"WE CANNOT KNOW FURTHER WAYS ОF OUR WORD": TO THE PROBLEM OF ASSESSING CONTROVERSIAL ADVERTISING TEXT
Advertising texts are not infrequently known to be based on implicitly expressed information, but an essential feature of such information is “it is not necessarily taken in in the process of understanding and it is not a hundred percent recollected by the listener.” (Implitsitnost, 1999: 32). In this connection, there is a possibility of different interpretations (and, consequently, understanding) of the same text. Such texts quite often attract the attention of the regulatory authorities. However, it is not as easy to prove that the advertisement is inappropriate or, on the contrary, meets all the necessary requirements. “It should be said that nowadays both citizens and journalists have learnt very well to avoid responsibility. And this, undoubtedly, impedes the process of expertise,” says the full member of the Guild of linguists-experts in information and documentation disputes (GLEDID) E.S. Kara-Murza (2013).
According to I.A. Sternin, “the covert meaning is expressed by the author of the text with the help of certain linguistic units and constructions. When the recipient perceives them, specific cognitive schemes of interpreting different kinds of statements actualized in this culture are easily reconstructed. Herewith informative equivalence of explicit meaning of linguistic units in the text and the hidden meaning reconstructed by the recipient is established.” (Sternin, 2012: 270). Such cognitive schemes of perceiving text (including advertising text) are called receptive schemes, “i.e. schemes of understanding the covert hidden meaning of statements inherent to human mind” (Sternin, 2012: 270).
Experience shows that only lexical-semantic analysis is usually applied to assess controversial advertising texts, but, in our opinion, this approach doesn’t give objective results. The tasks of expertise can most effectively be solved by complex research including psycholinguistic experiment which helps identify the peculiarities of perceiving controversial text by the target audience. It is certainly important that representatives of the definite demographic group to which the advertising text is addressed should take part in this experiment.
In this article, we offer an algorithm for text analysis in the advertisement of a dietary supplement. The choice of this category of goods is not accidental as it is typical for this kind of advertisements to use “receptive schemes”. The fact is that, according to the federal law “On Advertising”, dietary supplement adverts cannot mention therapeutic qualities of the advertised item; however, it is this information that makes the text convincing for customers and encourages them to purchase. Advertisers tend to disguise information of healing properties, express it implicitly to avoid penalties.
The research is based on the texts from radio advertisement of the food product made of seaweeds which more than once have become the subject of administrative and court trials between Federal Antimonopoly Department (FAD) and the manufacturer. Because the texts are quite long, we have chosen certain statements containing implicit information. We have selected for the analysis the phrases which, according to FAD, contain the features of violation of the law on advertising: facilitates cleansing blood vessels and capillaries from atherosclerotic deposits, helps normalize blood pressure, is used as a prophylactic measure in many diseases, normalizes metabolic processes in the body.
To identify whether the advertisement mentions therapeutic properties of the advertised item, it is necessary to carry out a research including several stages:
- lexical-semantic analysis of the text based on linguistic dictionaries,
- context analysis of the statements,
- verification of the received data taking into account modern speech practice (using the data from National Corpus of the Russian Language – NCRL),
- carrying out psycholinguistic experiment to identify the features of perceiving the text by customers,
- carrying out a free association experiment to verify the received results.
On the stage of lexical-semantic analysis, the research of meaning and usage of individual words in controversial statements is carried out. Special attention is paid to the lexemes playing the key role in advertising texts (used several times, have extended synonymic and derivational rows). For the assessment of the abovementioned text in particular, we have chosen the following lexemes: facilitate/help, normalize/normalization, prophylactic.
Further, the context analysis is held – studying semantics of the chosen words in the contexts where they are used. The data received during the first and the second stages is taken into account while choosing stimulus material for psycholinguistic experiment and interpreting its results.
It often happens that experts limit expertise of advertising texts by only these two stages. In our opinion, however, it is not entirely correct, as information from dictionaries and context analysis do not often reflect peculiarities of the linguistic picture of the world characteristic for the consumers of the advertised item. Working with NCRL as well as studying concepts connected with the context of the texts under analysis help to bridge the gap. For instance, the expertise of the advert for the seaweed product is based on the description of the concept “health” (Aniskina, 2014).
Such phased and multi-aspect research of the controversial text is necessary as each of the selected words individually can’t indicate therapeutic properties of the product, although the words are not understood separately in the text. According to G.V. Kolshansky, “the semantics of linguistic units is only revealed in communicative segments” (Kolshanskiy, 1980: 39), it is the context that can eliminate polysemy of words. Implicitly expressed information appears due to both using semantic and communicative presuppositions and appealing to concepts reflecting national linguistic consciousness. Therefore, it is logical to suppose that the combination of the words analysed above can be understood by the consumer as an indication of healing properties.
To verify this hypothesis, it is necessary to conduct a psycholinguistic experiment. The main method of the research can be a survey of the target group. In our opinion, the most representational results should be obtained from social (education, profession), age and gender groups, so it is these parameters that should be included into the establishing part of the questionnaire. We believe that in order to make the information more objective, it is necessary to survey 4 age groups in the course of the experiment: 18-25 years old, 35-45 years old, 50-60 years old, 65 and above. Such a division is caused by different attitude of each age group to their health according to characteristic features of aging.
Besides, the questionnaire should contain stimulus material with several answers both relevant to definitions from dictionary entries and containing data from NCRL and the lexemes “heals”, “facilitates recovery”. Respondents have to choose (underline) what they think is the appropriate meaning of the word.
As for a free association experiment, it enables to compare the data of the psycholinguistic experiment with the conceptual constructs which help identify both profound views of a Russian person about health as an important value category and nationally marked understanding of health care and the ways to maintain health.
Thus, on the one hand, the algorithm of assessing linguistic material described above can help identify receptive schemes inherent to representatives of certain national consciousness and, on the other hand, it can help experts to solve complex tasks in assessing a controversial text.
Aniskina N.V. (2014) Leksicheskaya eksplikatsiya kontsepta ‘zdorove’ v reklamnyih tekstah [Lexical explication of the concept ‘health’ in advertising texts]. In Sukiasyan A.A. (Eds.). Evolyutsiya nauchnoy myisli [The evolution of scientific thought]. Ufa, 2014, pp. 200-204.
Implitsitnost v yazyike i rechi [Implicitly in langue and parole]. (1999). Borisova E.G., Martemyanov Yu.S. (Eds.). Moskva.
Kara-Murza E.S. (2013). Grazhdane nauchilis kritikovat i diskreditirovat drug druga tak, chto sudu trebuetsya pomosch ekspertizyi [Citizens learned to criticize and discredit each other and the court needs the help of expertise]. URL: http://www.zakonia.ru/blog/grazhdane-nauchilis-kritikovat-i-diskreditirovat-drug-druga-tak-chto-sudu-trebuetsja-pomosch-ekspertizy/
Kolshanskiy G.V. (1980). Kontekstnaya semantika [Contextual semantics]. Moskva.
Sternin I.A. (2012). Vyiyavlenie skryityih smyislov teksta i lingvisticheskaya ekspertiza [Determination of the covert meanings of the text and linguistic expertise]. In Borisova E.G., Aniskina N.V. (Eds.). Ponimanie v kommunikatsii. Chelovek v informatsionnom prostranstve [Understanding by communication. A person and information space]. Yaroslavl – Moskva, 2, pp. 270-272.