Phraseological Units in Advertising. An Empirical Analysis of the Effects of Modified Linguistic Expressions

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2014

23 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

List of Figures


2.Characteristics of Phraseological Units
2.1.Determination of Phraseological Units
2.1.2.Features of Phraseological Units
2.2.Modification of Phraseological Units in Advertising
2.2.1.Characteristics of Modification
2.2.2.Common Types of Modification in Advertising
2.2.3.Advantages and Challenges
2.3.Application of Phraseological Units in the ‘ASAP’ Campaign of VW

3.Empirical Analysis - Effects of Phraseological Units in Advertising
3.1.Data Collection and Analysis
3.2.Description and Interpretation of Findings
3.2.1.Findings of Warm-Up and Socio-Demographic Data
3.2.2.Perception and Effects of Modification




List of Figures

Table 1: Frequency Distribution of Socio-Demographic Parameters.

Table 2: Cross-Tabulation of Attraction of PUs in Adverts and Beetle Cabriolet….

Graph 1: Semantic Differential - As Soon As Possible vs. As Sun As Possible

Graph 2: Comparison of Statements - As Soon As Possible vs. As Sun As Possible

Graph 3: Comparison of Statements - Like Father, Like Son vs. Father and Sun…..

Graph 4: Attraction of PUs in Adverts…... Graph 5: Attraction of Beetle Cabriolet ….

1. Introduction

Since Leech published his pioneering work English in Advertising in 1966, the relevance of advertising increased steadily in linguistics during the twentieth century (Bell, 1995: 32). The term advertising itself means ‘to turn towards’, thus one of the central and obvious aims of advertising is to get the recipient’s attention (Goddard, 1998: 6). Additionally, the initiator aims to attract and persuade a specific target group and thus consciously intends to benefit from the textual components of an advertisement, either directly and commercially or indirectly through an enhanced brand image (Goddard, 1998: 7). Hence advertising texts often involve a complex interpretation of the reader decoding the message (Goddard, 1998: 10). Developing a persuasive and successful advert demands a high degree of creativity and linguistic skills (Bell, 1995: 32). Besides metaphors, puns or alliterations, phraseological units are frequently used as a popular tool in advertising language (Bell, 1995: 32; Fiedler, 2007: 103).

In the following, my focus will be on the topic of modification of phraseological units in advertising as beneficial influencer on the audience’s attitude towards a product, using the example of a print advert of Volkswagen’s ‘ As sun as possible ’ campaign for the Beetle Cabriolet. The aim of this work is to prove the relevance and the favourable effects of transformed phraseological units in an empirical study dealing with the advert of Volkswagen. Phraseological Units are modified in the ‘ As sun as possible ’ campaign of Volkswagen to profit from the underlying original meaning and to add a personalised meaning fitting the particular product in order to favourably and efficiently affect the relevant audience.

In order to show this, the present work will first create a theoretical basis about the concept of phraseological units. There, I will concentrate on the terminology and explain central features of phraseological units and how they are used in adverts. Then I will initially consider the possibilities for a modification of phraseological units on a general basis. In the following, this knowledge will be expanded by an elaboration of the most frequently used techniques for modification in advertising and an explanation of the advantages and challenges. This theoretical knowledge about phraseological units and their features will be exemplarily applied to the ‘ As sun as possible ’ campaign of Volkswagen. In the second part I will proceed with an empirical analysis to investigate the perception and effects of Volkswagen’s campaign. To do so, I will at first describe the procedure. In a final step, the results will be presented and interpreted in context of the theoretical background knowledge.

2. Characteristics of Phraseological Units

2.1. Determination of Phraseological Units

2.1.1. Definition

The term ‘phraseological unit’1 can be used as a synonym for the term ‘idiom’ and describes a fixed linguistic expression with figurative meaning (Liutkute, 2007: 8). As the term suggests, it is a phrase consisting of at least two words (Liutkute, 2007: 8). Similar to lexemes, a PU is a fixed group of words that is stored in a speaker’s mental lexicon as a whole (Beniuliene and Ridzeviciene, 2004: 15). The figurative or metaphorical meaning goes beyond the meaning of each separate word, thus PUs often exist in literary language, but also in everyday language to make it more vivid (Liutkute, 2007: 5). A PU is characterised by features like stability, lexicalisation, reproducibility, idiomaticity and ambiguity, which will be clarified in the following (Beniuliene and Ridzeviciene, 2004: 15).

2.1.2. Features of Phraseological Units

A phraseological unit is first of all characterised by stability, which implies that the expression is fixed in form and structure (Beniuliene and Ridzeviciene, 2004: 15). Stability also means that grammatical or lexical variation is only marginally possible. A variation implies that the underlying meaning stays stable while adapting to the grammatical or lexical circumstances in which the unit is used (Liutkute, 2007: 11-13). The attribute of stability is closely connected to lexicalisation and reproducibility, which signifies that the whole phrase is stored in a mental lexicon as a unity and can be reproduced or reused at any time (Beniuliene and Ridzeviciene, 2004: 15).

Additionally, a PU is determined by idiomaticity as a core feature. This concept enables the unit to carry an underlying and metaphorical meaning besides the literal meaning (Liutkute, 2007: 9). One has to be aware of the difference between idiom and idiomaticity: whereas an idiom is a synonym for a PU and consists of at least two words, idiomaticity may also describe a single word that carries figurative or idiomatic meaning (Liutkute, 2007: 19). Hence, one can describe idiomaticity as a characteristic of a word or a unit. The degree of idiomaticity can vary among the different PUs, thus a saying like Birds of the feather flock together carries a higher degree than the simile as good as gold (Luitkute, 2007: 18).

Besides idiomaticity, ambiguity goes along with the idea of the literal and figurative value occurring simultaneously (Fiedler, 2007: 97). In advertising this ambiguity is purposely ‘phraseological unit ‘PU’. and deliberately provoked. Fiedler raises the issue that in most cases co-texts and visual features accompany the PU to illustrate both meanings at the same time and enhance the humorous and ambiguous effect of a PU (2007: 97-98). The co-text mostly refers to the literal meaning, whereas the PU raises the metaphorical sense (Fiedler, 2007: 98). Furthermore, the strong effect and significance of the visual components in advertising should not be underestimated (Wyer, 2002: 696). Likewise a co-text, the graphic elements can contradict the underlying meaning of a PU, but they can also trigger and reinforce the symbolic value of a phrase (Fiedler, 2007: 100-101). In an extreme or specific case like cartoons, the PU can be entirely visualised without any verbal elements needed (Fiedler, 2007: 104-105). Then the author assumes that the PU is known and can be recognized in the visualisation (Fiedler, 2007: 107).

2.2. Modification of Phraseological Units in Advertising

2.2.1. Characteristics of Modification

Among other linguistic expressions like metaphors or sayings, PUs are deliberately modified in advertising adjusting to the advertiser’s individual aims and messages (Hermeren, 1999: 97). In contrast to variation, the modification of PUs may change the underlying meaning of the original phrase, thus they cannot be registered in dictionaries (Beniuliene and Ridzeviciene, 2004: 15-16; Fiedler, 2007: 90). Therefore, one can also depict it as recycling the actual message (Hermeren, 1999: 99). Advertising agency use creative recycling to consciously adapt to a certain product and the customer’s interests (Beniuliene and Ridzeviciene, 2004: 16).

The idea of modification also alludes to the concept of hypertextuality, which was coined by Gérard Genette in his famous work Palimpsests. It defines the relationship between two texts: a modified text (hypertext) is determined by the existence of the original one, also called hypotext (Hermeren, 1999: 102). This concept is a part of intertextuality where a given text is directly or indirectly linked to another one (Hermeren, 1999: 103).

2.2.2. Common Types of Modification in Advertising

There are five common strategies which are typically used in advertising and expound how to modify PUs on a syntactical level: substitution, expansion, reduction, permutation and a negotiation of an affirmative phrase or vice versa.

The most common technique is the substitution of one or more lexical items, but sometimes it is just a single letter (Fiedler, 2007: 90-91). The advertiser usually exchanges adjectives or verbs, but in a few cases also nouns and numeral components (Beniuliene and Ridzeviciene, 2004: 19; Fiedler, 2007: 90). Hence, one can state that a substitution offers a wide range of creative possibilities to adopt the message appropriately to the particular needs and interests of the targeted audience (Hermeren, 1999: 99). However, one has to regard a phonetic similarity to ensure the association of the former PU (Fiedler, 2007: 91).

A second frequently applied method is the expansion of PUs adding a relevant, mostly positive, feature of the product and giving further specific information (Fielder, 2007: 92). In most cases adjectives or word groups are added, but an expansion can also appear in the form of a compound (Beniuliene and Ridzeviciene, 2004: 19). When the expansion hints directly at some of the phraseological elements, it causes ambiguity, because then it alludes to the literal meaning of the PU and works like a co-text (Fiedler, 2007: 92).

In contrast to expansions, reductions are also regularly used. One or more elements of the original hypotext are deleted. However, the remaining fragments immediately remind the reader of the complete unite, because the PU is stored in one’s mental lexicon as a whole (Fiedler, 2007: 94).

Furthermore, there are also some techniques which are less used, like permutation or the negation of affirmative units. A permutation describes an alteration where the idiom is reordered (Fielder, 2007: 94). In particular cases it can also be integrated in sentence structure (Fiedler, 2007: 95). The permutation often occurs in an abridged form as a phrasal compound and is therefore mostly applied in journalism, especially in headlines (Fielder, 2007: 94-95).

Last, but not least, one can negate an affirmative unit or vice versa, thus the former meaning is rebutted (Beniuliene and Ridzeviciene, 2004: 19). As mentioned in the previous section, the textual elements are aligned with the visual components of an advertisement (Hermeren, 1999: 100). Consequently, the negotiation can also be presented in a contradictory visualisation of the hypotext (Fielder, 2007: 96).

To sum it up, there is a variety of recycling strategies available, which offer the advertiser to implement their message in a unique and creative, but first of all memorable way. The contemplated types of modification may however occur individually, but are prevalently used simultaneously or in combination with other stylistic devices (Fiedler, 2007: 95). Hence, a PU can be modified substantially, thus the concept of indirect intertextuality becomes obvious, in which the new hypertext only alludes to an original text (Hermeren, 1999: 103; Fiedler, 2007: 95).

2.2.3. Advantages and Challenges

Using PUs in advertisements offers several advantages to reach the customer efficiently. First of all, the application of idioms in general creates attention through the impression of familiarity (Fiedler, 2007: 103). Secondly, the reader becomes more interested in the particular product, because of the transformation of the originally known unit, which creates new associations and a mystery that one tries to solve (Hermeren, 1999: 101). The audience not only feels attracted by the creativity of such adverts, but they feel in particular be taken seriously, because of the challenging and pleasurable tasks to decode both, the literal and metaphorical message (Fiedler, 2007: 103). Additionally, this intellectual demand, fitting the lexicon of the target group, enables one to exclude or include a certain group of people (Hermeren, 1999: 102). The portrayed recycling techniques enable a combination of a unique and artistic transformation that includes humour during the decoding, thus the capacity of remembering is successfully increased by using modified PUs in adverts (Fiedler, 2007: 103- 104; Wyer, 2002: 707).

Besides these advantageous effects, there are also some challenges to overcome. Hence, it is essential to choose a PU that is available in the common language use of the target group; otherwise the message can be misunderstood or not decoded at all (Beniuliene and Ridzeviciene, 2004: 16). The author presumes a certain available knowledge, which he does not explicitly assert, but is closely linked to the words and structures used in the utterance, thus the reader can infer the meaning (Dzanic, 2007: 46-47). This concept is called presupposition and assumes that the audience can comprehend the underlying message (Dzanic, 2007: 47). To be precisely, the author has to choose a PU that is available in the lexicon of the target group and modify it, thus the original version is still recognisable. Especially non-native speaker have difficulties to get the figurative meaning of a modified PU: firstly, they need to be familiar with the original one, and secondly, they need to understand the modification and its effect (Fiedler, 2007: 90). Additionally, one has to consider the principle of implicature, which enables the speaker to mean more than literally expressed and to be likewise understood by the reader in terms of pre-existing knowledge structures (Dzanic, 2007: 48; Wyer, 2002: 705). To ensure comprehension, the author should apply an overt implicature to direct the attention and interpretation consciously. A further challenge is that the author has to create a counterpart in the visual components of the advertisement to facilitate the decoding process, so that the advertisement becomes a unity (Hermeren, 1999: 100-101).


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Phraseological Units in Advertising. An Empirical Analysis of the Effects of Modified Linguistic Expressions
University of Münster
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Phraseological Units, Idioms, Linguistic Expressions, Advertising, Language of Advertising
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Barbara Lohmann (Author), 2014, Phraseological Units in Advertising. An Empirical Analysis of the Effects of Modified Linguistic Expressions, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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