Why Do Advertisers Use Puns? A Linguistic Perspective

Elmira Djafarova
Northumbria University


The conditions of advertising texts force the advertisers to adopt various verbal and visual devices to attract more customers. The language of advertising is the product of a linguistic context in which messages are aimed at enormous audiences representing a range of backgrounds that can only be guessed at by the advertisers. Writers of advertising have no personal interaction with the customers of their linguistic production, and there is no scope for the instant reaction that may let advertisers correct any interaction mistakes (Bruthiaux, 2000). Thus, advertisers have to find effective ways of communicating with their potential consumers.

McQuarrie and Mick (1996) place advertising language in the context of the study of rhetoric and observe it. One of the ways to attract customers' attention is through the use of figures of speech. A figure of speech has been defined as an artful deviation from audience expectation (Corbett, 1990). Rhetorical figures (figures of speech) are some of the few elements of advertising style that have received academic attention (Leigh, 1994; McQuarrie and Mick, 1996; Mothersbaugh, Huh-mann, and Franke, 2002; Stern, 1988). According to Leigh (1994), synchronic, cross-sectional analyses show rhetorical figures such as puns and alliteration were common features in print advertisements in the early 1990s. Leigh (1994) finds that 74 percent of all advertisements with a headline contained a rhetorical figure.