Lecture 8 - The Language of Advertising

Lecture 8
Public Discourse
Critical Thinking
Previously, we have looked at . . .
• Fallacies of Relevance
• Fallacies of Insufficient Evidence
• This week we will look at these fallacies
as they appear in our everyday lives
–Particularly in advertising
For starters . . .
Language and Public Discourse:
Advertising and Implicature
• A business in which language is used to persuade
people to do things
– Buy a product or service
– Vote for someone
– Believe things, e.g.,
that some corporation is trustworthy
That some political philosophy will lead to prosperity
That some religious denomination will lead to happiness
In the case of advertisements,
• The consumer might reasonably require that
the claims be true.
• What are the standards of truth in
• What should the standards of truth in
advertising be?
To answer these questions,
• Some linguistic concepts are
–Conversational maxims
a. John fried some fish.
[a entails b]
b. John cooked some fish.
[b does not entail a]
• A logically valid inference
• If sentence X entails another sentence Y, then
whenever X is true, Y must also be true.
• There is no situation where X is true and Y is false.
• Another example:
a) Ian drives a Corvette.
b) Ian drives a car.
a) entails b); but b) does not entail a)
"Is that the phone?"
"I'm in the tub."
"Uncle Charlie is coming over for dinner."
"Better lock up the liquor."
"Do you know where Bill moved?"
"Somewhere on the east coast."
D. "How was your blind date?"
"He had a nice pair of shoes."
"Professor Smith is sure he'll get tenure."
"And my pet turtle is sure it will win the Kentucky
A sentence X implicates a sentence Y if
– X does not entail Y; and
– The speaker is warranted in believing Y is
true based on
• the meaning of X
• Grice’s Cooperative Principle
Grice’s Cooperative Principle
To describe in a systematic and consistent way
how implicature works in conversation, Grice
proposed the cooperative principle:
In conversations, participants cooperate with
each other.
They do this by observing the conversational
Grice’s Four Conversational Maxims
• Quantity - contribution should be as
informative as required
• Quality - contribution should not be false
• Relation - contribution should be relevant
• Manner - contribution should be direct
1. We don't adhere to them strictly.
2. We interpret what we hear as if what we
hear conforms to them.
3. Where maxim is violated, we draw
Quantity Letter of reference for a job in the high tech industry: Bob speaks
perfect English; he doesn't smoke in the office; and I have never
heard him use foul language.
Quality "Reno is the capital of Nevada, isn't it?"
"Yeah, and London is the capital of New Jersey."
Relation "What time is it?"
"Well, the paper's already come."
Manner "Let's stop and get something to eat."
"OK, but not at M-c-D-o-n-a-l-d-s."
• What maxim is violated? What is the implicature
"How did Jeff do on the test?"
"Well, he wrote something down for every
"Do you know where Bill is?"
"Well, he didn't meet me for lunch like he
supposed to."
Back to Implicature
a) Not everyone is going to come.
b) Someone is going to come.
Sentence a) implicates b) because:
- Sentence a) does not entail sentence b).
Sentence a) would still be true for the possible situation in
which no one is going to come.
Upon hearing a), the hearer is warranted in believing
sentence b):
Maxim of quantity – make your contribution as informative
as is required: The speaker didn’t say, “No one is going to
Do the a) sentences entail the b) sentences?
1a) ABC filters remove bacteria from your
drinking water.
1b) If you use ABC filters, your drinking water will
be free of bacteria.
2a) I left because I wanted to.
2b) If I hadn’t wanted to, I wouldn’t have left.
• No, though many people believe they do, i.e.,
that sentences b) are true because sentences a)
are true.
• Sentences a) DO implicate sentences b).
Sentences 1a and 1b
1a) ABC filters remove bacteria from your drinking water.
1b) If you use ABC filters, your drinking water will be free of bacteria.
Sentence 1a is a generic sentence.
Generic sentences are generally taken to be very strong
claims, since they are often used to express significant
inductive generalizations.
e.g., Gold is heavier than water. Dogs bark. etc.
‘Bacteria’ can mean ‘some bacteria’ (literal reading) or ‘all
bacteria’ (generic reading).
Maxim of Relevance – if the claim is to be relevant to your
healthier drinking water enough to make you want to buy
the filters, then only the generic reading is relevant.
Sentences 2a and 2b
2a) I left because I wanted to.
2b) If I hadn’t wanted to, wouldn’t have left.
The Maxim of Quantity is important here.
If there were two reasons for the speaker’s leaving –
he wanted to and someone forced him to – and
the speaker only gave one, then he would not be
as informative as required.
Assuming then that he is adhering to the Maxim of
Quantity, we are led to believe that his wanting to
leave was the only reason for his leaving.
Should advertisers be responsible only for what
their claims entail or should they also be
responsible for what they implicate?
• Advertisers are usually only held responsible for
what their ads entail.
• Many readers of ads do not distinguish
implicatures from logical entailments.
• Much of the art of advertising then revolves
around formulating claims that implicate a lot but
entail little.
How to implicate a lot but entail little:
• Leave out the than clause or prepositional phrase
in the comparative construction
– Campbell’s Soup contains ‘one third less salt’
The Maxim of Relevance leads readers to fill out the
comparative with the most likely choices:
- ‘than it used to have.’
- ‘than its competitors’ soups.’
More Examples
• More people sleep on Sealy Posturpedic.
• Maytags are built to last longer and need fewer
• Do you want better food? Better service? How
about better prices? Than you’d better be at Big
Bear’s Carriage Place grand opening this Saturday
at seven a.m.
• Chevrolet - the cars more Americans depend on.
• Get the facts. Buick is better.
How to implicate a lot but entail little:
The use of the ‘fine print’ restriction
- ‘Fly anywhere in the world Delta goes’
‘Some restrictions apply.’
- ‘Our UPS Next Day Air Letter. Guaranteed
overnight delivery to any address coast to coast.’
‘See Air Service Guide for Guarantee Details.’
- Buick La Sabre is ‘the most trouble-free
American car.’
‘Based on a survey of owner related problems during the first 90 days of
How to implicate a lot but entail little:
• Use of idiomatic language
• An idiom is ambiguous between its literal and
idiomatic readings.
• The audience tends to lean towards the stronger
of the two (the idiomatic reading).
- ‘Mercedes-Benz, engineered like no other.’
- ‘In one out of two American homes you’ll find
Kenmore appliances.’
How to implicate a lot but entail little:
Qualify very strong claims with modal auxiliaries
(can, could, might, may, etc.) or adverbs
Dodge ‘may be one of the most powerful cars in the
‘There’s another way for new homeowners to save
money: the All State New House Discount. It could
save you up to 15% on All State homeowners
‘If you choose to finance or lease your new GMAC
vehicle someplace other than GMAC, you might find
yourself waiting in line instead of hugging one.’
Cling ‘leaves clothes virtually static-free.’
What’s the problem with these ad lines?
- I used to have dandruff, so I tried Head & Shoulders.
Then I tried Selsun Blue. Blue is better.
- STP reduced engine lifter wear up to 68%
Results may vary by type of car, oil, and driving.
- Isn’t it time you got your health on the right course?
Now you can cut back on cholesterol, cut back on sodium,
cut back on fat, and still love the food you eat because
now there’s new Right Course from Stouffer’s.
- People from Ford [County] prefer Chevy trucks.
• Making implicatures is a crucial part of
linguistic communication
• Language users do not easily distinguish
between the logical entailments of utterances
and the implicatures drawn from these
• Because advertisers are usually only
responsible for the logical entailments of their
claims, they often craft their ads to impicate a
lot but entail very little, so that their audience
makes favorable, but false, implicatures.
Group Work
Examine ads you have in terms of how advertisers use …
• Implicature (Lecture 8)
Generic terms (‘ABC kills bacteria on contact.’)
Comparatives without ‘than’ clause
The use of the ‘fine print’ restriction
The use of idiomatic language
Qualifying very strong claims with modal auxiliaries (can, could,
might, may, etc.) or adverbs
• Sound symbolism (Lecture 5)
• Fallacies (Lectures 6 & 7)
• Any other devices (e.g., the use of images, color, layout,
… to make you want to buy.

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