The Effect of Words in Advertising

Copyright © 2008 Adam Nowak

Have you ever seen an ad without any words? Be it a radio, TV, cinema, press, Internet or outdoor advertisement, text is always an element of the utmost importance.

Marked and Unmarked Words

Usually we consider marked elements as those that occur more rarely. Thus, between the words "meal" and "feast," the latter will be considered marked. Another criterion is the awareness of choice of a word in a statement. Even if we choose a simpler word, it might be because it seems more strongly marked to us. Words which we are compelled to use are the least marked.

Name = Problem

Our final goal is to persuade a person to buy the product, but an intermediate goal might be the association of a problem awaiting a solution with our product, e.g. the following slogan: "Diagnosis: exhaustion. The answer: XY." The aim of this message is for its receiver to automatically think of the XY product when they feel exhausted.


Psycholinguistic research has shown that the receiver naturally associates a word with its opposite, e.g. "man - woman," a hyponym, i.e. a word semantically subordinate, e.g. "fruit - apple" or a synonym.

Connotations and Denotations

Each word has its denotation, that is to say, it names something. The word "sun" signifies the star closest to us. However, this word also has its connotations, in other words, emotional associations. These are very useful in constructing a persuasive message, because they evoke emotions.


Proper connotations might be evoked not only by the semantic aspect of the word (its meaning), but also by its sole sound. Crisps seem more crisp if we call them "crrisp," fabric seem softer if we call them "sofft" and food tastes better if we say it is "yummmy." Onomatopoeias (words imitating sounds) are worth mentioning here. This means of expression is often used, especially by poets. Try to say "a snake hisses," "the thunder of a shot" or a "rustling sough of a stream."


Generally, though, the semantic aspect has a greater influence on connotations than the sound aspect. We perceive words such as "thin" and "slim" or the often encountered in advertisements "usual" and "natural" differently. The word "usual" is associated with dullness and boredom, while "natural" does not evoke such connotations, even though its meaning is similar.

A Proper Word to Each Thing

In the process of creating an advertising message we make such choices in the case of every single word. They are not random or intuitive, at least they should not be such. The choices are influenced by detailed surveys and psycholinguistic research.

While trying to choose a proper word, we must answer some questions:

Detailed or general?

A journalist will rather speak about a tall blonde than a woman, but such details might narrow down the target group. Consider this sentence: "Woman, do you keep a diary?" This may be answered by any woman. The case will be different if we change the question: "Girl, do you keep a diary?"

Expressive, precise and clear or vague, fuzzy and ambiguous

An expressive, precise and clear text can ensure that it will be perceived in the way we want it to. Nevertheless, it might prove dangerous at times. If we say "Colgate toothpaste prevents cavity," then we are in trouble if somebody who uses this product hears that they have cavity after all. The case will be different if we say "Colgate toothpaste helps in preventing cavity." Ambiguity might also be helpful when we want to express content that cannot be formulated in a straightforward manner, for example for social (breaking taboos such as death is not advisable) or legal reasons (prohibition of advertising of some products, e.g. beer). Ambiguity is also helpful when we use erotic associations, which are very effective in advertising, especially when males are the target group, however recently, women are more often targeted by such advertisements as well).


New - customers like changes, they want to be modern, thus calling something "new" is usually very effective. The exception from this rule are advertising texts supposed to retain the loyalty to the brand.

Cheap - the price of the product is often the most important criterion of choice on an impoverished market. However, it should be kept in mind that "cheap" is often associated with low quality, so the word should not be used mindlessly, especially regarding durable or luxury goods.

Bargain, opportunity - everyone is glad to make an advantageous purchase, thus indicating that our offer is a unique opportunity may prove very effective. Haven't you ever bought anything totally useless just because "it was a bargain"?

Perfect, attractive, advantageous - who does not like such products? Moreover, these words are better than for example "the best", because assurances that we are "no. 1" will be treated with reserve. Besides, such claims bear the risk of a blistering response (either a marketing or a court one) from competition.

Responsibility, duty - each of us has been taught to be responsible since childhood, for instance we feel responsible for our families.

"You deserve it" - everyone wants to be appreciated and rewarded, so this expression as well as other words connected with reward are popular among copywriters.

Guarantee, proof - these words often replace proof or guarantee themselves. Thanks to them we feel safer and more peaceful.

Secure, sure - these words remind us of danger, but in a covert way. They do not evoke strong feelings of fear - that is why they are useful in selling products that are to keep one safe. Usually we do not like to think about it and an advertisement that aggressively reminds us of dangers will be rejected by most.

They are simply words that calm us down, indicate that something is simple and obvious. After all, each and every one of us is a bit lazy sometimes...

Really - another buzzword which we have used since childhood when we want to emphasize our credibility ("I really didn't smash that window").

Clean, fresh, natural - ecology is "in" recently, so such words are often helpful.

Style, discreet, subtle, sophisticated - everyone is a bit snobbish inside, hence words associated with class and prestige are important, since they indicate the high quality of the product.

Delicious, fragrant, colourful, smooth - a message is far easier to perceive if it is sensual and recalls taste, sight, smell or touch.

There are great amounts of such examples, especially that buzzwords are often a result of a trend - that is why so many things are "cool" recently.

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