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Words and Actions

Aug 12, 2022

Are you one of those people who is always tricked into doing or buying things you don’t want? Do you want to find out how they do it or how to do it yourself? You’re in luck! If you listen to this episode, you will find out all about it! You will even get free access to all the other W&A episodes on language in business, politics and beyond and you’ll discover that your current annoyance and reluctance by reading this is caused by genre awareness. Do it now or regret it later! #hardselltacticsshamelesslybroughttoyoubuyW&A.  

The episode, as always, is accompanied by a blog post on, where we publish additional resources, and importantly for this episode, the images we discuss. 

In this episode on ‘selling, hard and soft and everything in between’, we want to raise advertising literacy by showing and identifying how language and semiotics are used in marketing to influence people’s buying behaviour. In the introductory chat, it soon becomes obvious that advertising is everywhere in different shapes and forms and that all three hosts have succumbed to it: we even shamelessly do it on the podcast itself (can you spot all instances?) and we have to admit to having bought clothes, paintbrushes and ice-cream ourselves, fuelled by subtle and less subtle advertising. In the introduction, Erika refers to Arran Stibbe’s work, in which he analyses the discourse in textbooks on economics. We then move on to elusive types of advertising, where the genre is bended and blended with others so it is harder to spot. Veronika starts with an example of so-called native advertising. Later, Bernard mentions the study below about the phenomenon:

Apostol, N.-E. (2020). What is known about native advertising in editorial contexts? A descriptive literature review. Journal of Media Research 37, 59-81.

Veronika also refers to product placement and illustrates how the appearance of the Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses in the Tom Cruise blockbusters Top Gun and Maverick boosted sales (and US Navy applications). 

Non-conventional and blended advertisements are often referred to with blended (or ‘portmanteau’) words as well: advertorials, infomercials, shopatainment. The last of these includes live sellers on video channels. A recent MA dissertation at Lancaster University addresses the phenomenon from a language point of view

Tan, K. (2021). A corpus-based analysis on the language in Chinese livestream sales. MA dissertation, Lancaster University. 

This case study of one live seller shows that, unsurprisingly, verbs and nouns closely related to purchase and discount are frequently used in livestream sales (‘buy’, ‘get’, ‘coupon’). In addition, live sellers use evaluative nouns (‘beauties’) and personal pronouns like ‘everybody’, ‘we’, etc. to address the customers. Repetitions or interactions with audiences can also be noticed. Hard and soft advertising strategies are applied in livestream sales together, to attract and persuade customers.
In the run-down of advertising types, we also refer to basic distinctions that are often made, such as hard selling and soft selling (see title of this episode) and reason vs. tickle, which are also covered in Bernstein’s and Cook’s works. Bernard refers to the typical features of hard selling as the very recognizable aggressive tactics that centralise the product and its features and benefits, while playing on the scarcity principle and fear of missing out. Veronika’s son, Feranmi Ayo Omoniyi, would like to be given full credit for all his research into hard-selling tactics in computer games – thank you! 

Erika mentions that soft selling plays more on emotions, stories, atmosphere and associations, with the possessor reflecting the possessed. Still in the introduction, we also mention Bhatia’s colony of promotional genres, which features both central and more peripheral members. We then move on to the interview with Joe McVeigh, who is a PhD candidate at the University of Helsinki in Finland. You can also find him on Twitter: @EvilJoeMcVeigh (ignore the account handle, he is very nice!). In the analysis we look at an example each that we brought - these can be found at! And that’s it - see you next time for the start of season 4!