The Language of Advertising!

There are several ways to approach a non-literature task either for coursework, or for the exam. I tend to use a 5 point plan of Content, Audience, Pictures, Text and Opinion and look at how each affects the audience – are they successful or not? It is a simple way to approach 5 areas of thought in your essay answer.

There are other ways, other forms of thinking through a Language task. Below is just one of them. In order to sell a product, advertisers have to create the necessary illusion of superiority, so  they usually resort to one or more of the following ten basic techniques.

Each is common and easy to identify but how do they work? Make some notes of your own.


A weasel word is a modifier that practically negates the claim that follows. Words or claims that appear substantial upon first look but disintegrate into hollow meaninglessness on analysis are weasels. Commonly used weasel words include “helps” (the champion weasel); “like” (used in a comparative sense); “virtual” or “virtually”; “acts” or “works”; “can be”; “up to”; “as much as”; “refreshes”; “comforts”; “tackles”; “fights”; “come on”; “the feel of”; “the look of”; “looks like”; “fortified”; “enriched”; and “strengthened.”


The unfinished claim is one in which the ad claims the product is better, or has more of something, but does not finish the comparison. Samples of Unfinished Claims are “Magnavox gives you more.” More what? “Anacin: Twice as much of the pain reliever doctors recommend most.” This claim fits in a number of categories but it does not say twice as much of what pain reliever. “Supergloss does it with more color, more shine, more sizzle, more!” “Coffee-mate gives coffee more body, more flavor.” Also note that “body” and “flavor” are weasels.


This kind of claim states that there is nothing else quite like the product being advertised. For example, if Schlitz would add pink food coloring to its beer they could say, “There’s nothing like new pink Schlitz.” The uniqueness claim is supposed to be interpreted by readers as a claim to superiority. Samples of the “We’re Different and Unique” Claim” There’s no other mascara like it.” “Only Doral has this unique filter system.” “Cougar is like nobody else’s car.”


“Water is wet” claims say something about the product that is true for any brand in that product category, (for example, “Schrank’s water is really wet.”) The claim is usually a statement of fact, but not a real advantage over the competition. Samples of the “Water is Wet” Claim are “Mobil: the Detergent Gasoline.” Any gasoline acts as a cleaning agent. “Great Lash greatly increases the diameter of every lash.”


This is the kind of claim to which the careful reader will react by saying “So What?” A claim is made which is true but which gives no real advantage to the product. This is similar to the “water is wet” claim except that it claims an advantage which is not shared by most of the other brands in the product category. Samples of the “So What” Claim are “Geritol has more than twice the iron of ordinary supplements.” But is twice as much beneficial to the body? “Campbell’s gives you tasty pieces of chicken and not one but two chicken stocks.” Does the presence of two stocks improve the taste? “Strong enough for a man but made for a woman.” This deodorant claims says only that the product is aimed at the female market.


The vague claim is simply not clear. This category often overlaps with others. The key to the vague claim is the use of words that are colorful but meaningless, as well as the use of subjective and emotional opinions that defy verification. Most contain weasels.  Samples of the Vague Claim are “Lips have never looked so luscious.” Can you imagine trying to either prove or disprove such a claim? “Take a bite and you’ll think you’re eating on the Champs Elysées.” “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.”


A celebrity or authority appears in an ad to lend his or her stellar qualities to the product. Sometimes the people will actually claim to use the product, but very often they don’t. There are agencies surviving on providing products with testimonials. Samples of Endorsements or Testimonials are “Joan Fontaine throws a shot-in-the-dark party and her friends learn a thing or two.” “Darling, have you discovered Masterpiece? The most exciting men I know are smoking it.” (Eva Gabor) “Vega is the best handling car in the U.S.” This claim was challenged by the FTC, but GM answered that the claim is only a direct quote from Road and Track magazine.


This kind of ad uses some sort of scientific proof or experiment, very specific numbers, or an impressive sounding mystery ingredient. Samples of Scientific or Statistical Claims are “Wonder Break helps build strong bodies 12 ways.” “Easy-Off has 33% more cleaning power than another popular brand.” “Another popular brand” often translates as some other kind of oven cleaner sold somewhere. Also the claim does not say Easy-Off works 33% better. “Special Morning–33% more nutrition.” Also an unfinished claim.


This kind of claim butters up the consumer by some form of flattery. Samples of the “Compliment the Consumer” Claim are “We think a cigar smoker is someone special.” “If what you do is right for you, no matter what others do, then RC Cola is right for you.” “You pride yourself on your good home cooking….” and “The lady has taste.”


This technique demands a response from the audience. A question is asked and the viewer or listener is supposed to answer in such a way as to affirm the product’s goodness.

Samples of the Rhetorical Question are “Plymouth–isn’t that the kind of car America wants?” “Shouldn’t your family be drinking Hawaiian Punch?” “What do you want most from coffee? That’s what you get most from Hills.” “Touch of Sweden: could your hands use a small miracle?”

Each are an example of language use. Each have an effect on the reader. So you should never forget that old three word mnemonic of AUDIENCE, FORM and PURPOSE! Keep these close to your heart and memory and you should do well.

NB. Each of the above ten ideas were generated from another website. They are useful to know, but as secondary ideas to the main ones specified in the first paragraph. I thank the other webmaster for adding the thoughts contained herein.