The Discourse of Advertising

The Discourse of Advertising

The Discourse of Advertising

The Discourse of Advertising


Examines the discourse of advertising in relation to literature and literary theory, and considers the social function of adverts. In keeping with recent developments in the study of language and advertisements, this comprehensive introduction to advertising discourse examines the language of contemporary advertising, seeing it not as an isolated object but in complex interaction with the texts around it, with music and pictures and, importantly, with the people who make and experience it. Advancing the controversial view that adverts answer a need for play and display in contemporary society, the author moves from the uses of sound and pictures, through the poetic intricacies of the text to an assessment of their effect on the people who receive adverts daily, and whose identity is partly constructed by them. The book clearly explains relevant theories of linguistics and poetics and includes practical exercises at the end of each chapter. Discussion is accompanied by examples from literature and recent advertisements.


This book is primarily concerned with contemporary British ads from tv, magazines, posters and (to a lesser extent) direct mail. It avoids ads aimed at small children, as they raise different issues. It calls advertisements 'ads' to save space and effort (both yours and mine).

Defined very generally, advertising is 'the promotion of goods or services for sale through impersonal media', but in this book the term is interpreted both more broadly and more narrowly: more broadly because it includes ads which do not offer a product at all; more narrowly because, with the advent of tv advertising in the 1950s, advertising was transformed in character, and the word 'advertisement', out of context, is no longer associated equally with everything which falls under this dictionary definition. The fact that such a definition will encompass a seventeenth-century shop notice, a classified ad, a 1950s hard-sell tv commercial, and a sophisticated contemporary thirty-second tv mini-drama indicates that our vocabulary has not kept pace with change. The advertising of the 1990s is radically different from that of the 1950s and 1960s, though also in a direct line of descent from it. There is no clear point of change, but the recognition that there have been changes is essential.



Writing on advertising is difficult. The reasons are partly formal, arising from its ever-changing uses and combinations of language, pictures and music. They are also social and moral, for advertising arouses a greater strength of condemnation or support than most other contemporary discourses. I comfort (or deceive) myself that twenty years ago, both formally and morally, the task of description and commentary was much easier. Twenty years hence it may be easier again. Ads now are at a point of transition, making the present confused, the future uncertain, and the past not always relevant. Whatever is said can date as rapidly as the ads on which it is based.

The once vibrant issue of whether advertising is purely commercial or

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