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摘要 本文旨在通过对书面英语广告的语言分析总结出广告英语在词汇﹑句法﹑篇章上的语言特点。为了使研究从数据出发得出科学结论,本文作者建立了一个拥有60篇各类广告的小型语料库。通过对此语料库中日用品广告﹑科技设备广告﹑服务业广告的深入细致的定量和定性分析,总结出广告英语在此三类广告中的相同点与不同点,并且根据语言的意义,风格及功能解释广告英语的共性以及广告英语在不同类型广告中的特殊性。




关键词: 广告英语,词汇,句法,篇章,相同点,不同点




This paper presents an analytical study of the language features of English advertisements at lexical, syntactic and discourse levels. In order to conduct a data-driven study, the author builds a corpus of 60 English advertisements. It is hoped that through the detailed survey of three types of advertisements: namely, daily consumer goods ads, technical equipment ads, service ads, similarities and differences in advertising language features can be summarized and possible reasons will be given in the light of the meaning, and function of language.

This paper will be presented in five parts. The first part is the introduction and the last conclusion. The focus of the paper is laid on the three middle parts which respectively analyze language features at lexical, syntactic and discourse levels. The conclusion of this paper is drawn from the data analysis. In the analysis, examples from the corpus will be given; figures, tables and graphs will also be offered to make the paper understandable and persuasive.

It is hoped that the study can shed light on the language features of advertisements and also provide help to copy writers and advertising English learners.


KEYWORDS: English Advertisements, Lexical, Syntactic, Discourse,

            Similarities, Differences



  1. Introduction ……………………………………………………………… 1
1.1 Rationale of the study ……………………………………………………... 1
1.2 Definition of advertising …………………………………………………... 1
1.3 Focus of the present study ………………………………………………… 1
1.4 Sources of data ……………………………………………………………. 2
2. Lexical features …………………………………………………………… 2
2.1 Classification of advertising and its audience ……………………………..          2
2.2 Similarities at the lexical level ……………………………………………. 3
2.2.1 Few verbs are used ………………………………………………………... 3
2.2.2 Use of emotive words …………………………………………………….. 4
2.2.3 Make pun and alliteration …………………………………………………. 4
2.2.4 Use of weasel words ………………………………………………………. 5
2.3 Differences at the lexical level ……………………………………………. 6
2.3.1 Gender identity in advertisements…………………………………………. 6
2.3.2 Selection of Adjectives …………………………………………………… 7
2.3.3 Compound words …………………………………………………………. 8
2.3.4 Use of pronouns …………………………………………………………… 8
3. Syntactical features ……………………………………………………… 9
3.1 Similarities ………………………………………………………………… 9
3.2 Differences ………………………………………………………………… 10
3.2.1 Headlines ………………………………………………………………….. 10
3.2.2 Comparison of headlines of different types of ads ………………………... 11
4. Discourse features...……………………………………………………….. 12
4.1 Body copy of advertisements ……………………………………………... 12
4.2 Differences in body copy ……………………………………………. 12
5. Conclusion ………………………………………………………………… 14


Sincere thanks go to Dr. Wei Naixing for his insightful guidance and earnest help all through the searching, analysis and paper-writing stages.

The author also wants to extend her thanks to Ms. Linda Frost who has given much help in data collecting.


[1]  Bolinger, Dwight & Sears, Donald A. Aspects of Language third edition

New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich 1981

[2] Bovee, Courtland L. & Arens, William F. Contemporary Advertising forth edition

   Homewood, IL: Irwin 1992

[3]    Gove, Philip Babcock Webster’s Third New International Dictionary

Springfield, Mass.: G. & C. Merriam Co. 1976

[4]    Gregory, Michael Language Varieties and Their Social Contexts

London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. 1981

[5]    Jefkins, Frank William Advertising Philadelphia, PA: Macdonald and Evans 1985

[6]    O’Donnell, W. R. & Todd, Loreto Variety in Contemporary English

London: George Allen & Unwin (Publishers) Ltd. 1985

[7]    Roberts, William H. & Turgeon, Gregoire About Language second editon

Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1989

[8]    Vestergaard, Torben & Schr der, Kim The language of Advertising

Oxford[Oxfordshire]; New York, NY, USA: B. Blackwell 1985

[9]    方薇 《现代英语广告教程》 南京大学出版社 1997



1.   Introduction


1.1 Rationale of the study

We live in a world of advertising. As potential consumers, we are endlessly bombarded with all kinds of product or service information from various media including newspapers, magazines, television, radio, posters and Internet, etc. Advertising provides a valuable service to society and its members, because it defines for consumers the meaning and the role of products, services, and institutions. It indicates the difference that exists between brands of products and alternative services, as well as the distinguishing characteristics of companies and institutions. Advertising also tells the consumer what a specific product, brand or service should do when it is used and thus helps him or her to understand and evaluate experience with the products and services that he or she uses. On the other hand, by making people aware of products, service and ideas, advertising promotes sales and profits. Finally, advertising is one of the major forces that are helping improve the standard of living around the world. Combined with all these communicational, marketing and social functions. Advertising becomes indispensable in the modern world.

Naturally, advertisements in English have become an important means of communicating ideas, demonstrating a variety of linguistic features of its own. The present study attempts to examine these features at the lexical, syntactic and discourse levels, in the hope of bringing them to light and, thereby, offering help to advertisement writers and language learners.

1.2 Definition of advertising

    According to the Definition Committee of American Marketing Association(方薇, 1997:2)

, advertising is defined as follows:

Advertising is the nonpersonal communication of information usually paid for and usually persuasive in nature about products, services or ideas by identified sponsors through the various media.

1.3 Focus of the present study

    Usually, advertising communicates information in three types: audio, visual, and language. It is a more common case that an advertisement is a mixture of the three. In radio advertisements, music is always accompanied by language; on TV and motion pictures, music and language illustration are mixed with each other. In magazines and newspapers, advertisements are a combination of pictures and language of written information. Although music and pictures can provide some hints, or create a kind of atmosphere, the information about the product is limited. Even worse, it may lead to misunderstanding. Thus, we may say that language in a way provides more exact, detailed and dependable information whereas music and pictures only act as a supplementary means in advertising. Advertising language, playing a role of communication and persuasion, has developed its own features.

    This paper will focus on the language features of English advertisements at lexical, syntactic and discourse levels. It is hoped, by a contrastive study of advertisements on three types of products (daily consumer goods, technical equipment and service), similarities and differences of the three types of advertisements will be summarized and possible reasons will be given in the light of the meaning, and function of language.

1.4 Sources of data

All the advertisements studied in this paper are taken from English magazines. They are chosen from Time, People and Newsweek (issues from 1999-2000), because these three magazines have a huge circulation, covering all kinds of audience. Almost all kinds of advertisements can be found in these magazines. In order to get valuable information for the study, a corpus of 60 advertisements was built, which consists of 20 daily consumer goods ads, 20 technical equipment ads, and 20 service ads. Conclusions will be drawn through quantitative and qualitative studies of the data.

2 Lexical Features

2.1 Classification of advertising and its audience

Generally speaking, advertisements can be divided into two types: public relation ads and commercial ads. The former tries to advocate reputation for a social group, whose purpose is to leave a favorable impression upon the potential audience. The latter leads to the act of purchasing the products or using the recommended service. Commercial ads are much more presented through mass media for the reason that manufacturers and companies are willing to spend a large sum of money to make a certain product known or to boost the image of a certain brand. In some cases, competitors, like Coca-cola and Perpsi, even spare no expense to launch advertising campaigns to win over the market share. Commercial advertising can also be divided according to the target audience into two groups: consumer advertising and business advertising. Most of the ads in the mass media are consumer advertisements. They are typically directed at consumers. By contrast, business advertising tends to be concentrated in specialized business publications, professional journals, trade shows targeting at a certain group of people involved in some business. Since consumer advertising is most accessible to common people, the present study on will focus on consumer advertising. The classification of advertising is clearly shown in the following graph:

Graph 1 Classification of advertisements


Public ads                           Daily consumer goods ads

Advertising                        Consumer ads    Technical equipment ads

Commercial ads                                                 

Business ads      Service ads       

 The bold parts show the scope of advertisements we study. Daily consumer goods are necessities of daily life, such as food, detergent, hygiene, etc. Technical equipment is technical toys and electric equipment such as camera, vehicle, hi-fi, etc. Service covers bank, insurance, fund, etc.

Actually, advertising works effectively some of the time and doesn’t work other times. The single crucial reason that advertising does not work is that in specific instances the information it conveys never reaches the consumer at all, or is judged by the consumer to be either redundant, meaningless, or irrelevant. For example, a motorbike advertisement will probably be invisible to housewives on the lookout for new cutlery. Social status and individual interest decide that consumer goods ads are mainly targeting at women while technical equipment ads are largely aiming at men. The amount of shared knowledge between the advertiser and the audience together with the thinking habit of the audience directly influences the advertising language. Since products and audience change in every advertisement in order to achieve high advertising effectiveness, language used differs in different types of advertisements. Thus, in this paper we discuss not only the similarities of language shared by all types of advertisements but also differences of language used in different kinds of advertisements.


2.2 Similarities at the lexical level

In order to make the information accessible to audience effectively, the choice of words in advertising is very cautious and skillful. The aim of the advertiser is quite specific. He wishes to capture the attention of the members of a mass audience and by means of impressive words to persuade them to buy a product or behave in a particular way, such as going to Hawaii for all their holiday needs. Both linguistic and psychological aspects are taken into consideration in the choice of words. Sharing the same purpose of advertising-to familiarize or remind consumers of the benefits of particular products in the hope of increasing sales, the techniques used at the lexical level by advertisers do not vary markedly. The following points are some prominent similarities.

 2.2.1 Few verbs are used

        G. N. Leech, English linguist, lists 20 most used verbs in his English In Advertising: Linguistic study of Advertising In Great Britain (方薇, 1997:20). They are: make, get, give, have, see, buy, come, go, know, keep, look, need, love, use, feel, like, choose, take, start, taste.

        All these verbs listed above are also popular in the corpus we built.

    You will often read such sentences in an advertisement:

    Buy x. Use it. We make… X will give you what you need. You’ll love x. Get x. Fox  example:


        We’ll make this quick. (Hertz Car Return)

    Get great coverage that’s so weightless and water-fresh. (ALMAY)

    All you need is a taste for adventure. (Millstone Coffee)

    You’ll love it even more with the 2.1 megapixel C-2000 ZOOM. (Olympus Camera)

    Don’t have much of a personality? Buy one. (Honda Motor)


All these frequently used verbs are monosyllabic and most of them have Anglo-Saxon origin that is the common core of English vocabulary. Linguistic study shows English native speakers tend to use words of Anglo-Saxon origin, because native words have comparably stable meaning. In advertising, these simple words can win the consumers by their exact, effective expression and a kind of closeness. Etymological studies show that the 20 verbs listed before, except use and taste which are from ancient French, all are Anglo-Saxon origin. Even the two words, use and taste have long become indispensable lexical items in the stock of common core vocabulary of the English people, developing their stable meaning and usage.

   2.2.2 Use of emotive words

A close scrutiny of recent advertisements suggests that the soft-sell technique is now popular. By soft-sell technique we mean the one that favors a more emotive and less directive approach to promote a product, mainly focusing on the building of brand image. As a result, emotive words, most of which are pleasant adjectives, are greatly encouraged to use.

       Data from the corpus shows that the most frequently used adjectives are as follows:

    new, good/better/best, fresh, free, delicious, sure, full, clean, wonderful, special, crisp, real,  fine, great, safe, and rich.

These adjectives help to build a pleasant picture in readers’ minds and manage to create a belief in the potential consumer: If I buy this product or if I choose this service, I will lead a better life. In addition, comparatives and superlatives occur to highlight the advantage of a certain product or service. For example:

Nothing comes closer to home. (Vegetable and Chicken Pasta Bake)

Think Lysol is the best disinfecting spray. (Disinfecting Spray)

  The world’s coolest CDs aren’t made in New York, London or L.A. They are made in my      apartment. (Philips CD Recorder)

The Compaq Armada family is lighter, with new rounded edges for easier packing. (Compaq)

    2.2.3 Make pun and alliteration

Pun is an amusing use of a word or phrase that has two meanings which is called Polysemy or of words with the same sound but different meanings which is called Homonymy. Pun, the game of words, will leave a deep impression on readers by its readability, wit, and humor. However, to make a successful and impressive pun is not easy. Except for its own meaning, the word used as a pun is usually closely related to the characteristics of a certain product or the brand name of the product. Such coincidence doesn’t occur often. Here we present several classic pun- used advertisements. For example:


    Give your hair a touch of spring.

Ask for more. (More is a famous brand of cigarette)

Give your business the sharp edge. (Sharp Corporation)


    By using pun, advertisements will be easily remembered by the readers. In addition, filled with wit and humor, puns help the advertised product win favor from readers.

       Alliteration is the use of words that begin with the same sound in order to make a special communicative effect. Usually they are pleasing to ears because of the clever choice of the word by the advertiser. In addition, the repetition of the beginning sound emphasizes the meaning the advertisement wants to express. The following are examples picked from the corpus.

…, everything you need for that big bargain basement special.

…, and vitamin E to leave skin soft and smooth.

Treat your weary ghosts and goblins to a warm bowl of chill and …


    2.2.4 Use of weasel words

A weasel word is defined as “a word used in order to evade or retreat from a direct or forthright statement or position” according to Webster Dictionary (Philip Babcock Gove, 1976). The use of weasel words has become a device in advertising. Weasel words make people hear things that aren’t being said, accept as truth that have only been implied, and believe things that have only been implied and suggested. Let’s take a look under a strong light at several frequently used words.


   Ocean Spray Cranberry Juice Cocktail helps maintain urinary tract health.

   It helps control the bacteria in this system.

   A breakthrough way to help stop wear-out

   Help finance the video equipment.


All the examples shown are from our corpus. 23% advertisements of all samples use the word help. These helps can be omitted because they have lost their original meaning: aid, assist. Yet, help in advertising English is never redundant. It has magic power in advertisers’ eyes.

Help is the great qualifier; once the advertiser says it, he can say anything after it. Help qualifies everything. The audience has never heard anyone say, “This product will keep you young,” or “This toothpaste will positively prevent cavities for all time.” Obviously, advertisers can’t say anything like that, because there are not any products like that made. But by adding that one little word help, in front, they can use the strongest language possible afterwards. And the most fascinating part of it is that the readers are immune to the word. The readers literally don’t hear the word help. They only knew what comes after it. That is strong language, and likely to be much more important to the readers than the little word at the front.


   It’s like getting on bar free.

   Cleans like a white tornado.

   It’s like taking a trip to Portugal.


       Like is also a qualifier, and is used in much the same way as help. But like is also a comparative element, with a very specific purpose; advertisers use like to get the audience to stop thinking about something that is bigger than or better or different from the product which are being sold. In other words, they can make the audience believe that the product is more than it is by likening it to something else. Like help, like doesn’t catch much attention. However by using it, almost anything can be said and promised afterwards.


2.3 Differences at the lexical level

    2.3.1 Gender identity in advertisements

While we found quite a lot of similarities in the choice of words, we have also found some delicate differences in the choice of words in the three types of advertisements as classified before: daily consumer goods ads, technical equipment ads, and service ads.

Language, as a communicative tool, is not only to impart information, to communicate ideas about a product, etc., but also to convey information about the relationship between the addresser (advertisement) and the addressee (the audience). An intimate relationship between the advertisement and the audience is always hoped to achieve. So according to different audience, language applied is different.

What constitutes a female and a male identity, according to advertising? Table 1, based on the language of advertising (Torben Vestergaard & Kim Schr der, 1981:74), gives the commodity profile of two gender-identified magazines: Women and Playboy and also provides the distribution of the different types of advertisements.


Table 1 Distribution of three types of advertisements

                                                                                 Percentage of ads
    Women (%)                             Playboy (%) 
                                       Hygiene                         10                                       3

Daily                              Beauty                            18                                        1

Consumer                     Clothes                             12                                       14
Goods                         Food, Detergents                31                                         -
Technical                       Tobacco                           8                                        15
                                      Beer, Spirits                     -                                        25
                                        Leisure                           -                                         3

                                     Vehicle                              -                                        27
Equipment                    Radio, hi-fi                           -                                         4
                                    Computer                            -                                         7
Service                      Insurance, banking                  2                                         -
                                      Others                             19                                        1

  It can be seen from table 1 that the hygiene, beauty, food and detergents ads are dominant in the women’s magazines while technical equipment ads prevail in men’s magazines. The reason is that women are potential purchasers of daily consumer goods while men are potential purchasers of technical equipment. So advertising language tries to win its audiences by noticing audiences’ gender identity.

In addition, since the subjects involved in advertisements vary from simple to complex, shared knowledge by the addresser (ads) and addressee (the audience) varies. For example, knowledge of technical equipment, sometimes demands high educational background or special interests in a certain field. To convey different knowledge clearly, advertisements don’t always speak in the same way. In the following section, we will make a comparative study of three points in order to find differences in the choice of words in three types of advertisements: the selection of adjectives, the use of compound words and the use of pronouns.

  2.3.2 Selection of adjectives

Adjectives, as emotive and exciting words, are used to enhance the facts of a certain product or service. In the study of the selection of adjectives, we have first divided adjectives into two groups: descriptive adjectives and evaluative adjectives. The former is used in objective description and the latter give the advertiser’s subjective comments. Then we have listed those frequently used descriptive adjectives and evaluative adjectives in daily consumer goods ads and technical equipment ads, and we surprisingly have discovered descriptive adjectives differ from each other in two kinds of advertisements.


Table 2 Comparison of frequently-used adjectives in daily consumer goods ads and technical equipment ads

                                            Descriptive adjectives                                         Evaluative adjectives

Daily                              radiant,shiny,dazzling,gold                                 easy,convenient                                                                                                     

Consumer                           soft,smooth                                                    rich,effective,crucial                                                                             

Goods                                        fresh                                                                    healthy,fast                                                               

Ads                                      creamy,crispy                                                         valuable, flew                                                         

                                                  clean                                                                     essential        


Technical                            audible, visible                                                                magic

Equipment                    high-volume, full-colour,

Ads                                         high-speed                                                                                                                          

                                            magnetic, sharp

                                           invisible, multiple

                                          flexible, versatile

 Table 2 shows that descriptive adjectives in daily consumer goods ads such as fresh, crispy, and soft, tend to convey the sense of sight, touch, and taste. The temptation aroused by this vivid description of a product is hard to resist especially for women who tend to be moved by pleasant senses; compared with men, women are inclined to think in terms of images and perceive through senses. However, men, the target audience of technical equipment, are good at rational thinking. Men are not controlled by senses. On the contrary, the product’s interior quality and function is what they pay attention to. So the descriptive adjectives used in technical equipment ads are the ones conveying information of the product, such asaudible, visible, high-volume, high-speed, etc.


   2.3.3  Compound words

A compound word is often a noun or an adjective made up of two or more words. Compound adjectives are often seen in advertisements. In the present study, we found compound words turn up with varying proportions in three types of advertisements.

                                                       Compound-                  Total

                                                        used Ads                    Ads                                Percentage

Daily Consumer Goods                           5                               20                                   25%
Technical Equipment                             13                              20                                   65%
Service                                                  7                               20                                   35%

Obviously, compound words turn up in 65% technical equipment ads, 40 percentage points higher than that of daily consumer goods ads; 30 percentage points higher than service ads.

Compound words in technical equipment ads, are usually combined to give an exact description of a certain feature or a certain function such as high-volume, full-color, multi-functional, non-stop, water-cooled. Often numbers are employed in front of the hyphen, which is seldom seen in other advertisements, such as 64-bit, 24-valve, 4-wheel, 255-horsepower.

This difference can be accounted for in terms of the different complexities of the goods. In comparison with daily consumer goods and services, technical equipment is much more complicated in function and structure. It is just the advantageous function or newly designed structure that the advertiser wants to highlight in technical equipment ads. Thus, the advertiser employs, even coins, so many compound words that they can make the introduction of complicated technical equipment brief and precise. Grammatically, compound words help to avoid using clause, which enhance the readability of advertisements.

   2.3.4 Use of pronouns

Pronouns of the first and second person: we, I and you outnumber the other pronouns in advertisements. It is because that you, we and I help create a friend-like intimate atmosphere to move and persuade the audience. Advertisements with lots of pronouns of the first and second person are called gossip advertisements. Here, gossip has not the least derogative meaning. It originates from old English god sib, meaning friendly chats between women. Advertisements that go like talking with friends closely link the advertisement and the audience. The audience will easily accept a product, a service or an idea as if a good friend recommended them.

Though pronouns of the first and second person are popular in advertisements, there are some differences in the use of these pronouns in the three kinds of advertisements. The first person we almost never occurs in daily consumer goods ads and technical equipment ads, whereas we is used in almost 80% the service ads in the corpus. The following are some examples.

What can we do for you?

So come on and join us as we celebrate MillenniaMania Singapore.

…, we help our neighbors find the best ways to give to their favorite charities

We’re stronger than ever.

There are two factors to explain the phenomenon. First, in daily consumer goods ads and technical equipment ads, a product is the focus of information. When the product needs to be mentioned, “it” is used, and in most cases, the brand name is used, even repeated to impress the readers. However, in service ads, service is actually the product. Since service is intangible,

we can be regarded as the replacement of the service. Second, it is more necessary for service ads to create a friend-like atmosphere, because winning trust is the first thing service ads want to do.


3. Syntactical features


3.1 Similarities

The purpose of all advertising is to familiarize consumers with or remind them of the benefits of particular products in the hope of increasing sales, and the techniques used by advertisers do not vary markedly. An advertisement is often merely glimpsed in passing and so, to be effective, its message must be colorful, legible, understandable and memorable. The rules governing the language of advertising are similar. We have summarized the lexical features of English advertisements. If words are leaves of a tree, and sentences branches; the branches must also possess their similarities.

First, length of a sentence in advertising is usually short. A sentence in daily consumer goods ads has 10.3 words on average; in technical equipment ads, 11.8 words; in service ads, 12.3 words.

Second, as to sentence structure, simple sentences and elliptical sentences are often used in advertisements. Compared with complex sentences, simple sentences are more understandable and forceful. Elliptical sentences are actually incomplete in structure but complete in meaning. The adoption of elliptical sentences can spare more print space, and take less time for readers to finish reading. In addition, a group of sentence fragments may gain special advertising effectiveness. Let us compare the following two advertisements.

    a. Baked. Drenched. Tested to the extreme. A Motorola cellular phone …

b. The Motorola cellular phone are baked and drenched to extreme.

    Obviously, by using elliptical structure, sentence a is far more brief, eye-catching and forceful than sentence b. What’s more, it conveys attitudes that sentence b lacks. Sentence a implies a kind of appreciation for the phone, by splitting the sentence into several fragments and rearranging its word order. Therefore skillful arrangement of elliptical sentences may add color to a sentence.

Third, as to sentence patterns, interrogative sentences and imperative sentences are heavily used in English advertisements. Imperative sentences are short, encouraging and forceful. They are used to arouse audiences’ wants or encourage them to buy something. For instance:


Enter something magical. (Oldsmobile)

Feel the clean all day. (ALMAY)

Bye one. (Honda motor)

 In the explanation of the high frequency of the use of interrogative sentences, Linguist G.N. Leech (方薇,1997:77) discusses two main functions of interrogative sentences. Viewing from the angle of psychology, interrogative sentences divided the process of information receiving into two phases by first raising a question and then answering it. Thus it turns the passive receiving into active understanding. From the linguistic angle, interrogative sentences decrease the grammatical difficulty, because they are usually short in advertisements. Take the following interrogative sentence as an example: if it is asked to condense to one sentence, the condensed one will be complex and dull.

   What’s in Woman’s Realm this week? A wonderful beauty offers for you.

→There’s a wonderful beauty offer for you in Women’s Realm this week.


    Fourth, the passive voice is usually avoided because the passive voice gives the audience an indirect and unnatural feeling. In daily communication, passive voice is seldom used; so is in advertisements. Present tense prevails in most advertisements because present tense implies a universal timelessness. On the rare occasions where the past tense and the present perfect tense is used, it stresses the long traditions associated with a product, such as “We’ve taken our whisky in many ways, but always seriously”; or emphasizes its reliability, such as “We’ve solved a long-standing problem,”; or makes an appeal to authority, such as “Eight out of ten owners said their cats preferred it.”

3.2 Differences

    3.2.1 Headline

    The term Headline refers to the sentences in the leading position of the advertisement—the words that will be read first or that are positioned to draw the most attention. Therefore, headlines are usually set in larger type than other portions of the advertisement. Research (Coutland L. Bovee & William F. Arens, 1992:294) has shown that, on average, three to five times as many people read the headline as read the body copy. Therefore, if the advertiser hasn’t done some selling in the headline, he has wasted the greatest percent of his money. So it might be suggested that advertisers should not be afraid of long headlines.

    A headline has numerous functions. First of all, the headline must attract attention to the advertisement fast. It should take only a few seconds to capture the reader’s attention. Otherwise, the entire message may be lost. A headline also selects the reader, that is, it tells whether the advertisement’s subject matter interests the reader. The idea is to engage and involve the reader, suggesting a reason to read the rest of the advertisement. Therefore, the headline is the most important in an advertisement.

Generally, we can classify effective advertising headlines into five basic categories: benefit headline, provocative headline, news/information headline, question headline, and command headline.

Benefit headlines make a direct promise to the reader. News/information headlines include many of the how-to headlines and headlines that seek to gain identification for their sponsors by announcing some news or providing some promise of information. Provocative headlines are used to provoke the reader’s curiosity. To learn more, the reader must read the body copy. A question headline will pique the reader’s curiosity and imagination by asking a question that the reader is interested in. A command headline orders the reader to do something. It motivates the reader through fear or emotion or because the reader understands the inherent correctness of the command.

3.2.2 Comparison of headlines of different types of advertisements

   Table 4 tells which type of headline is most used in a certain type of advertisements.

Table 4 Comparison of headline s in three types of advertisements

                                                 Benefit                   News/Infor               Provocative                 Question                  Command

                                               Headline                 headline                   Headline                     Headline                    Headline


Consumer                              15%                            25%                           15%                             40%                             5%



 Equipment                              10%                            30%                            30%                             25%                            5%

Service                                      35%                            10%                            40%                             10%                             5%

     Why question headlines are more frequently used in daily consumer goods ads? American sociolinguist Daniel N. Maltz (方薇, 1997:144) concluded through study that women tend to ask questions. They have ubiquitous curiosity. So the women-targeting ads, daily consumer goods ads, cleverly employ question headlines to cater to women’s curiosity. The question can be what women care, such as “ Which of these continental quilt patterns will suit your bedroom best?”; or what women seldom think of, such as “Hear the one about the comedian who never drank milk?”. No matter what kind of question, it will arouse women’s interest effectively. 

       According to the comparison, information headlines are most popular in technical equipment advertisements. For example:

    Here’s the filmless version.

    It’s about exchanging information easily with people you trust.

    The muscular V6 gives the Grand Vitara undeniable appeal.


    Technical equipment is the result of science and high technology. Unknown information in an advertisement accounts for a large proportion. Unlike daily consumer goods ads, no introduction of a product is necessary in headline, because we are so familiar with these daily used products that almost all information becomes given information. Therefore, headlines of technical equipment ads mean to attract readers by displaying the unknown information of a product.

    However, service ads tend to give promise in headline to attract readers. For example:

    Wherever you are, whenever you need us, the Allianz Group is always there for you.

    The right bank can make all the difference.

    Cancer patients fly free on the wings of angles.


    Banks, insurance companies, public utilities and airlines prefer using benefit headlines to emphasize what they can do to customers. Consumer goods and technical equipment can present themselves in beautiful pictures. However, service ads are not able to present their “product” in print except language. So, they have to highlight their “product” in the headline.

4.  Discourse features

4.1 Body Copy of an Advertisement

In general, a written advertisement consists of five parts: headline, body copy, slogan, illustration and trade mark among which headline, body copy and slogan are the main parts. Headline plays a role in catching attention from readers; slogan can be used as a device to create a corporate image and a common practice to conclude advertisement.

In this section we will discuss the body copy as a discourse component. The advertiser tells the complete sales story in the body copy. Set in smaller type than headlines or subheads, the body copy is a logical continuation of the headline and subheads. It is also where the sale is closed. The body copy should relate to the campaign appeal and to the reader’s self-interest, and it must explain how the product or service being advertised satisfies the customer’s need. The body copy may concentrate on one or several benefits as they relate specifically to the target audience. In some cases, especially in daily goods ads, body copy is omitted just because readers know what they are.

4.2 Differences in Body Copy s

   Copy s fall into many categories. Some common types of copy s include straight-sell copy, institutional copy, narrative copy, dialogue/monologue copy.

In a straight-sell copy, the text immediately explains or develops the headline in a straightforward attempt to sell the product. Since the product’s sales points are ticked off in order of their importance, straight-sell copy is particularly advantageous for technical products that may be difficult to use in direct-mail advertising and industrial situations. Many camera ads, for example, use this straight, factual copy to get the message across. The straight-sell approach emphasizes the reason why the consumer should buy something. For example:

Pick up right where you left off with the new C-2000 ZOOM filmless digital camera.

You loved taking pictures then. You’ll love it even more now with the 2.1 megapixel C-2000 ZOOM. It’ll remind you of your favorite film camera of yesterday, but with all the advantages Olympus filmless photography offers today. Only the C-2000 ZOOM, for example, incorporates an all-glass, aspherical 3x zoom lens system featuring a large aperture f2.0 lens that’s exceptionally fast and bright. Along with automatic or manual features like aperture and shutter priority, spot metering, exposure compensation, white balance and ISO settings. And just like your film camera, the C-2000 ZOOM grows with you when you add external flash, lighting equipment, lenses or filter. So bring back old memories while creating new ones with the C-2000 ZOOM from Olympus--THE WORLD LEADER IN FILM AND FILMLESS PHOTOGRAPHY.

Sometimes the advertiser uses the institutional copy to sell an idea or the merits of the organization or service rather than sales features of a particular product. Often institutional copy is also narrative in because it lends warmth to the organization. Service ads, such as ads of banks, insurance companies, public utilities, and large manufacturing concerns are the most common users of the institutional copy.

Advertisers use the narrative copy to tell a story. It often sets up a problem and then creates a solution using the particular sales features of the product or service. It may then suggest that the audiences use the same solution if they have that problem. Service advertisements are often written in this . For instance:



“It broke my heart to hear my daughter Dorsey say she wished her daddy was still here. But thanks to his foresight, we’ll still have the things he worked for”

Dorsey Hoskins’ father Bryan felt a tingling in his arm. The diagnosis—an inoperable brain tumor. He died six months later, at 33, leaving his wife Dean alone to raise Dorsey and her sister Hattie. Fortunately, Bryan bought life insurance when he got married, and again when his daughters were born. Dean invested the proceeds in her own clothing store, which gives her the flexibility to spend more time with her children.

Are you prepared? Without insurance, your financial plan may be just a savings and investment program that dies when you do. An insurance agent or other financial professional can help you create a plan that will continue to provide for the ones you love.

    By using a dialogue/monologue copy, the advertiser can add the believability that the narrative copy sometimes lacks. The characters portrayed in a print advertisement do the selling in their own words, through a testimonial or quasi-testimonial technique, or through a comic-strip panel. All kinds of ads can use this body copy , if necessary. For example:

    When I want a CD done right, I do it myself. Yeah, this machine rocks. It burns full-size CDs that sound totally like the original. It plays CDs. Records CD to CD at double speed. And records off of just about any source. LPs. Cassettes. The radio. It’s even got a text display. Anyway, now I’ve got my own greatest hits collection. The stuff I want to listen to. I’ve got to admit it’s getting better.


5.  Conclusion

Up to now, we have analyzed language features of ads at three levels. Linguistic similarities analyzed in this paper and shared by all kinds of ads are shown as follows:

Ⅰ. Lexical features

a. One-syllable and simple verbs such as get and make are used.

b. Emotive adjectives are adopted to arouse reader’s interest.

c. Words are carefully chosen to make pun and alliteration.

d. Weasel words, such as help and like, make the use of strongest language possible in advertisements.

Ⅱ. Syntactical features

a. Sentences in advertisements are short. On average, a sentence consists of 11.8 words.

b.  Elliptical sentences are used to spare advertising cost and at the same time improve advertising effectiveness.

c.  Interrogative sentences and imperative sentences are common in advertisements

d.  Present tense prevails in ads to suggest timelessness. And active voice is used to cater to audience’s habit in daily talk.

 Ⅲ. Discourse features

    A complete advertisement consists of five parts: Headline, Body Copy, Slogan, Illustration

    and Trade Mark. Body copy is the key part, conveying product or service information.


While summarizing similarities of language features of three kinds of advertisements, we have discussed the differences between these ads on the following dimensions:

First, in order to achieve the highest advertising effectiveness, the advertiser precisely targets the audience by their social status, roles, income, educational background and gender. Therefore advertising language adjusts itself to get close to target audience.

Second, daily consumer goods, technical equipment and service are totally different advertising subjects. For example, some words in technical equipment ads are comprehensible only to those acquainted with that field. Take iMAC PC as an example. All the features of iMAC, plus: 400MHZ, G3 processor, slot-loading DVD drive, 10GB disk storage, dual 400Mbps FireWire ports, and iMovie video editing software. Laymen of computers must feel confused by these dazzling figures and units. However, in order to make the information of a technical product clear, some jargons are necessary. Therefore different kind of ads speak different language.

The study has shown that three kinds of advertisements in the corpus respectively demonstrate their own unique language features.

In daily consumer goods ads, descriptive adjectives tend to convey senses of sight, taste, and touch in the hope of satisfying women's appeal for beauty and comfort. No jargon is used. Headlines of daily consumer goods ads tend to ask question to arouse the interest of audience, especially women's. The body copy seems not so important and essential as that of the advertisement for products requiring high technological information, thus in some cases body copy is omitted in daily consumer goods ads.

In technical equipment ads, descriptive adjectives largely play the role of conveying information. Compound words, particularly compound jargons, are frequently used to exactly introduce a complicated product. Headlines of technical equipment mean to attract readers by transferring the unknown information of a product, so they are often information/news headlines.

In service ads, the use of pronouns, we and you, is statistically significant. You and we almost appear in every advertisement. “we”, as replacement of a certain service, is used in almost 80% the service advertisements. Institutional copy is often used to sell an idea or the merits of the organization or service rather than sales features of a particular product. Often institutional copy is also narrative in because it lends warmth to the organization. Banks, insurance companies, public utilities, and large manufacturing concerns are the most common users of the institutional copy.

In summary, no matter what kind of structure, or content, or words are used in an advertisement, all of them serve the purpose of attracting ads readers, conveying information to them, and urging them to purchase the products or to use the service. That is what an ad for, and that is also the function advertising language performs.