Literary Explication: a Methodology For Consumer Research

ABSTRACT - This paper examines advertising in a literary context, and demonstrates the use of poetic explication as a methodology to analyze the language of ads. The paper presents the method step by step, illustrates it by analyzing sample ads, and suggests research questions for the future. The paper discusses the following five elements: grammar - the form and structure of individual words; syntax - the arrangement of words in units up to and including the full sentence; diction - the definitional denotation and connotation of words; figures of speech -the language of imagery, especially simile, metaphor, and symbol; and prosody - meter, rhythm, and sound patterns within a text. Questions for research are framed as suggestions for the use of explication to analyze advertising effects on consumers.



Citation:

Barbara B. Stern (1989) ,"Literary Explication: a Methodology For Consumer Research", in SV - Interpretive Consumer Research, eds. Elizabeth C. Hirschman, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 48-59.

Interpretive Consumer Research, 1989     Pages 48-59

LITERARY EXPLICATION: A METHODOLOGY FOR CONSUMER RESEARCH

Barbara B. Stern, Rutgers University

ABSTRACT -

This paper examines advertising in a literary context, and demonstrates the use of poetic explication as a methodology to analyze the language of ads. The paper presents the method step by step, illustrates it by analyzing sample ads, and suggests research questions for the future. The paper discusses the following five elements: grammar - the form and structure of individual words; syntax - the arrangement of words in units up to and including the full sentence; diction - the definitional denotation and connotation of words; figures of speech -the language of imagery, especially simile, metaphor, and symbol; and prosody - meter, rhythm, and sound patterns within a text. Questions for research are framed as suggestions for the use of explication to analyze advertising effects on consumers.

That the one and only goal of all critical endeavors, of all intepretation, appreciation, exhortation, praise or abuse, is improvement in communication may seem an exaggeration. But in practice it is so. The whole apparatus of critical rules and principles is a means to the attainment of finer, more precise, more discriminating communication (Richards 1929, p. 10).

Advertising as a form of communication can be compared to literature: both are "imaginative creations or artful representations of possible worlds [which] strive mightily to redescribe reality" (Leiss, Kline and Jhally 1986, p. 241). The verbal techniques used in ad copy ultimately derive from literature, particularly the metaphorical process that is often considered the source of a text's power to shape perceived reality (Ricouer 1977). When advertising is viewed within a literary context, its imaginative mission bears resemblance to that of poetry: both are encompassed by the Aristotelian concept "imitation of action." Mimesis - poetic imitation - in this sense is defined not as superficial copying, but as "the representation of the countless forms which the life of the human spirit may take, in the media of the arts" (Fergusson 1961, p. 4). When advertising is viewed as one of the newer "arts media," it can be studied in relation to other traditional aesthetic forms: not only poetry, but also music, dance, drama, novels, and song.

The literary relationship can be adapted for advertising research by means of a methodology often found in poetic criticism: explication of a text. Explication is a traditional method for the exhaustive analytical treatment of a small unit of composition: "a line-by-line or episode-by-episode commentary on what is going on in a text ... literally, unfolding or spreading out" of the lines (Bamet 1979, p. 9). It entered twentieth-century English poesy by way of the classical French explication du texte: a pedagogical method requiring students to explain fully all the language elements in a selected passage. The method's authority in poetic criticism is traceable to Aristotle's Poetics; in modem use, it became the "determining principle for the close attention to the text... practiced by the "New" Critics (Handy and Westbrook 1974, p. 304). Detailed examination of text as document is based on the critical conviction that "the differentia of literary art is precisely its formal use of language designed to create a presentational symbol" (Handy and Westbrook 1974, 304). Textual meaning is made accessible through analysis of what Ciardi and Williams call "the poetic structure as a poetic structure" (1975, p. 362). The New Critics usually limit their analyses to the text as an autonomous unit, and do not examine authorial intention, historical context, or biographical data (see Lentricchia 1980). Their explicative methodology may Prove useful for advertising researchers bent on understanding the effects of language on consumers, for it provides a systematic and orderly set of guidelines for laying bare the workings of words.

Figurative language in advertising has often been considered in a variety of other word-oriented contexts: semiotic (Cleveland 1986; Durgee 1986; Leiss, Kline and Jhally 1986); psycholinguistic (Harris et al. 1986; Percy 1982; 1987); communication (Berman 1981); mythological (Levy 1986; Olson 1986); symbolic consumption (see e.g. Holbrook and Grayson 1986; Holbrook and Hirschman 1982); and rhetorical (Deighton 1985). Additionally, copy as semiotic text has been discussed in reference to Japanese meanings (see Sherry and Camargo 1987), and copy as a visual (graphic) entity has been examined as well (see Bellizzi and Hite 1985). Headlines have been discussed in reference to alpha-numeric word composition (Boyd 1985), and content categories (Beltramini and Blasko 1986). Only recently has some research attention been focused on copy as literary text (Denny 1986; Stem 1988a,b,c).

This researcher suggests that the Aristotelian criticism of the New Critics represents a "good source of scientifically testable hypotheses" (Calder and Tybout 1987, p. 139) for consumer research. Further examination of advertising within a traditional literary context requires a methodology, and the paper suggests explication as one which can be adapted. Explicative Critical readings, while interpretive, appear less subjective once the common vocabulary, theoretical underpinnings, and systemic rules are made clear. Because explication is an organized and rule-laden analytical system, reasonably well-defined poetic dimensions can be adapted to positivist uses. The technical analyses can be used to derive independent variables whose effects on consumer responses to advertising can then be measured. The philosophical stance in this paper is one of rapprochement. A way of bridging the gap between humanistic and scientific research (Hirschman 1986) is suggested in the selection of more rather than less scientific literary criticism (see Lentricchia 1980) and its practical use to illuminate hitherto neglected areas of advertising language. This paper will first set forth the abridged system, next illustrate the points on sample ads, and then suggest research questions for the future.

Full and detailed examination of advertising's verbal text is especially worth investigating at present, for a somewhat ironic reason. The trend towards less and less language in advertising implies that less may be more in terms of perceiver effects. Historical analysis of the number of words in ads indicates that "the text has been declining in importance .... Textual information has been condensed, its actual content or emphasis changed, and the qualities and function of language transformed" (Leiss, Kline and Jhally 1986, p. 180). While this shift away from words points to the importance of continued research on the increasing pictorial content of ads (Percy 1980), we feel that it also indicates a need to study the words more closely from vantage points other than psycho linguistic. Since ads are likely to contain fewer words, each one may have to convey more to the consumer.

Explication seems an appropriate method because of the structural analogy between ads and poems: both are short and consciously shaped works which use evocative language to affect perceivers (see Cleveland 1986; Durgee 1986; Stem 1988a,b). The goal of this system for textual commentary is to "separate the different parts; the reason for this is the crudely practical one that, although we can perceive several things at once, we cannot describe the several things that we perceive at once, all at the same time; we cannot think two complete sentences simultaneously" (Boulton 1982, p. 6). Explication consciously sets out to untangle the strands in the text, separating them into small manageable units in order to consider each individually. Ultimately, the various strands are recombined into a global whole, for the point is increased understanding of the gestalt, the entire work whose meaning resides in numerous and interconnected small parts which synergistically recombine as a totality (Bamet 1979).

The conventions of explication are based on agreed-upon notational rules: the texts are usually quoted in full because they are short, and centered on the page. Each line is numbered: the rule of thumb is that if the passage is longer than one or two lines, each line should be numbered at the right to permit easy reference. Organization of the commentary is generally chronological, beginning with analysis of the first line and continuing in consecutive order to the last (Bamet 1979). However, the relationship between textual chronology and reader processing is not yet known. While there is no set order for considering the various language elements discussed below, we suggest beginning with the more familiar (grammar and figures of speech), and then considering the less familiar: the technical element of prosody (rhythm and sound) which requires a special vocabulary.

The rationale for learning this technically rigorous apparatus lies in its applicability to advertising language (Stem 1988b). Ciardi and Williams's description of language creation is thought-provoking, especially if we replace their "poet" by our "adman": "One sees a wizard of a poet tossing his words in the air and catching them and tossing them again -- what a grand stunt!" (1975, p. 6) The explicative goal of careful examination of "word-wizardry" may facilitate an increased ability to understand verbal effects on consumer/perceivers.

GRAMMAR

Grammar refers to the form and structure of individual words (Jespersen 1938), and is mostly concerned with case endings: declensions (verbs) and inflections (nouns, adjectives, adverbs). Modem English, however, lacks a full-fledged case ending system: as Jespersen says, "there is a complete disappearance of a great many of those details of inflexion which made every Old English paradigm much more complicated than its modem successor" (1938, p.189). The individual word has become the discrete building block of sentence sense, taking its meaning from position ("John hit Mary" vs. "Mary hit John"), rather than functional endings. Most case endings have disappeared over time, as the language changed away from its heavily inflected ancestors to its modem form. However, analysis of the form of an individual word often requires an assessment of its historical development to understand why it now appears the way it does, and what the form/meaning relationship signifies.

In advertising, where a lone word may he the entire copy, its grammatical form demands particularly careful scrutiny. The minimalist ad is likely to be a brand name: for example, fashion advertising commonly uses proper nouns as the only text - such as "Mimmina" and "Laura Biagotti." Further elaboration involves adding a place name: "Krizia de Milan," or "Chloe' Paris." Additional nouns, such as stores where products can be purchased or noun descriptors of the product line, can also be included: "Calvin Klein Footwear," and "Geoffrey Beene Knitwear." These lists can be extended by adding complete geographical directories of distributors, enumeration of multi-product lines, listing of telephone numbers, and so forth.

Simple grammatical matters such as the use of case endings become important when advertisers must make purposeful structural choices in an environment of rapid linguistic transition, characteristic of modem English (see e.g. Sapir 1949). The rules for the modem genitive (possessive), for example, are in flux: older forms arc being modified, away from "correctness" and towards ease of elocution. "Pears' soap" as Jespersen points out, avoids the juxtaposition of three s's (the full formal usage would be Pears's soap) by adopting an apostrophe. He notes that the guiding principle here is economical "haplology (Pronouncing the same sound once instead of twice)" which is acceptable -- in fact, found in Shakespeare's plays and poems -- probably because it sounds better than several s's in a row. Jesperscn adds, "the genitive of the plural is now always hapiologized," and the omission of the genitive sign before a word beginning with s is commonplace ("for fashion sake") (1938, p. 197). Likewise, the "s" can migrate (as in "for heaven sakes"), to make pronunciation easier.

Differences in meaning, however, characterize variant forms of genitive use: the presence or absence of an s" affects content as well as form. A current ad for Molson beer says, "Molson's [italics mine] is Canada," using the full older genitive. This connects the company, the beer, and the country of origin: the full meaning is "The beer of Molson is Canada," since "s" is understood as the contraction of the possessive "of." If the ad were to omit the "s" altogether, ("Molson is Canada"), the meaning would differ. This invented variant means "Molson [the company itself, rather than its product] is Canada," which makes a different claim: it is a quasi-symbolic identification seen in an Alitalia ad ("Alitalia is Italy"). Whether the copywriter consciously intended this distinction is not known, but the company's implicit approval of the message as it stands is assumed.

Another interesting genitive example is "Lands' End": in the February, 1987 catalogue, a letter writer questions the editor: "I must ask you about your improper use of the apostrophe in your name" (p.55). The "correct" form is Land's End (singular), for Lands' End implies all lands in the plural, surely not what the letter writer thinks the company meant. In a reply, the president writes (Comer 1987, p.55):

It was a typo in our first printed piece, and we couldn't afford to reprint and correct it. Then we found there were other companies named Land's End (with the apostrophe in the right place). A lot of them. And since we wanted to register copyrights and trademarks, we decided to remain forever Lands' End.

While few readers left to their own devices would notice the incorrect use, the company emphasizes it in a recent ad (May 9, 1988):

Now that our stock is listed on the New York Stock Exchange (Symbol LE), it seems a good time to make sure you understand we're still the same Lands' End you've always known - right down to the misplaced apostrophe in our name.

Thus, the company positions its misplaced apostrophe as a distinguishing legal and promotional feature in advertising: a tacit acknowledgment of the differentiating potential of even small linguistic elements.

The need to examine each linguistic bit carefully is suggested by a question framed in advertising research: "Why risk losing a successful encoding through a cumbersome grammatical construction?" (Percy 1982, p. 107). Percy further notes that evidence points to "the semantic and grammatical structure of verbal communications as significant mediators of effective communication" (1982, p. 107). This seems especially evident in reference to brand names (see Boyd 1985), an issue requiring additional study to ascertain "whether the initial meaning or lack of it has any bearing upon the speed with which consumers come to learn that name as having 'secondary meaning,' that is, as being associated with a product/service from a particular source" (Ross 1982, p. 480). Research on the effects of "plosive" sounds ("c," "k," and "p," for example) in brand names suggests that memorability is enhanced by these sounds (see Schloss 1981; Vanden Bergh 1982/3; Vanden Bergh, Adler, and Oliver 1987). Other effects relating to the form of individual words suggest several questions: What is the effectiveness of one-word ads, presenting a brand or manufacturer's name only? How do they compare to multi-word ads, providing additional information? What is the effect of lists of words (stores, products) on consumers? What results occur when alternative word forms, such as genitives with or without the s" are used? To what extent do these rather subtle effects, probably not consciously apprehended by most readers, influence verbal processing? What are the implications of spelling out an entire product name ("Clinique glossy nail enamel") versus the manufacturer's name alone (simply "Clinique" on the product illustrated)? Study of the differences in grammatical form may reveal a wider range of consumer effects than has been suspected.

SYNTAX

Syntax refers to the arrangement of words in units up to and including the full sentence (Baugh 1957): words, phrases, and clauses, commonly called the building blocks of sentence structure (Hodges and Whitten 1972, p. 489). Because there are so few vestigial case endings in modem English, syntax tends to be regular: "Words in English do not play at hide-and-seek, as they often do in Latin, for instance, or in German, where ideas that by right belong together are widely sundered in obedience to caprice, or more often to a rigorous grammatical rule" (Jespersen 1938, p.11). Yet English is not as rigid as, for example, Chinese, where the same word order occurs virtually 100% of the time. This is an interesting syntactical situation, implying that translation of ads into languages entirely different from our own may require more literary skill than mere transference of meaning. Studies indicate that English word Order has become more regular as the language changed from Anglo-Saxon's strong Teutonic syntax to its current shape, characterized by "order and consistency" in the modern stage (Jespersen 1938, p.13). The tradeoff, of course, is that as the language loses its inflectional endings, the word order becomes less flexible.

Because predictable word order is the English norm, any variation disrupts the flow, and merits close attention. Explication often deals with variations, for a legitimate question is: Why has a departure from the norm occurred? Ads with irregular word order are not uncommon, and sentence parsing -- describing and labeling the parts of speech -- is a useful adjunct for identifying irregularities. For example, a Foltene ad -"This is Europe's answer to thinning hair in its attack phase" -- seems a peculiar construction. The adjectival "in its attack phase" by dint of sentence position appears to modify the nearest noun object "hair," yet construing the attack to modify the noun subject "Foltene" itself ("Europe's answer") is also possible. ne next sentence seems to support the latter reading: "Foltene. The remarkable European system that actually revitalizes thinning hair." But the placement of the modifying phrase is odd, for it disrupts the accustomed English pattern of adjectivals directly before or after the nouns they modify. The syntax is at least ambiguous, since we do not know whether to interpret the message as the product's attack on thinning hair, thinning hair's attack on the consumer, or -- perhaps -- both. If we assume that the ambiguity is intentional, the syntactical fragmentation moves from the realm of form to that of content. The reader can assume that the ambiguous usage was intended to elicit both readings, to cover - as it were - all possible bases for conveying the product's "attack" benefit.

Another ad which has aroused considerable comment is "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should," judged "bad" syntactically because "like" is used instead of "as." Formal rules define "like" as a preposition and "as" as a conjuction; grammarians point out that "although widely used in conversation and in public speaking, like as a conjunction is still controversial in a formal context" (Hodges and Whitten 1972, p.218). While this view may express linguistic correctness, it seems more useful to interpret advertising as a genre of -communication governed by poetic license rather than by formal prose rules. Jespersen notes that "modem poets do not take their grammar from any one old author or book, but are apt to use any deviation from the ordinary grammar they can lay hold of anywhere .... in English a wide gulf separates the grammar of poetry from that of ordinary life" (1938, p.245).

Study of advertising within the canon of poetic grammar can help isolate and classify effects of word constructions on consumers. Poesy studies the aesthetic effects of grammatical constructions, and thus may be a valuable adjunct to linguistic research on better constructions for communication (see Percy 1988). The syntactical matters of sentence length and voice (active vs. passive) have received some research attention (see e.g. Percy 1982), as has headline content (see e.g. Beltramini and Blasko 1986), but many questions remain. Two inter-related ones of some importance are: What effects do syntactical novelty produce on the consumer? And, the corollary: What effects would perfectly correct grammar have? How do consumers react to unexpected word order or apparent violations of a pattern? Does the word patterning encourage the consumer to understand the ad in the way the advertiser intended? Attention can be shifted away from what is .. proper" to what elicits the best results and why. Poetry, in fact, is assumed to be most memorable precisely when it breaks free from the expected and surprises the reader. As Percy notes in reference to an experiment with advertising text, "leaming, recall, and comprehension all varied, and often significantly, as a function of the grammatical construction of the message" (1988, p. 158). Further study of syntax seems necessary to determine what is going on in advertising language, how, and with what results.

DICTION

Diction refers to definitional denotation and connotation of a word (Bamet 1979): denotative meaning is what a word actually signifies, while connotative meaning is what is suggested or implied including the surrounding "emotions or associations'. (Hodges and Whitten 1972, p. 230). Virtually all words have connotative associations in addition to their literal dictionary definitions, and convey factual as well as emotional meaning (see Holbrook 1978). Ciardi and Williams emphasize that connotative meaning is a basic quality of words not simply in poetry, but in any context: "a word is a feeling [and] we commonly select language for its feeling (connotation) rather than for purposes of identification (denotation)" (1975, pp. 1012). In addition, they point out that every word embodies a personal and idiosyncratic history, and "tends to keep its history ... as an immediate and intrinsic force" (p. 104). As Brooks and Warren point out, both advertising and poetry are prime users of connotative diction, precisely because the power of verbal association is a desired goal (1960, p.7):

Any writer of advertising copy is perfectly aware of the fact that he is trying to persuade his readers to adopt a certain attitude. Writers of advertising copy, anxious to sell a product, are not content to rest on a statement of fact, whether such a statement is verifiable or not. They will attempt to associate the attitude toward a certain product with an attitude toward beautiful women, little children, or gray-haired mothers; they will appeal to snobbishness, vanity, patriotism religion, and morality ... Even the man who is quite certain that he cares nothing for "literature" will find that he constantly has to deal with literary appeals and methods while living in the hardheaded, scientific, and practical twentieth century.

These associations invoke connotations to Create a resonance of meanings beyond the literal definition. Advertising creatives assume that the "language of experience is not the language of classification" (Brooks and Warren 1960, p. 2), and thus take liberties with "proper" -- formally correct -- word choice as needed. A language with as rich and varied a Word stock as English offers many non-standard usage categories -- archaic, dialectical, rare, regional, vulgar, slang, and so forth -which make choice of the "right" word extremely complex. Further, "since language is constantly changing, the classification of words is often difficult. 'Mere are no clear-cut boundaries between the various classes, and even the best dictionaries do not always agree" (Hodges and Whitten 1972, p.197), often because they are outdated by the time of publication. Because the creative writer habitually reshapes formal rules, the concept of correct usage in ad language is more realistically viewed as 'rightness in context': that is, appropriateness to the speaker, the message, and the situation.

The context, of course, changes over time: both denotative and connotative word choices differ as a result of a constantly evolving language. One example of denotative change is an ad for flour: the mid-nineteenth century descriptor "sure-raising" (Strasser 1982, p. 200) has been replaced by "self-rising" (Pillsbury), for consumers would no longer understand the older form. Examples of connotative change in diction can also be found. A 1930's ad for Lux soap powder says, "Avoid undie odor ... use new Quick Lux" (Leiss, Kline and Jhally 1986, p. 188); a new ad for a product positioned as an odor and stain remover (Surf detergent) asks, "Does your son's college jersey smell like he's a student at P.U.? Similarly, an 1891 ad for Kirkman's Borax refers to "Happy Laundry Girls" (Strasser 1982, p. 119); the modem Borax ad avoids mention of any laundry-doers, and instead says: "20 mule-team. Since 1889. 99 1/2% pure." Mule teams, now obsolete, are probably judged an appealingly traditional bit of Americana; "girls," on the other hand, would be read as old-fashioned and sexist. An example of denotative change because of unwelcome connotation is seen in a 1900's ad for underwear: "Root's underwear is made for all sizes of people --- From Babies up to the Largest Men and Women." Nowadays, reference to outsize men and women is more circumspect: large men are called "he men" or "king size," and women .. special," "exceptional," Or "forgotten." Directing attention to these consumers by labeling them "the largest" is likely to be considered offensive, rather than merely descriptive.

Advertising, like poetry, seems to allow wide scope for non-standard and non-formal usage. However, the word-choice parameters within which ads are most effective are not yet well-understood. Several dictional questions relate to the concept of synonymity: words imputed to have the same meaning. Synonymity of meaning is generally considered theoretically impossible but practically operative. As Hirsch says, "if language is sufficiently flexible to allow the same words different meanings, it is sufficiently flexible to allow different words the same meaning" (1976, p. 63). Percy makes a similar point in reference to advertising: "While it is true that no two words actually have exactly the same meaning, synonyms are those words that are perceived to generally have the same meaning" (1982, p. 108). The practical issue seems to center on whether a word's meaning is studied as a discrete entity or within a particular context, but neither the exact nature nor precise effects of synonymity is fully clear. Although Hirsch suggests that we could test all poetry to determine the extent of synonymity, he quickly adds that it would be a "waste of effort" (1976, p. 59). However, the effort may be worthwhile in advertising research. Questions of synonymity are: What effects result from use of different words connoting similar attributes (such as "quick"/" speedy"/" fast")? Do consumers understand synonyms and homonyms (words with more than one meaning) as intended? Do consumers understand combinative effects of similar word groups as additive synonymy, or does each separate word mean something slightly different? This is especially important when multiple words are used - such as describing a new food product as "quick, easy, and convenient" (Percy 1987, p. 565), for varying connotations may make grouped words "semantically incompatible" (Percy 1982; 1987) in ways the advertiser does not intend.

Another area of concern is the level of dictional difficulty, thought to influence consumer responses.. While "keep it simple" is commonly received wisdom, this may be an oversimplification (Macklin, Bruvold and Shea 1985). Some studies have found that technical wording can have a positive influence, especially on educated audiences (Anderson and Jolson 1980). Less well-educated audiences have been found to perceive number-oriented ads as "more informative, readable, and acceptable" (Bush, Bush and Ortinau 1987, p. R82), despite a decrease in ease of reading. However, the value of number-based copy or technical jargon may be limited or counterproductive in emotional rather than rational appeals. Some questions are: Are there dictional levels appropriate to all advertising, a base-line generic "good usage" similar to that deemed acceptable in formal writing or speech? Or is the appropriate level determined by product type and/or consumer segment? How can the demands of various linguistic publics - copywriters, account supervisors, clients, consumers, writers, professors of English - be balanced to arrive at codes of usage both acceptable and effective? What do consumers perceive as effective word choice? Diction, along with grammar and syntax, merits further study, the better to analyze the meaning of advertising language from the inside out.

FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE: FIGURES OF SPEECH

The language of imagery, also called figures of speech, is familiar territory, but the terminology as used in literary criticism requires some comment. The literary use is restricted to words alone (not visuals), and the analysis of word combinations in various "figures of speech," -- especially simile, metaphor, and symbol. Imagery is ordinarily defined as "the total sensory suggestion of poetry" (Brooks and Warren 1960, p. 243) -- the sense appeal conveyed by aesthetically appropriate words. Verbal imagery is also essential in advertising, a kindred art inviting "the reader to become an actual participant" in the text. Imagery is what is thought to spark the imagination of the reader, so that "he is taken out of the role of the passively entertained" (p. 242) spectator, and motivated to experience the reality of the text.

Often -- and somewhat confusingly -- the terms metaphor and metaphoric serve for all figurative comparisons in poetry" (Ciardi and Williams 1975, p. 243). Their importance cannot be overstated: many critics feel that "with a few exceptions, every word traced back far enough is ... a metaphor" (p. 105). Even when the metaphorical origins are distant or forgotten, the "pictures locked up in words" affect readers. Ciardi and Williams cite "Billingsgate" (name of the old London fishmarket) as a "dead" metaphor whose original referent is dimly recalled, but whose current usage "conceals within it a picture of the whole wrangling, competitive, and coarse squabbling of a pennygrafting street market" (1975, p. 105). Obviously, "metaphor abounds in advertising," whether the source be rhetoric (Deighton 1985, p. 433) or poetry (Stem 1988a,b).

Metaphors, however, are not the only figures of speech, and differences among the various forms are important. These differences hinge less on what each does than on the process by which it is done. All figures of speech convey comparisons among dissimilar entities, but do not present them in precisely the same way. The definitions adapted here are based on ones given in many poetry handbooks and texts (see e.g. Barnet 1979; Brooks and Warren 1960; Korg 1962), in which the figures are differentiated by overtness of comparative expression. Similes are the most open, metaphors next, and symbols most allusive.

Similes signify a direct comparison, in which the reader is told exactly what is like what. A simile "controls the comparison narrowly" (Korg 1962, p. 10) by using "like" or "as" to state the comparison openly: the Citizen Noblia watch is "as sleek as a seal." In contrast, the Winston ad -- "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should" -- is not a simile, because Winston is a cigarette: a statement of fact, rather than a comparison between two things which are dissimilar.

Metaphors express comparisons more indirectly, but still in overt fashion: "metaphor differs from simile ... in omitting the comparative word" (Korg 1962, p. 9), but still using some form of the verb "to be" (or any other linking verb). For example, "Poison is my potion" compares the Dior perfume to a magical brew, perhaps a love potion, in a fully expressed metaphor. Estee Lauder's new perfume uses the metaphor "Knowing is all" to equate the product with all good things. The fully spelled out equation in a metaphorical format -A:B::C:D -- is, "Knowing: all other perfumes:: all: nothing." Metaphors are likely to be specific and sensory, for the reader is told that one entity is connotatively equivalent to another which it cannot literally be.

Symbols are more allusive and conceptual structures in which the comparative term ("as" or a linking verb) is omitted: one thing (X) is presented as an analogical equivalent to another (Y) which it literally cannot be. However, the transference of qualities is not made overt, for the X term is discussed as if it simply were the Y term. A symbol proceeds without open statement of the comparison, and the reader is forced to do the perceptual work necessary to understand what is going on. Symbolism is thought to express "a mysterious connection between two-ideas .... a very profound function of the mind" (Huizinga 1924, p. 205). In the poetically acceptable language of layered meanings, even though the symbol's X term is never clearly stated, by implication it takes on all the salient characteristics of the Y.

In an advertising example, La Prairie's skincare treatment is symbolically called "skin caviar," a reference to the rarity, costliness, and luxury status of fish roe. The skin cream is discussed as if it were caviar, with no mention of the equivalence ("this cream is caviar"); the reader must deduce the symbolic transference. Since symbols are rarely "pat equivalents, but [instead] areas of meaning" (Ciardi and Williams 1975, p. 18), they may be familiar and clear to the consumer. In this ad, readers can be expected to understand the connotations of "caviar," for the meaning of a symbolic ad is not necessarily obscure.

On the other hand, neither is it automatically clear. Confused ad executions can occur when symbols or metaphors are used without precision or accuracy, in violation of what Ciardi and Williams call the metaphoric contract" between writer and reader. A mixed metaphor [is] the situation in which the writer does not abandon metaphor, but slides unwittingly from one metaphor to another" (1975, p. 242) through accident or lack of skill. For example, Charles Jourdan shoes are advertised as worn by "My Angel/ My Devil," a complex symbol later clarified as "a pure woman with a dark side." But the central idea becomes rather convoluted. While most of the copy refers to the woman as devil/angel ("her ambiguity was an art form"), the statement that she was "singing like an angel while dancing with [italics mine] the devil" casts some doubt on who the devil really is. Further, Charles Jourdan is said to be "her accomplice, standing by and high, always ready to deter any would-be wooers," which makes the role of the shoe designer and/or company even less clear. How are we to understand shoes "standing by and high" as deterrents to suitors of a she-devil? Is the woman a devil, attainable sexually only by another devil? If so, what about her angelic purity? Is the point of the ad to show that she can be corrupted? Or that she can NOT be won by the devil? In both poetry and prose, this kind of confusion is often considered careless usage, and odd verbal mixtures critically condemned as inept or grotesque.

Some investigation of concrete imagery has found it superior to abstract or non-imagistic usage in influencing consumer attitudes towards new product innovations (see Debevec et a]. 1985). The relative effects of standard vs. novel-pallid metaphors vs. abstract statements have been found associated with product evaluation and persuasion (Kehret-Ward 1987). But researchers have not yet distinguished between kinds of verbal imagery, and we do not know whether similes and metaphors are more or less effective than the admittedly more subtle and allusive symbols. Advertising researchers might want to investigate these issues, since the power of figurative language is commonly tapped, but rarely measured. These effects should be easier to isolate than others, since images ordinarily represent the unifying matter in ads as well as poems. Some questions are: Do metaphors work better for certain product classes? Do consumers understand symbols in the way the advertisers intended? Can different classes of imagery change attitude towards brands and/or ads by making comparisons in overt Versus covert ways?

Relevant questions also need to be raised in reference to deceptive advertising. It has been suggested that advertisers might purposely aim at miscomprehension of literal statements, "because it would enable them in apparent innocence to convey messages deliberately that they otherwise could not get into the consumer's head" (Preston and Richards 1986, p. 140.) Can symbolism be used to mislead or deceive consumers by implying, though not stating outright, claims which are unrealistic or even false? While regulatory effort monitors the literal denotative statements in ads, more attention needs to be paid to the symbolic understructure. Here almost anything goes, since the advertiser does not state openly that a brand IS one thing or another; merely that it resembles something else, all of whose desirable qualities are then transferred by implication to the sponsor's product. Ads, like poems, "are Mixtures of metaphor and statement," in which metaphor is "the language of double meaning" and statement that of single (Ciardi and Williams 1975, p. 265). But we do not yet fully understand the persuasive strength of one type of figurative comparison versus another, or versus a non-figurative (literal) statement. In order to differentiate legitimate from illegitimate use of imagery, as well as other poetic and rhetorical tropes (Deighton 1985), we must find out whether the consumer attends most to a "single" factual statement, or to the "double" meanings inherent in most figures of speech.

PROSODY: METER, RHYTHM, RHYME

Perhaps the most under-researched element in advertising is prosodic structure: meter and rhythm, inherent in all language, and rhyme, the singular characteristic of poetry (see MacLachlan 1984). These are technical elements considered in explication, requiring a specialized vocabulary and set of critical conventions for analysis and discussion. In general, the distinctions among the terms are as follows (Ciardi and Williams 1975, p.137, italics mine):

The movement of language through a pattern of sound variation produces rhyme and rhythm: rhyme is produced by the movement of language through a pattern of variation in sound quality; rhythm is produced by movement through a pattern of variation in sound intensity.

Rhythm, the variation in sound intensity, is produced by a pattern of stressed (accented) syllables and unstressed syllables occurring at regular intervals throughout a poem as a whole. English poetry is characterized by emphasis on syllabic stress because of the nature of the language (see Sapir 1949). Rhythm includes Meter, the pattern of stressed sounds which occur at regular intervals within the poetic foot, the basic unit of measurement (see also Barnet 1979; Brooks and Warren 1960). Meter thus deals with small poetic units, and rhythm with total pattern. Meter is often considered to include rhyme as well as other sound effects, but we are treating each separately for purposes of clarity. Rhyme, in fact, is but one variation in sound quality, more characteristic of poetry than prose; rhythm is present in both. Brooks and Warren emphasize that "all language has the quality of rhythm," but point out that many degrees of formalization exist between the extremes of ordinary prose and strict rhymed verse (Brooks and Warren 1960, p.562).

RHYTHM AND METER

Metrical explication seeks to uncover "the systematization of rhythm in so far as this systematization is determined by the relationships between accented or stressed and unaccented or unstressed syllables" in the various kinds of poetic feet found in English verse. Metrical description treats "the kind of foot and the number of feet" (Brooks and Warren 1960, pp. 562-5). Common lengths of line range from monometer (one foot) to alexandrine (six feet); lines of over six feet tend to break up into smaller units. Common types of feet, along with the notation used for description (see also Ciardi and Williams 1975), are as follows in Table "lambs and anapests are considered "rising meter," trochee and dactyl "falling metre," and spondee neither, but instead, a substitute for an iamb or trochee. An example of metrical analysis of a short ad text -- for Napier Jewelry Company -- is as follows:

FIGURE

Two dactyls plus an extra unaccented syllable emphasize the brand name and the benefit. ne internal suffix-rhyme sets up an interesting tension between sound and sense, for the name of the company is a real brand, but the stated benefit ("twinklier") an invented word. Nevertheless, the benefit itself is intended to be interpreted as real. The light-verse beat carries the reader along, but the forced rhyme slows him down, demonstrating what Ciardi and Williams call the elements of balance and countermotion that give poetry its emotional force as "countermotion across a silence" (1975, p. 362). Rhythm is expected to function as an element in meaning, for "all metric effect must result from the inter-play of the mechanical and the meaningful beat" (Ciardi and Williams 1976, p. 309).

TABLE 1

Even more interesting is an ad which seems to show either no discernible rhythm or possibly a discordant one. Estee Lauder's ad for skin perfecting cream reads:

FIGURE

There does not seem to be a clear metrical pattern: each line has five syllables, but the first line is mixed (an iamb and a trochee), the second trochaic, and the third also mixed, though unlike line 1 (one trochee, one dactyl). Because so much variation exists in fifteen syllables, the lines are judged unscannable. Both because of the constant change, and the large number of stressed syllables (7 out of 15), the reader is forced to proceed very slowly (see below, section on "Cacaphony"). It is a fundamental concept in metrics that "the more caesuras and the more stressed syllables that occur in a given passage, the slower its pace will tend to be" (Ciardi and Williams 1975, p. 307). But this is not necessarily a negative comment, since the writer may want the reader to go slowly, and attend to every word. Speck's analysis (1988, p. 7), in fact, suggests that the pattern is one of "rhythmic diminution," a "calming pattern ... also reflected in the text's use of sound" (see below).

However, we know very little about consumer reactions to different kinds of meter and rhythm. Poetry, at first spoken aloud, is thought to "retain enough of the influence of its origin to make use of sound as one of its major resources. If the reader does not read the poem aloud, he is expected to imagine how it would sound if it were actually read" (Korg 1962, p. 20). The general critical precept is that "verbal music," for the most part read silently now, has universal appeal to the "inner" ear. Pattern in language, present in all recorded tongues, is fundamental to poetry, thought to be rooted in the human desire for orderly and harmonious experience (Ciardi and Williams 1975, p. 137):

Man has always been taken with the patterns through which the things of this world move .... Pattern is not the poet's invention: language moves through patterns for anyone who says "willy-nilly," or "See ya later, alligator," or who joins in most any football yell, or who repeats any of a number of good political slogans.

And, we would add, "advertising slogans." Nevertheless, the kind of appeals different metrical patterns possess are mysterious. Some questions about rhythmic effects are: Do certain meters/rhythms work better than others to reinforce textual sense? What situations or conditions determine effectiveness of structured vs. "open" rhythm? What do consumers read as the smallest unit of advertising text (the analogue to a poetic foot)? Scansion of advertising samples can help researchers frame questions about relationships between types of meter/rhythm and product messages which may better illuminate ways of reaching consumers through appeals to their inner car's sensitivity to tempo.

SOUND EFFECTS AND RHYME

In addition to rhythm, sound effects characterize poetic language. These are thought to be innately appealing to readers, who enjoy responding not only to the movement, but also to the sound of words (Ciardi and Williams 1975, p.137). While numerous sound effects occur in poetry, the following ones seem especially relevant to advertising text: pauses, euphony and cacaphony, alliteration and assonance, and rhyme. These patterns are often not evident from simple consideration of one or another of the above, and are only revealed when the fullness of sound effects are assessed.

Pauses

The internal line pause (caesura) is an important sound device, both as a long full-stop and a shorter secondary semi-stop often called a "hovering effect" (Brooks and Warren 1960, p. 563). Writers use pauses to create variations within a pattern, and thus avoid monotonously regular lines. While the location of pauses is ordinarily determined by units of sense, sense and line units need not coincide. That is, not every line ends where the syntactical division -- phrase, clause, or sentence -- ends. Sense divisions can end within a line or spill over beyond the end of one or more lines. Forced pauses, those which interrupt syntax in some way, are especially important, for they are usually associated with emphatic meaning. For example, a Windsor Sail Cruises ad uses pauses as follows:

The first cruise that feels more like a yacht

That sails | | than a hotel that floats.

The line break after line 1 forces a pause before the subordinate clause is ended ("a yacht that sails"), and emphasizes the last word: "yacht." The pause within line 2 emphasizes the word "sails." Both reinforce the message that the Sail Cruise combines the elegance of luxury yacht travel with the romance of sailing ships. The ad goes on to say that these cruises deliver the twin benefits without the drawbacks of "traditional approaches to cruising" which consign passengers to "such stimulating activities as bingo or shuffleboard." Two pauses within one clause appear to be a means by which syntax is deliberately disrupted to focus attention on meaning.

Euphony and Cacaphony

Certain groups of consonants are considered cacaphonous when they "cause a sense of strain in pronunciation and a slowing of rhythmical tempo" (Brooks and Warren 1960, p. 564). Euphony, the opposite, occurs when "consonant combinations easily pronounced give a sense of ease and Lend to speed up the rhythmical tempo." Euphony results from agreeable relationships among vowel sounds, and is present when "a line dominated by closely related vowels gives -provided other factors support this effect -- a sense of ... fluency" (p. 565). It is important to note that poetic euphony itself is never a primary objective; neither is cacaphony, the difficult pronunciation of certain consonants sequentially, intrinsically unpleasant (Brooks and Warren 1960, p. 149). Both, rather, are useful to produce different poetic effects -- euphony an accelerated "tripping" line, and cacaphony, an impeded "labored" one.

Estee Lauder's ad, previously cited as unscannable, also shows cacaphony:

At last, perfect skin.

Skin Perfecting Creme

Firming nourisher.

The consonantal effects both within and between words (line 1 - "st-p" "rf .. ct-sk"; line 2 - "sk" "p" "rf" "ct" "ng-cr"; line 3 - "f" "rm" "ng-n" "sh") are tongue-twisters, laborious combinations which force the reader to readjust mouth shape and tongue/teeth alignment from word to Word. Speck, however, (1988, p. 7) finds that the "cacaphony of lines 1-2 yields to euphony in line 3," and suggests that "Perhaps the creators of the ad arc trying to imitate the calming, healing, soothing effect of the skin cream that they are describing." His alternate reading, however, is problematical because synonymity of meaning of "firming" and "nourisher" does not seem present.

In contrast, and considerably simpler, the first line of a Mexico Tourism Board ad is euphonious:

When Miguel played it made me feel like a million miles away.

The number of long vowel sounds ("uel" "ay" "made" "feel" "like" "miles" "ay") plus the liquid "I's" (six in one line) create a rolling tempo. The line trips easily off the tongue, and seems to be used to create an experience of pleasant sounds for the reader, perhaps in order to link sound with a delightful product: a beach vacation. Thus, cacaphonous/euphonious sounds can be used to create a sense of tension or a sense of case, respectively, and the same sounds can be used to force the reader to slow down (and scrutinize each individual unit of meaning) or glide along (and perhaps pay less attention to each word).

Alliteration and Assonance

In addition to cacaphony and euphony, alliteration and assonance describe important relationships among vowel and consonant sounds: they "involve the element of repetition of identical or of related sounds" (Bamet 1979, p.176). Assonance is defined as "an identity of vowel sounds"; alliteration as "the repetition of consonants, particularly initial consonants" (Brooks and Warren 1960, p.565). In practice, both are used in unaccented and accented syllables.

Advertising alliteration is found in the Motel Six radio ad: "Microprocessor, Megabyte, and Motel Six .... We'll leave the light on for you" ("m" and "l" sounds). The slogan "Introducing Chrysler's Crystal Key Program" ("c/k sounds) uses alliteration of the same beginning sounds with different spellings, common in English where variable spelling is the norm. Assonance is used in a Koo Feng tours ad: "Our China tours will have you climbing the wall," ("China-Climb" "Tours-You" "have" -"wall" [inexact]). Pairs of similarly pronounced vowels determine the rhythm here. Both effects are used in a short Regency Hotel ad -- ""s preferred as Park "venue": assonance in "as"/"Park"/"Av," and "-ferred," and "--venue"; alliteration in the "p" sounds, and secondarily, the near-identity of the "f"/"v" pronunciation of "preferred" and "avenue."

Rhyme

Rhyme, the "regular echoes in the quality of sounds" (Ciardi and Williams 1975, p. 138), functions Powerfully in emphasizing key words and highlighting contrasts among words. A fixed pattern -- the rhyme scheme -- demarcates a group of lines as a unit, although irregular rhyme can also appear as a device of emphasis where desired. While much technical analysis of prosody deals with end rhyme (masculine and feminine), traditional patterns (couplets, quatrains), and verse forms (sonnets, lyrics), these do not seem relevant to modem advertising. Most ads resemble "free" (or "open") verse, in which rhyme -- if used at all -- is scattered throughout the text without any fixed pattern or scheme.

Some common types of advertising rhyme are internal (occurring within a line unit), approximate or slant (close rather than full sound correspondence), and weak (unstressed or lightly stressed rhymed syllables). All can be used for special effects. An advertising example of internal rhyme appears in the Hertz ad: "Street smarts .... You don't just rent a car. You rent a company." The first phrase is an unusual form of rhyme, resembling a palindrome ("Able was I ere I saw Elba"): here, the opening and closing sounds are identical but reversed - "str-rts." The last sentences show "perfect" internal sound and sight rhyme: the same words -- "you, "rent," and "a" -- are repeated. Internal sight rhyme which is not identical but still near-perfect occurs in the two-word headline for a restaurant, "Le Paris Bistro": "Nouvelle, Schmouvelle," where only the first consonant sound differs, and the second word (made-up) is spelled to correspond exactly with the first.

Slant, internal, and weak end-rhymes are used with free verse randomness throughout the following ad for Redbook magazine, titled "A Juggler's Life":

1 She's 34 and a real estate broker.

2 Seven days a week she makes New

3     Englanders feel right at home.

4 Makes her home in Brattleboro, Vermont.

5 Married to Scott.

6 Mother to Jordan, 4 (preschool

7     valedictorian).

8 Loves to lift her spirits with a daring

9     downhill run.

10 Has been known to quote:

11     "Cleaning your house while the kids

12     are still growing is like shoveling the

13     walk before it stops snowing."

13A     (Phyllis Diller)

14 This baby boomer relies on Redbook

15     and her tenacious drive to open

16     new doors.

Slant rhymes occur in 1 and 15 ("broker"- "open") and 4 and 5 ("Vermont"- "Scott"), where the same vowel precedes different consonants; 14 and 16 ("book""doors") where sight rhyme occurs in the repetition of oo"; 7,9, and 15 ("valedictorian," "run," "open"), where n" consonants are repeated as endings; and perhaps 12 and 13 ("shoveling" -"snowing"), although line 12 ends with "the," a weakly accented extra syllable. Alliteration is found within lines 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6; it unifies lines 8 and 9 ("l" and "d" sounds). Assonance is present in lines 2 ("days"-"makes," "week"- "new"), 4 ("home," "- boro," -mont"), 6 ("mother" -"Jordan"), and 10 ("known"quote").

The quote attributed to Phyllis Diller is characterized by both assonance (ll 11-15 "house/grow/shoveling/ snowing") and perfect end rhyme ("cleaning/growing/shoveling/snowing"). Interestingly, if the quote were rearranged on the page, it would be a recognizable quatrain:

1 Cleaning your house while the kids

2 Are still growing

3 Is like shoveling the walk

4 Before it stops snowing

As Speck points out, "this is a simile ("is like") that uses parallel syntax ("cleaning ... while ... growing") ("shoveling...while ... snowing"), internal rhyme (words ending in "-ing"), and a combination of alliteration and end rhyme ("still growing, stops snowing") to strengthen the comparison." He adds a cogent analysis of the lines (1988, p. 8):

The syntactical parallel is so strong (antithesis) and the contrast so stark (hyperbole) that the passage seems "ironic" and the author's intent "humorous." Thus, sound qualities (alliteration and rhyme) serve to enhance a syntactical parallelism that strengthens a figurative comparison [simile] that creates irony which in turn leads to humor .... this attributed quote provides a humanizing and ironic counterstatement ... [which] allows the reader to think "she's not perfect, she has felt overwhelmed, she's like me."

The subtle rhythmic pattern thus may reinforce Redbook's decision to downplay the superwoman message, the "too, too perfect ... image they were trying to avoid" (Speck 1988, p. 8).

Many questions related to rhythm and sound effects arise in advertising. In reference to pauses, we do not know what effects natural and/or forced pauses have on readers. Do consumers understand advertising text where syntactical sense is interrupted by artificial pauses? When euphony and cacaphony are used, do certain consonants/vowels strike consumers as pleasant/unpleasant? Are there generic precepts in advertising governing sound combinations, or, like poetry, do pleasing/displeasing effects relate to product/message context rather than sounds per se? What are the uses of euphony and cacaphony in different product areas? In what situations might incongruous messages - pleasing product, cacaphonous verbals or vice versa - be effective?

Prior research has indicated that alliteration and other prosodic elements function in brand name selection strategy (Schloss 1981; Vanden Bergh 1982/3; Vanden Bergh, Adler, and Oliver 1987). But extended uses of alliteration and assonance in the full ad text raise further questions. To what extent do consumers find them memorable? Most of us recall the alliterative "Four P's," but we do not know the effects of interactive combinations of alliteration and/or assonance in multiple word groups. Do consumers "see" either effect when it is inexact visually ("c/k") but exact in pronunciation? As for rhyme, what are the effects of strong (end) versus less strong internal or approximate rhyme schemes? Do certain kinds of rhyme suit certain product classes? Indeed, do consumers perceive the subtler forms of rhyme (slant, internal, inexact) at all, given the limited time and attention devoted to advertising messages? Until the uses of advertising rhyme are catalogued and tested, it seems fair to say that advertising may not be paying close enough attention to a traditionally powerful tool for affecting perceivers.

CONCLUSION

Thus, explication permits investigation of advertising in new ways as a result of a methodology of close textual analysis long used in poetics. The study of effects of ad language on consumers can be refined by this methodology, for it aims at breaking down the components of copy into separate testable bits. As information is garnered about the pieces, patterns for discerning effects of the whole can be expected to emerge.

Methods drawn from literature's sister arts -music, painting, dance, cinematography - may also have much to contribute to advertising research, since visual, lyrical, and kinetic effects often accompany verbal messages. Both rhetorical and dramatic effects inherent in a speaker's delivery, not normally considered in explications, require further research efforts. Advertising as communication can profitably be viewed from the vantage point of art as well as science, for the element of creativity -- what Brooks calls the great poetic power of "awakening the mind" (1947) -- sparks greatness wherever it alights. Analyzing the components of creativity in a variety of humanistic disciplines can foster positive interaction between art and science, giving rise to a relationship in which each illuminates the other as intertwined facets of human experience. T.S. Eliot's homage to words has deep meaning for advertisers as well as other communicators in our society (1962, p. 144):

.... And every phrase

And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,

Taking its place to support the others,

The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,

An easy commerce of the old and the new,

The common word exact without vulgarity,

The formal word precise but not pedantic,

The complete consort dancing together)

Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning.

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----------------------------------------

Authors

Barbara B. Stern, Rutgers University



Volume

SV - Interpretive Consumer Research | 1989



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