AS English Language: ENB1 Introduction to Language The Power of Advertising Discourse Many theories exist to suggest how the discourse of advertising works and, as you might well find an advertisement in your exam, some background will clearly be useful.
In your exam, your comments must always be focused on the linguistic elements of the text you are analysing; this means that you must avoid analysing and discussing images at length.
Advertising uses a shortcut form of information processing which works through association: two thoughts, one of a product and one of a selling message, are made to connect in the mind of the target audience. If this works successfully, when the audience think about the selling message with its visual ‘cues’, they will also recall the product and vice versa. In many ads, the visual message is of an attractive lifestyle (one that the ad’s creator assumes will appeal to the target audience) and this is brought into an association with a particular product or brand. •
Look through a few ads in a lifestyle magazine and see how this works in practice.
Work out what ‘work’ the linguistic messages are doing in the ad. Are they supporting the visual messages?
‘Cueing’ The message of an advertisement is put into words and pictures by a creative team, approved by a client, distributed through a medium like magazines or newspapers, and – assuming it gets attention – it is ‘decoded’ by its target audience. Clearly, in order for the audience to make sense of the information, the message has to use appropriate signs and symbols to stimulate the individual’s perceptual system into action. One way that ads are thought to work is through a psychological effect called cueing. A cue is a signal or a reminder of something. A cue works by bringing to mind something from previous experience or knowledge. This cue then provides a ‘framework of meaning’ that the target audience can then use to interpret the sign or cue. Visual cues are known to be the most powerful because the visual part of the brain is far more evolved than the linguistic side (we have been ‘seeing’ far longer than we have been using language!). Clearly, for an ad to work, it will depend on the successful functioning of the cueing process. There simply is not time or space for elaborated message development, so the ‘message designers’ (usually the ad agency’s creative team) depend upon creating rapidly interpreted cues to produce the associated meanings sufficiently quickly and arrestingly to stop the reader for sufficient time for the ads to ‘work’. In other words, cueing drives the process of association. SNAPSHOT NARRATIVE An important ‘cue’ is the creation of what can be called a snapshot narrative. This is often created through a mixture of images and words. The creative team in an ad agency knows that we each carry round with us a storehouse of enduring and culturally deepseated ‘stories’. These are idealised stories that inform us of what romance, family life, childhood, etc. ‘mean’ in our society and culture. These are called ‘cultural myths’ because they are so deeply held yet are unrealistically ideal. Ad agencies are adept at creating a snapshot narrative – a fraction of a wellknown narrative – that the ad’s reader recognises and through the process of cueing fills in the remainder of the narrative. In this complete narrative, the ad’s product becomes associated with the ‘hero’, it occupies the role of the ‘helper’ function in narrative theory, and thus helps the product’s owner overcome the narrative’s ‘villain’.
Ads for kitchen and bathroom cleaners often use a very obvious form of ‘snapshot narratives’. They present bacteria as a ‘villain’, and the cleaner as the ‘hero’ – both often being animated. On buying the product, we then become the ‘hero’ of our own narrative, in which the product is the ‘helper’ allowing us to defeat the villainous bacteria.
Many ads utilise some form of ‘snapshot narrative’. Find an ad that you can analyse at this level and work out how the advertising copy helps this to happen?
Steve Campsall 2004 (Rev. 06/03/2012; 13:57) – ENB1 Advertising “Cueing”