Readers, Writers, Texts

The Language of Advertising

“Students, and many teachers, are notorious believers in their immunity to advertising. These naive inhabitants of consumerland believe that advertising is childish, dumb, a bunch of lies, and influences only the vast hordes of the less sophisticated. Their own purchases are made purely on the basis of value and desire, with advertising playing only a minor supporting role. They know about Vance Packard and his “hidden persuaders” and the adwriter’s psychosell and bag of persuasive magic. They are not impressed.

Jeffrey Shrank, The Language of Advertising Claims

Despite what people say, advertisers know that language (and images) work at both the conscious and the unconscious level, and a person unaware of advertising’s claim on him or her is the person least well equipped to resist its insidious attack, no matter how forthright they may sound. An essential underpinning to the language and literature course is the aim for you to become media-literate. The purpose of a classroom study of advertising is to raise the level of awareness about the persuasive techniques used in ads. Ads can be studied to detect their ‘hooks,’ they can be used to gauge values of consumers, and they can be studied for their use of symbols, colour, and imagery. But perhaps the simplest and most direct way to study ads is through an analysis of the language of advertising. Begin your study by reading the following articles: 

Class Activity

Peruse these adverts containing different advertising claims and / or this selection of adverts connecting to the 15 basic appeals. Discuss and explain how the various adverts exploit particular language ‘claims’ or rely on certain ‘appeals’.

Learner Portfolio

Write a full page-spread for a magazine advertising a new product of your choice. Include an image but, as this is an exercise, make sure there is also a body of text. Employ a judicious selection of the basic appeals and language devices you have read about here.

Body of Work: Lucky Strike Cigarette Print Adverts


This collection of adverts includes examples of all Lucky Strike’s major campaigns from the 1910s through to the 1950s. Through studying these texts you will see how an advertising campaign changes and evolves through time, both in terms of how the adverts appealed to readers and in the sophistication of the advertising techniques used to sell what is, essentially, a harmful product that has limited benefits for the consumer.

There are plenty of resources that you can turn to for wider reading and context about this topic. Several documentaries have been made charting the rise and fall of cigarette advertising and Edward Bernays’ impact on the history of advertising, as well as the key role he played in the Lucky Strike campaigns of the 1920s and 1930s. You can find some of these supporting materials here:

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

“Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: 
Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

An advert from this collection of texts would be a good choice to bring into your Individual Oral. The named author would be the ‘British American Tobacco Group’ or ‘Lucky Strike.’ You could explore the Global Issues of Art, Creativity and Imagination or Beliefs, Values and Education. The Body of Work could be used to investigate language claims in advertising, the validity of expert testimonials, or even explore how beliefs and values change through time. If you study the next section (Can a Picture Tell a Thousand Words) you could also examine the creative, artistic or aesthetic elements of these texts and discuss how they have been designed to effect the reader. Speak to your teacher about ways to pair an advertisement like this with a literary text, or use the following suggestions as a starting point: 

  • Ismail Kadare’s Broken April – chapter 1 illustrates the powerful effects of wider society (his father, his upbringing, the expections of those around him, and the kanun) on an individual in ways that can be compared to those seen in advertising.
  • Han Kang’s Vegetarian – similarly, this novel reveals what happens when an individual tries to assert her own identity in the face of powerful family and social forces.
  • Keats’ Odes – there are a surprising number of references to drink, food and drugs in Keats’ poetry, which tells us something about the context of the time he was writing. Also, he studied to be a surgeon, even passing his exams and practicing medicine for a brief time. You might look at Ode on Melancholy or La Belle Dame sans Merci in more detail to find points of comparison with this body of work.
  • Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber – if you’re interested in the alluring power of celebrity, you can compare the effects and techniques in the Cream of the Crop campaign with the effect of the Marquis’ dazzling seduction of the narrator in Carter’s title story in this collection.

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