Language in Advertising: Understanding its use

Say the word advertising to someone and the immediate images will spring to mind: billboards, television ads, buses with banners, flyers shoved under your nose – the list goes on. Advertising is ubiquitous in modern society, and while many people have some understanding of the power it wields over our everyday choices, few realise the subtle nuances of advertising that cause it to be so effective.

Language is the ultimate power in advertising. A strong company name and tagline can make or break a product. With the advent of social media and web 2.0, the written word has become more prominent than ever. People are constantly reading on social media, albeit not in the conventional sense. But with such a text-based form of media dominant, advertising and the way in which is inhabits our lives has changed.

Once, advertising was confined to the generic – an advert on a bus, a 30 second TV commercial, a half page in a newspaper. These were wide reaching, but not specific. Now, adverts are much more powerful, as cookies and GPS track your location both online and offline to target you and your individual habits. The power of an advert becomes that much stronger when it is personally attached to your own daily life.

In having this more invasive strategy, how adverts are represented and portrayed must be smarter than ever before. An advert isn’t violating your social media profile; it’s trying to help you (or at least, this is the message they are trying to portray). In this sense, the language needs to be so much more refined than in previous eras.

 

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Just Do It, Nike. Credit: Nike

Imperatives

When it comes to advertising, you’ll find a huge tendency to use imperatives and adjectives. Imperatives leave people little room for argument – ‘buy our new product now’. The use of the imperative ‘now’ commands you in a subconscious way; it leaves a deeper imprint than the phrase ‘buy our new product’.

Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ may be one of the most famous imperative slogans in advertising. The tagline gives you no room for argument, no room to back out or make a choice. It directs you in such a way that is bold and without remorse. The short, snappy nature of the tagline with the iconic tick has made it recognisable on a global scale. You don’t need to know, you need to ‘Just Do It’.

The famous Old Spice ‘I’m on a horse’ video also makes excessive use of imperatives – the character directs your gaze and thoughts throughout the entire video. The video was a huge success as an advertising campaign and continues to be recognised today, almost seven years later

 

Adjectives

With adjectives, these words are there to seduce you into believing in the product or service advertised. Adjectives bring depth to adverts, and the right adjectives can completely spin a situation into a positive. For example, Subway’s ‘Eat Fresh’ combines both an adjective and an imperative. ‘Eat’ being the command and ‘fresh’ establishing that the food they offer is healthy, tasty, and from a food-safe and hygienic environment. The adjective here is so simple it’s hardly worth thinking about, but when picked out you realise the power a simple word like that has. Invoking ideas of either safety or health are two of the most common ways to push a product to an audience – after all, these are two concepts people constantly want more of.

Similarly, Google’s recent campaign for the Pixel phone repeatedly uses the adjective ‘new’ to great effect throughout the course of the advert. The phrase is segmented from the text in the advert, making it more memorable to the viewer. As with health and safety, having something new is inherently appealing to the technologically driven audiences that are so widespread now, and it creates the legendary ‘buzz’ around a product. Adjectives that are as simple as ‘new’ or ‘fresh’ can completely change the way an advert is viewed and consumed.

 

Verbs and Adverbs

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McDonald’s, I’m Lovin’ It. Credit: McDonald’s.

Many adverts also use verbs and adverbs to encourage people to action. Marmite, with their infamous ‘You either Love it or Hate it’ slogan sticks out clearly. It forces you to choose between love or hate, both of which are powerful, loaded words with intense connotations of emotion behind them.

Similarly, McDonald’s ‘I’m Lovin’ It’ creates a sense of togetherness, as each consumer places themselves in the context of the ‘I’ here, and so we all assume that we are indeed, lovin’ it. If the advert used ‘You’re Lovin’ It’ it becomes presumptive of the consumer and works to split people apart, when McDonald’s wants people to feel part of the brand and therefore come and eat at their restaurants. Understanding the simple act of how to address the audience can create a huge shift in the perception of the advert.

Language in adverts is vast, varied, and constantly evolving. From customer specific adverts that address you directly, to adverts promising huge concepts such as health, love, sex, freedom, safety and more, you’d be surprised at how many connotations adverts contain, and how much they influence you on a subconscious scale.

Understanding how to use language in adverts is a skill in itself and you’ll know when you get it right; the customers will come flooding through the door.