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The analysis presented on the following pages is an analysis of an advertisement taken from the women’s magazine “Redbook”, September 2002, volume 199, number 3. The Advertisement promotes a washing-up liquid called “Palmolive Ultra Original” (see: Appendix).
What is really eyecatching is the formal structure of the advertisement. It is divided into two parts: The left part takes up about 37% of the page and the right one 63%. This division is supported by the background and the arrangement of the headline.
The first part of the headline “What’s left.” is coloured in white and is on the smaller side of the page. The other part “What’s right.” printed in the opposite colour black stands on the right part of the page. But the headline, which consists of printed letters in bold type, does not only divide the advertisement into left and right part, but also into upper and lower part by forming a horizontal line.
On the illustration making up the whole left part of the page, you can discern a plate covered with burnt oil and other stubborn dirt. The dominating colours are gold-brown, orange and grey. Beside this illustration there are two further ones. The illustration on the lower part of the right side is the picture of the product, that takes up nearly a quarter of the whole page. It is part of the signature line. The third illustration on the upper right side showing a portrait of a woman has a caption saying: Maggie Ross of “Fearless Cooking”. This illustration belongs to the body copy. Both illustrations on the right part of the page are arranged in a homogeneous way with the text. The picture of the product has a similar shape as the form of the body copy. It looks as if the portrait of Maggie Ross, the text and the picture of the product are stringed like pearls on a necklace.
The body copy on the upper right side is bordered by the headline below. The text, which stands in inverted commas, consists of seven sentences distributed to six centred lines. The size of the writing in printed letters is only a third of the size of the headline and partly printed in bold letters. Below the right part of the headline there is the signature line containing the picture of the product and the slogan “Tough on Grease, Soft on Hands ®.” It is only half as big as the headline. Conspicuous is that the standing details are not standing for their own but are adapted to the end of the body copy. There it reads: “Visit me atwww.palmolive.com.”
This advertisement is created after the rule of prime reading position. First, the eye falls on the upper left side and then follows the headline up to the upper right part, where you can see the body copy. Then your look goes down to the lower part where the product is shown.
Since the advertisement is published in a women’s magazine especially for young women the target group of the magazine is congruent to the group of potential consumers addressed by the advertiser. That means: Young women standing on their own feet, living on their own should be reached. But that does not exclude that the advertisement might also be made to attract the attention of older women. The address is mainly carried out indirectly. In this indirect address advertising a 1st person secondary participant, an “ordinary housewife” called Maggie Ross, informs the 2nd person consumer about the product in a monologue. This is discernible because of the quotation marks. The consumer is addressed by the pronoun “you” and the imperatives “go for it” and “visit me”. But there is also direct address in this advertisement. The headline “What’s left. What’s right.” and the slogan “Tough on Grease, Soft on Hands.” is mediated by the “voice” of the advertiser, the 1st person primary participant.
This “Palmolive” advertising is full of structural, semantic and syntactic devices.
To begin with phonological aspects, which are to draw the reader’s attention towards the product, I should mention the frequent use of assonance. In the slogan there is assonance of [c:] “Softon Hands”, and in the body copy [i:] “And leave the cleanup…”, [ȁ] “Nothing’s tougher on grease”, [u] “Sogofor it”. In the body copy you can also find an alliteration of [w] “What’s important […]when you cook.” And furthermore there occurs parallelism both in the headline and in the body copy: First, “What’sleft.What’sright.” and “What’simportant” and second, “…and removesit. So go forit.” Reading the slogan one can recognize the rhythm in it. In each line there are two stressed and one unstressed syllable:
What is really conspicuous in the field of lexical devices is the pun based on homonymy with the words “left” and “right” in the headline. Both have two different senses. On the one hand one can say that both directions are meant. On the other hand “left” could be the past participle of “leave” meaning: “This is the rest that remains after cooking and eating.” And “right” could mean correct, “This is the only suitable decision.” Besides the advertiser put in a simile including a hyperbole in the body copy: “Its unique formula attaches to greaselike amagnet.” This statement should elucidate the effects of the product.
Concerning the spelling devices the advertiser also uses elision to make the address appear less formal; in the headline “What’s” instead of “What is” and in the body copy “Nothing’s” instead of “Nothing is”. Another typographical device is the style of writing. In the Palmolive
advertisement there’s exclusively typewriting. Besides there is a range of size of the letters: The letters of the headline are the biggest ones, followed by the letters of the slogan, which are half as big as the headline letters, and finally the letters in the body copy measuring only a third of the letters in the headline. To emphasize certain notions bold letters are used in the headline, the slogan and especially in the body copy. In the latter only two phrases are in bold letters: “Nothing’s tougher on grease.” and the internet address “www.palmolive.com”. Only the caption of the portrait of “Maggie Ross” is printed in capital letters.
To come to the point of colour I think there are two main colours: black and white. All the writing is black besides “What’s left.”, which is printed in white to create a clearer contrast to the background. And also the background on the right side of the page is white so that there’s no diversion of what the text should express.
In the field of semantics the advertiser chooses special words to arouse the reader’s interest. In that case adjectives play a huge role. In the advertisement one can find adjectives that have a positive connotation concerning the product as “fearless”, “important”, “unique” (body copy) and “tough” and “soft” (slogan); two adjectives that could be called opposites. With the help of the comparative “tougher”, a trigger word, to be found in the sentence “Nothing’s tougheron grease.” the advertiser wants to emphasize the uniqueness of Palmolive and the intensification that the product is not only “tough” on grease but even “tougher” than anything else. Also the nouns and noun phrases “fun”, “grease”, “like a magnet”, “hands” and “unique formula” support the promotion of the product. The verb phrases “attachesto grease”, “liftsit upandremovesit” form an enumeration or a climax. Furthermore there are verbs like “cook” and “have”, the latter is verb number four on the list of the most frequently used verbs in English advertising (Leech, 1996). The verb “be”, used in unrestricted or habitual present, stands out from the other verbs. As a state verb it makes the statements seem to be “eternal truths” (Leech, 1987), that means: statements without any doubt. The auxiliary “will” in “And Palmolivewilldo the same.” makes the content of this sentence appear as a promise, a promise that the product will “fight” the grease on the dishes. Furthermore the imperatives “leavethe cleanup”, “sogofor it” and “visitme” should animate the reader and potential consumer to take action. Beside the form of imperative clause the body copy also consists of declarative clauses. Through these clauses the advertiser wants to convey factual information about the product and how it works.
But how does the advertisement work?
Before I go into detail I think it is significant to mention the four types of manipulation. The first type says that someone is influenced for the profit of the manipulator and for the profit of the manipulated or others. The second one implies the notion that the manipulation is done for the profit of the manipulator no matter if anyone else is harmed. To manipulate for your own profit and to be ready to harm others, that is what the third kind of manipulation means. The forth and most extreme type is to manipulate for your own profit only by harming others.
The Palmolive advertisement and also other advertisements tend to combine both types, number one and two. It is obvious that advertisements are made for the profit of the advertiser or the producer of the product, i.e. that the audience finally buys the product or is manipulated in another way. Furthermore also the consumer should profit from the advertising in so far that he or she knows which washing-up liquid to take in this very case. The advertisement should make this decision easier. This comes under the heading of what is called the problem- solution-strategy. So type one means the profit of the advertiser and consumer as explained. According to the second type of manipulation, where it reads it does not matter whether others are harmed or not, a product is promoted no matter if producers of other similar products, in this case: producers of other dish liquids, are at a disadvantage as the product advertised and not their own product is bought by the consumer. Weighing up the first and second type of manipulation I would say the second one is more dominant. I regard the point of the profit of the audience as less important.
In any case, even if the advertisement does not please the people they are manipulated in some way.
It might be that the audience likes the advertisement because of a certain illustration which appeals to the emotions or remembers the slogan or keeps the headline in mind or even buys the product promoted. But no matter which syntactic, semantic or stylistic means occur in an advertisement the four maxims of conversation defined by Grice (Byrne, p.13) play a huge role.
The maxim of quality says: “Do not say what you believe to be false” and “[d]o not say that for which you lack adequate evidence”. In the field of advertising one should not make wrong statements. When Maggie Ross “says” to you: “Nothing’s tougher on grease” the reader tends to supply in brackets “No other washing-up liquidis tougher on greasethan Palmolive Ultra Original”. Even if there are better dish liquids than Palmolive, Maggie Ross does not say anything wrong.
Another maxim of conversation is the maxim of quantity. You should be as informative as is required, you should not give too little information about the product but should not overtax the audience either. In the Palmolive advertisement you as the reader are told that Palmolive is helpful in “the fight” against grease on your dishes. You get to know something about the unique formula, how it works. The language used is relatively simple. The advertiser does not choose technical terms so that everybody can understand what is talked about and can be manipulated.
And that leads us to the maxim of relevance. The message should be relevant for the purpose of exchange. The consumer should be able to decode the message encoded by the advertiser in the correct way.
When the maxim of manner says. “Avoid obscurity of expression” an “ambiguity” there is an exception for advertising. In the Palmolive advertisement obscurity is used to catch the reader’s attention. In the headline it reads: “What’s left. What’s right.” With the help of the pun with the two adjectives “left” and “right”, as found out under investigation, the reader might take a moment to think about it and smile like I did, since this is really a good pun in my eyes. Although the advertisement is partly ambiguous it follows the rules of the forth conversational maxim which implies that you should be brief and orderly. With the few words of the headline the reader gets to know: When your dishes are dirty the “right” washing-up liquid is Palmolive Ultra Original. Also the body copy is not overcrowded with words but conveys only the necessary information the reader needs to know.
AIDA is the model advertising works with. A stands for the reader’s attention, I for the interest, D for desire and A for action. Before the advertisement can influence the reader’s mind it has to catch his/her attention. Some of the attention seeking devices to be found in the Palmolive advertisement are acoustic means. They are not really audible since there is no speaker. But when you as the consumer read it you can recognize the assonance in the body copy and the rhythm in the slogan or the alliterations in the body copy which could also be called visual means. There is also parallelism that catches your eye. And more obvious is the arrangement of the standard components; headline, illustration, body copy, standing details, signature line. As I already mentioned the reader’s eye follows the headline from left to right and then goes down the page reaching the slogan at the bottom of the right side of the page.
Having read all the information the reader keeps the slogan in mind as it is the last thing to be read on this side. This is significant for the field of memorability. Readability is created by alliteration, assonance, rhythm and the pun, as already mentioned, and also the climax “attachesto grease […]liftsitupandremovesit” occurs in the body copy to get attention.
Furthermore the elision, the colours and the letters are eyecatching. The elision in “What’s” and “Nothing’s” helps to make the advertising appear less formal, more personal, since average women and housewives are addressed. With the help of colours the page is divided into a dirty left part with dark colours like grey, black and dark orange and a white coloured bright side which seems to be very clean like the dishes after being washed with Palmolive Ultra Original. Beside the arrangement of the standard components also the size of the letters influences the way your eye takes. First, you see the headline and afterwards the body copy and the slogan because of the big letters in the headline and the smaller ones in the slogan and the body copy.
To keep the reader’s interest secondary participant Maggie Ross tells you something about the product and in connection with it asks you to visit her at www.palmolive.com, printed in bold. So if the reader’s interest is woken up, he or she can get further information in the internet as I did (see: Appendix). That is the point of action. But better than visiting Maggie Ross at the Palmolive homepage is buying the product. By mentioning that “[n]othing’s tougher on grease”, which is also printed in bold type to catch the reader’s eye, the advertiser makes the consumer think that Palmolive is better than the washing-up liquid used at home. In that way the advertiser creates the desire of having the brightest and cleanest dishes. And “What’s important is to have fun when you cook” implies that you will be happy and have fun if you take Palmolive Ultra Original. So the consumer is tempted to try once at least. And that is the aim of the advertiser.
Every advertisement works with the problem-solution-strategy which is based on needs. Either a latent need is woken up, an unconscious need is made conscious, a non-existing need is suggested, a weak need intensified or an existing need reoriented every human can be manipulated through his or her needs. In the case of the Palmolive advertisement the problem of dirty dishes is portrayed, a conflict average people are confronted with. And what is the solution of this problem? You should use Palmolive.
But the advertisement also “helps” in another way. A conflict might also be that there is a wide range of washing-up liquids. So the consumer does not know which one to buy, which one is the best. With the exaggeration that “[n]othing’stougher on grease” the advertiser informs the consumer that alternatives are inferior. But one has to consider that although this comparison is unrelated the reader completes it. Nothing is tougher on grease than what? The consumer knows the answer and supplies: …than Palmolive Ultra Original. In that way the advertisement shows the solution, namely Palmolive is the best dish liquid out of the wide range of other alternatives.
With the indirect address by the 3rd person secondary participant Maggie Ross, who appears to be a member of the consumer’s public, it sounds like a friend is talking to you. In general, people rather heed a friend’s advice than an advice of totally unknown people. And if Maggie Ross’ “Fearless Cooking” was a real cooking show on television, many people would already know her. So in the field of intertextuality, if the consumer sees the portrait of Maggie Ross on the page, he or she might be reminded of that certain cooking show. But even if “Fearless Cooking” was only a show invented for television advertising, the audience might know Maggie Ross before.
In the Palmolive advertisement the address switches from direct address to indirect address and then back to direct address. First, the consumer reads the headline “spoken” by the advertiser. Following he reads the body copy where Maggie Ross “talks” to him or her and afterwards the advertiser’s voice occurs in the slogan. To sum up I would say the eyecatching things which should be kept in mind are in direct address and the information about the product to be found in the body copy are indirect address advertising.
In the field of positiveness and negativeness there are certain word classes to promote positive associations in the mind of the consumer concerning the product. In the Palmolive advertisement one can find adjectives like “fearless”, “important”, “unique”, “tougher” (body copy) and “soft” (slogan), nouns like “fun”, “magnet” and the noun phrase “its unique formula” (body copy). In the word class of verbs there occurs the auxiliary “will” in “willdo the same” (body copy), which should express the promise that this very dish liquid will not let you down. Also the simile “Its unique formula attaches to greaselike a magnet” functions like a hyperbole and shows that Palmolive “works” hard to satisfy the consumer.
The last point in this advertisement analysis is the question of gender in advertising. One cannot say if the headline and the slogan are “spoken” by a man or a women. But concerning the body copy it is clear that Maggie Ross is the one speaking to the audience. Why is it not a man? I think in many people’s minds it is an old tradition that it is the women’s task to keep the household including the washing-up. So it would be less credible if a man was shown instead of Maggie Ross, as she is presented as an expert according to the show “Fearless Cooking”.
To come a conclusion I think that with the help of the richness of syntactic, stylistic and semantic devices this very Palmolive advertisement really caught my eye from the very first moment. That is why I preferred it to all the other advertisements. It is eyecatching, informative and convincing.
Byrne, Barbara:Relevance and the language of advertising. Dublin: Trinity College Dublin, 1991, p.16.
Leech, Geoffrey N.:Meaning and the English Verb. 2nd ed. London [u.a.]: Longman Group UK Limited, 1987, p.9.
Leech, Geoffrey N.:English in Advertising, A Linguistic Study of Advertising in Great Britain. London: Longmans, 1996, p.154.