Politics and Politicians for Sale: An Examination of Advertising English in Nigeria's Political Transition Programme

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Introduction (2)

Advertisements or ads arc certainly not short of definitions, although the language of advertising seems to have received little attention from linguists in the past. Many descriptions take a utilitarian view of advertising and as Bell's (1991) does, as functioning 'to persuade, challenge, seize audience's attention, tell an anecdote ...' or what shows distinctiveness in products (Harris -- Seldon 1962: 236).

There are, of course, definitions of ads that have examined their effects on people and the society in general, i.e. definitions that are psycho-sociological in perspective. For example, Hogarth (1965) simply dismisses ads as forms of emotional blackmail and exploitation while O'Donell and Todd (1980: 104) assert that they appeal to our greed and fear. Vestergaard and Schroder (1985) see ads as society's mirror, or the psychological temperature of a society. Such is the impact of ads that Collum (1939: 32) describes ads as "the strongest, most concentrated, and most conscious form of meaning-making to which Americans are exposed". It is not surprising, therefore, that Lund (1947: 83) rightly points out that an adman's tasks are many: attracting attention, arousing interest, stimulating desire, creating conviction, and getting action. These utilitarian definitions should, however, not be seen as relegating linguistic or pseudo-linguistic descriptions to the background, for as Leech (1966: 66) has argued, adver tising is a "sub-literary" genre. Besides, he adds (1966: 25) that its functional scope is very wide and, perhaps, vague, shading into 'neighboring areas as public announcements, public relations and public polemics'.

The identification of the various types of advertising is also an indirect way of defining ads. For example, a criterion based on technique may be used to classify ads into hard sell (based on direct approach) and soft sell (based on indirect exhortation), or to distinguish informative from competitive/persuasive advertising. Besides, Bell (1991) observes that in press advertising we may distinguish display advertising from classifieds. A definition based on the profit-motif or the nature of income may encourage the distinction between commercial and non-commercial advertising as Vestergaard and Schroder (1985) have pointed out. Indeed, the existence of non-commercial ads is thrown into greater relief by Cook's (1992: 5) observation that some discourses perceived as ads do not sell anything but merely "plead or warn or seek support" as in the case of ads urging citizens to support a particular government policy. Cook's categorisation of ads by medium, product (service), technique and consumer is, in this resp ect, very instructive.

1. Previous research

The fact that until recently, (about the last fifteen years) advertising language had received little research attention compelled Garfinkel to complain about the paucity of such research in 1978. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that he could review only two major previous works -- Leech (1966) and Langendoen

(1970) -- in the introductory chapter of his study of the problem of truth and the internal structure of advertising as discourse from a sociolinguistic point of view. Besides, Leech's early study confined itself to an examination of the type of language advertisers of consumer products use in Britain, thus leaving out an equally important description of ads as discourse.

Some other studies include those of O'Barr (1979) and Bolinger (1980) both of which examine the persuasive import in advertising language, and Geis (1982) which goes beyond a mere linguistic characterisation of the features of the language of ads and examines how some frequently-used linguistic devices, e.g. "strong sounding but logically weak or empirically indeterminate language" used in interesting and problematic ways, contribute to the consumers' understanding of the language of television advertising in the US. …