the advertisement does not serve the purpose of delivering any kind of information to the society; it is only intended to encourage and persuade the public to buy the offered products or services. He further emphasizes that such advertising messages have no relevant informative value but can be effective for persuasion purposes (cf. ibid.: 6).

Whether consciously or unconsciously, these and other forms of persuasion attempts have control over social life and society. One reason for this is that living together in a society is easier if you share the same views and values. In a way, people try to persuade others of their words every day, whether by apologizing or by complaining about something, as soon as the conversation entails more than just casually greeting each other, there is a process of persuasion (cf. O’Shaughnessy and O’Shaughnessy 2004: 5f.). Thus, it is essential to understand that persuasion can also be seen as a common activity in which people with the same or similar goals work together to achieve a certain goal. It is not only about one person trying to persuade the other person of something (cf. Mulholland 1993: 13).

In this context, O’Shaughnessy and O’Shaughnessy (2004) differentiate between persuasion and influence. The terms persuasion and influence are closely related to each other, as persuasion is considered a different type of influence. Nevertheless, they still must be differentiated, because not every attempt of influence is automatically persuasion. In everyday life, when communicating with other people, one might influence other beliefs, actions, or values without having the intention to do so. Further, celebrities’ actions also can have an influence on the society without them being aware, as they are people of the public and considered role models in many aspects. However, “[p]ersuasion, […], deliberately aims to mould beliefs, values and actions in a direction favoured by the persuader” (ibid.: 6).

Besides the fact that persuasion, as opposed to influence, is designed to consciously persuade someone else to change their values and actions in favour of the persuader, there is another difference. Companies want consumers to develop loyalty and trust in their brand, as this strengthens advertising effectiveness. This development is not an easy process. Influence and persuasion play an important role in this regard. The difference between the two is that one does not necessarily have to create trust to influence someone, as it also happens without the influencing and influenced person trusting each other. To persuade someone successfully of something, however, trust is essential. With the right strategy, trust mixed with emotion creates loyalty. Loyalty to a brand or a product is what companies want to achieve, because it increases the tolerance of consumers towards failures (cf. ibid.: 6).

Advertising effectiveness depends on consumers’ trust toward the brand or company. To generate profit and achieve long term success, it is the responsibility of companies to satisfy the needs of their customers and to create trust, which can be achieved if they behave properly and fulfil their obligations. The authenticity of the company and thus of its advertising measures is decisive for the development of consumer trust. If the company is fully committed to its product and expresses openness, the consumer is more likely to trust the brand/product (cf. ibid.: 6). Advertisers will be able to persuade the target customers more easily when they have gained their trust. An advertising campaign serves many functions, but if it wants to be successful one of its main functions is to be persuasive (cf. Janoschka 2004: 16).

2.1.3 Defining Advertising Language

Dyer (1982) argues that in some cases the linguistic elements used in advertising are more significant than the visual appearance. Advertising language can be defined by its main objective, which is to attract the attention of consumers and persuade them to buy a specific product or service. Advertisers break the rules of language and use distinctive linguistic means in advertising for their purposes. To ensure that the advertisement becomes firmly established into the minds of target consumers, copywriters play with words and manipulate or distort their everyday meaning to make the advertising text extraordinary and unique. By using short sentences, copywriters make them easier to repeat and remember. In addition, copywriters' tasks include inventing new words and using words outside their context. All with the aim of attracting peoples’ attention and making the advertisement as memorable as possible (cf. ibid.: 111).

The language use in English advertising is an important component of the general English language, nevertheless, there are some characteristics that distinguish the language of advertising from general English (cf. Janoschka 2004: 124). Advertising language is designed to be remembered. Nowadays, people are more likely to remember words from an advertisement that they have seen or heard, than a poem, and can easily recall them. To achieve this, advertisers use techniques such as “fictions, word play, compressed story-telling, stylized acting, photography, cartoons, puns and rhythms in ways which are often memorable, enjoyable and amusing” (Cook 2001 1992: 3). Compared to other genres, advertising often causes confusion among people which leads to a split and contradictory opinion about it, as it can arouse both joy and rejection in people (cf. ibid.: 3).

Janoschka (2004) further underlines that, despite their differences in execution, both traditional and online advertising make use of the same linguistic devices that are commonly employed in advertising in general. This does not come as a surprise, since all forms of advertising have similar goals. However, it is important to be aware that they strongly differ in their focus and the extent to which they are used. In this context, Janoschka emphasizes the most frequently used persuasive language techniques in all kinds of advertising, which include alliterations, rhetorical means and figures, commands or imperatives. Additionally, she analyzed the linguistic persuasive devices that are frequently used in online advertising, which were questions, imperatives, personal and possessive pronouns, spatial and temporal deixis, abbreviated sentences and emotional appeal (cf. ibid. 2004: 124f.).

2.1.4 Factors Influencing the Language of Advertising

Given the many factors that can influence the advertising language, the copywriters are not completely free in their choice of words. According to Leech (1966), the most prominent factors influencing the language of advertising include the medium to be used to distribute the advertisement, the target audience, and the use of informal, colloquial language (cf. ibid.: 4).

The term medium refers to the media of mass communication such as television, internet, radio, books, newspapers, or magazines. The choice of the medium in which an advertisement is shown should be well considered, because each medium affects consumers differently and, if used wisely, can be used for the companies' advantage (cf. Cook 2001 1992: 14). A crucial element when deciding for the medium is its compatibility with the language style used to communicate the advertising message, as every medium offers different choices to marketers. The advertising message can take many different forms. It can be simple and express the essence of the brand/product in a short and concise way (e.g. ‘Just do it’ by Nike), or it can be complex, requiring a medium with high reach and frequent repetition to be memorable to the consumers. However, others may want to appeal to people's emotions and senses through their advertising message (cf. Arens et al. 2010 1982: 323).

Advertising does not aim to reach every single person with its message, but to address the ideal target group, which might find the product or service interesting. Therefore, first the target group should be identified and based on this the advertising message is created. Segmentation allows advertisers to divide the population into groups. This is achieved through demographic, psychographic, geographic or behavioral segmentation (cf. Einstein 2017: 79f.).

Demographic segmentation divides the audience by categorizing them according to their age, gender and occupation (cf. ibid.: 79). Thorson and Duffy (2011) further add education, income, family size and social class to the category of demographic segmentation (cf. ibid.: 42). In addition, psychographic segmentation considers further factors that influence purchasing decisions, such as values, beliefs, and lifestyles (cf. Einstein 2017: 79). Geographical segmentation groups the target audience based on their location, as factors like hot/cold climate or urban/rural areas are likely to influence target customers buying behavior. Finally, behavioral segmentation is a form of customer segmentation that divides the target audience based on specific behavioral patterns like purchasing and usage behavior, loyalty toward a brand/product and familiarity with the advertised good (cf. ibid.: 79f.).

All these factors have an impact on the language used in the advertising message, as ideally it “has to be customer orientated, rooted in what the customer knows, feels and wants, and talking in the terms and kind of language used by the customer” (Farbey 2002 1994: 90). However, the language choices advertisers make indicate that consumers are not seen as human beings, but only as a type of target whose buying behavior they want to influence (cf. ibid.: 66).

There are four key aspects advertising must achieve to be successful in the competitive market:

1. “It must draw attention to itself.
2. It must sustain the interest it has attracted.
3. It must be remembered, or at any rate recognised as familiar.
4. It must prompt the right kind of action.” (Leech 1966: 27)

These four success factors also have an influence on the language that is used to achieve those aims. Leech (1966) names the factors attention value, readability, memorability and selling power (ibid.: 27).

Attention value describes how linguistic elements can be used to achieve the goals of advertising, such as attracting attention, surprising and arousing curiosity. This is achieved by breaking conventions of language use such as misspelling, grammatical solecism, neologisms, metaphor, semantic variations and by using language in inappropriate or unorthodox contexts (cf. ibid.: 27f.).

Readability is concerned with ensuring that the interest gained in the first step is maintained by using familiar vocabulary, simple and personal language, and colloquial style (cf. ibid.: 28). Leech (1966) further elaborates his definition of colloquial, personal and simple linguistic forms. He defines colloquial forms as informal language used to make the advertising message easier understandable by the public, regardless of their level of education. One example for colloquial English are phrasal verbs, in which a verb and a prepositional adverb are combined, e.g. “find out, get … out, call in, talk (things) over” (ibid.: 76). In comparison, when using formal English, one would use a single verb with a more precise description, such as ‘discover’ instead of ‘find out’ (ibid.: 76f.). Furthermore, Leech (1966) identifies some characteristics for personal linguistic styles such as using the first person and second person reference in advertising texts or linguistic forms such as imperatives, exclamations, or questions. In advertising, the campaign’s use of personal or impersonal language depends on the goal the company wants to achieve with the advertisement. When the aim is to promote a company, often personal language is used, whereas in advertisements whose goal it is to promote consumer goods, often impersonal language is used (cf. ibid.: 80f.).


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The Language of Persuasion in Advertising. A Corpus-based Critical Discourse Analysis
Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
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Critical Discourse Analysis, CDA, Werbung, Advertising, Native Advertising, Native ads, Corpus Analysis, Corpus-based analysis
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Seda Evirgen (Author), 2020, The Language of Persuasion in Advertising. A Corpus-based Critical Discourse Analysis, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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