Linguistic Manipulation in Advertising Essay

This essay has a total of 1162 words and 7 pages.

Linguistic Manipulation in Advertising

Rudyard Kipling once said, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
This statement is so very true within all aspects of life especially in the advertising
industry. Creators of advertisements use powerful words in unusual combinations, sometimes
with visuals, to inhabit and manipulate the readers’/viewers’ minds. Consumers need to be
aware of the various linguistic (relating to language) devices used in advertising in
order to lessen the suasive effect from the manipulation within advertisements.

According to Alan C. Harris’s article entitled, “Sell! Buy! Semiolinguistic Manipulation
in Print Advertising,” manipulation of linguistic form means that a small idea or object
will undergo some enhancement, change, transformation, mutilation, or mutation that is
relatively unexpected on behalf of the reader/viewer. The manipulation usually stands out
of the ordinary to grab the attention of potential purchasers which increases the
purchasing consideration of the advertised product/service to the exclusion of all other
similar products/services.

Advertisers use foregrounding to provide the manipulation within their advertisements. In
advertising, foregrounding is a linguistic process in which certain components such as
words, phrases, intonations (inflections), or symbolic visuals are made more meaningfully
significant and prominent. By using linguistic devices in foregrounding, the advertiser
marks, stresses, or contrasts in a unique, noteworthy manner which is conveyed to the

One of the more widely acknowledged linguistic devices used in foregrounding is the claim.
The claim is the verbal or printed part of an advertisement that makes some claim of
superiority by providing an appealing manipulation sometimes with creative visuals.
Advertisers use the claim to portray an essential “rightness” which is conveyed to the
reader/viewer. There are ten common claims that Jeffrey Schrank identifies in his essay,
“The Language of Advertising Claims.” As Jeffrey points out, a few of these claims are
downright lies, some are honest statements about a truly superior product, but most fit
into the manipulation category with carefully chosen linguistic devices.

The first claim Jeffrey mentions is the weasel claim which is a modifying device that
practically counteracts the claim and is appropriately named after the egg eating
practices of the weasel. When consumed, the shell of the egg appears undamaged, but the
weasel has actually sucked out the core of the egg. Likewise, the linguistic device
initially appears considerable but proves to be meaningless. Some of the pinpointing
weasel words are “helps”; “like” (used in comparison); “virtually”; “enriched”; and many
other manipulative enhancers. An advertiser might claim that their dish soap will leave
dishes virtually spotless. They want us to think of “spotless”, but the advertisers
slipped their sly, glorified, weasel word “virtually” into the phrase hoping the
reader/viewer will disregard it.

The second claim is the unfinished claim which suggests a product is better than something
else but is unclear, because the comparison wasn’t finished. The car manufacturer could
claim, “Ford is seven hundred percent quieter.” If given this information, the
reader/viewer would be under the impression that this fact is part of a comparison to
another vehicle. In actuality Ford used this manipulation to promote that their car was
seven hundred percent quieter in the interior as opposed to the exterior.

The third claim is the “We are different and unique claim.” This claim is suppose to
provide a unique distinction above similar products/services. An example of this claim is
“Only Zenith has chromacolor.” Other manufacturers make similar television sets but can
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