By Melanie Ward,2014-05-16 19:14
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     A Critical Discourse Analysis on

    Cosmetic Advertisements


     Maybe we are often not aware of the impact advertisements have on us, but in fact, every day in our life we are surrounded by advertisements. If we have to read a

    paper, watch television or walk around, we will find it impossible to avoid

    advertisements. The primary function of advertisement is to introduce a wide range of

    consumer goods to the public and thereby support the free-market economy. But that

    is clearly not its only role. Advertisements also assume certain characteristics which

    are less directly connected to selling. Advertisers try to manipulate people into buying

    a way of life as well as goods.

    Today, with the development of the technology and the diversity of the mass media, advertising has influenced us pervasively in our daily life. Advertising

    language is a style of immediate impact and rapid persuasion. The point of an

    advertisement is to persuade the consumer of the merits of a particular product or

    service, in order that the consumer will take out some of their money. However, the

    language of cosmetic advertisements does mislead the customer. And the topic

    concerning the rigorousness of cosmetic advertisement languages becomes

    increasingly hotter.

    In this paper, the specific area of cosmetic advertising will be analyzed from the perspective of CDA to reveal from what aspects and how the advertising discourse

    misleads the consumers. This study aims to help readers or potential customers to see

    through or to be alert to the misleading or deceptive language used in cosmetic

    advertisements by examining the use of the language and the reason why it has been

    used that way.

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     A Critical Discourse Analysis on

    Cosmetic Advertisements

    1 An Introduction to Critical Discourse Analysis

    Critical discourse analysis or critical linguistics was first proposed by Roger

    Fowler in the book of Language and Control. Critical linguists argue that language can not be regarded as the neutral media of communication; it is a product of social

    practice. In their points of view, language is closely linked to ideology, because

    language is the commonest form of social behavior. Ideology is pervasively present in language, and ideological nature of language should be one of the major themes of

     [1]modern social science. So language study should place a broad conception of

    social study of language at the core of language study. That is to say, linguists should

    analyse social interaction in a way focusing upon their linguistic elements, and should

    try to show the generally hidden determinants in the system of social relationships, as

    well as hidden effects they may have upon that system. In this sense, critical discourse

    analysis formulates an analysis of a public discourse, and it is designed to explore the

    ideology encoded implicitly behind the overt propositions, to examine it particularly

    in the context of social formations. It focuses on the social practice of language

    behavior, including its relation with powers, values, ideologies, and points of view

    expressed and constituted in and about language.

    1.1 The Development of Critical Discourse Analysis

    Critical Discourse Analysis or critical linguistics was first proposed by Roger

    Fowler in Language and Control. Fairclough, as a leading linguist in the research in

    Critical Discourse Analysis, put forward three issues of CDA as follows: “Firstly ,

    language is a kind of social practice, It is an eternal interventional strength of the

    social order, which reflects the reality in all aspects, and then controls and influences

    the society through ideology. Secondly, language and value, and relations between

    power and religion mutually benefit and influence each other in social and cultural

    environment. Thirdly, the use of langue can promote language change and social

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     A Critical Discourse Analysis on

    Cosmetic Advertisements

     [2]reform. Fairclough admitted that critical language is not a social science without

    any ardor but only objective. By this means, we know language is a product of social

    practice, and as a tool of discourse analysis, Critical Discourse Analysis, or CDA is an

    interdisciplinary approach to the study of language.

    Critical Discourse Analysis attempts to unpack the ideological underpinnings of

    discourse which have become so naturalized over time that we begin to treat them as

    common, acceptable and natural features of discourse. As a kind of discourse analysis

    model, from the aspects of linguistic, Critical Discourse Analysis claims to analyze

    the hiding ideology and power when looking back the history and society. The real

    birth of Critical Discourse Analysis should be attributed to the great scale of research

    on the British Mass Media in 1970s. In 1976 the researchers of Glasgow University

    reported their results of the “bad news” on TV. They discovered after a systematic study that tremendous news reports existed prejudicially in the government and

    capitalists‟ favor. In 1985, Gunther Kress argued that we could not remain at the

    simple fact validated in Language and Control that discourse is not ideologically free, and there is a close relationship between language or discourse and the social

    structure or social process they come from. Roger Fowler‟s book, Linguistic Criticism,

    is an introduction to the critical study of discourse. Another book Notes on Critical

    linguistics issued in 1987 could be a demonstration of his change in positioning his


    Up to now, the theory of CDA has quite developed. Recently, readers have

    strengthened their sensitivity to the ideology and the ideology of discourse

    anti-control, improved the ability of critical reading and critical analysis, with the

    development of economy, culture, and the globalization trends as well as the

    introduction of western culture. As a young but vital theory, CDA has attracted more

    and more scholars not only from linguistics but also from other spheres to get

    involved in its study. Many famous critical linguists distinguish themselves in the

    study of CDA. The modern linguist Fairclough began to research CDA in the 1980s,

    and wrote down many books. Van Dijk, and Ruth Wodak are also important CDA

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     A Critical Discourse Analysis on

    Cosmetic Advertisements

    linguists. However, their ways of CDA research are different. With the

    Socio-cognitive model, Van Dijk analyzed the ideology from social, cognitive and

    discourse aspects. Wodak mainly used a way of discourse historical, which was

    influenced by discourse cognitive model. Another one is Norman Fairclough, his way

    of research was closely related to M.A.K. Halliday‟s Systemic Functional Grammar.

    Although those scholars are interested in different orientations, it should be pointed

    out that some features are common to most CDA researchers. That is: linguistic

    analysis is the obligatory part, but it is not the only one. A critical discourse must

    involve the investigation of social and institutional contexts. This thesis will adopt

    some of those common features to analyze discourses of cosmetic advertisements.

    1.2 The Purpose of Critical Discourse Analysis

     Sitting under the big umbrella that functionalism took for it, critical discourse

    analysis built up its own theoretical frame for its particular purpose.

     “Critical linguistics insists that all representation is mediated, moulded by the

    value-systems that are ingrained in the medium used for representation. It challenges

    common sense by pointing out that something could have been represented some

    other way, with a very different significance. Critical linguistics aims at changing or

    even removing the condition off what is considered to be a false or distorted

    consciousness, renders transparent what had previously been hidden. And in doing so,

    it initiates a process of self-reflection in individuals or in group, designs to achieve a

     [3]liberation from the domination of past constraints. The proponents of this

    linguistics model are concerned to expose the hidden ideology in a variety of modes

    of public discourse. They offer critical readings of newspapers, political propaganda,

    official documents, regulations, formal genres such as the interviews, and so on.

    Topics examined include sexism, racism, inequality in education, employment, the

    courts, war, nuclear weapons and nuclear power, political strategies, and commercial

    practices. In relation to public discourse on such matters, the goals of the critical

    linguists are in general term defamilarization or consciousness-raising.

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     A Critical Discourse Analysis on

    Cosmetic Advertisements

     Critical Discourse Analysis does not require fixation of the way; it is a group

    with the same theoretical basis and on the same issue of a generic term perspective. It

    always reveals the implied injustice and inequality in the powerful words of

    privileged class on behalf of the vulnerable groups. This article aims to reveal the

    deception of cosmetics advertisements from the view of cosmetic consumers.

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     A Critical Discourse Analysis on

    Cosmetic Advertisements

    2 Genre Analysis of Cosmetics Advertising Discourse

     “Advertising is the non-personal communication of information usually paid for and usually persuasive in return about products, services or ideas by identified

    [4]sponsors through various media . Advertisements can be divided into commercial advertisements and non-commercial advertisements. In this thesis, the scope of the

    analysis is restricted to the commercial advertisements, to be specific, the cosmetic

    advertisements. Whatever kind advertising is, language is the main carrier of message

    all along. Language of advertisements is also called the discourse of advertisements.

    Research on the discourse of advertisements has been attracting linguists' attention for

    a very long time.

    To better interpret the cosmetic advertising discourse from a critical view, one

    should place the text in its genre. Genres are agents of ideological closure---they limit the meaning-potential of a given text. Genre analysis is descried by as the study

    of structural and linguistic regularities of particular genres or text types and the role

    they play within a discourse community. Genre constrains the possible ways in which

    a text is interpreted, guiding readers of a text towards a preferred reading (which is

    normally in accordance with the dominant ideology).Every genre-orientation has a

    style of its own set of characteristics that identify it. And each has different building

    [5]blocks that make it unique from other types of documents .

    2.1 Analysis of Schematic Structure

    A number of different ways of describing textual structure have emerged in genre

    studies. The following analysis tries to identify the specific schematic structure for

    cosmetic advertisements to find out what distinctive features this kind of text has.

    First of all, let's examine the following advertisement which can be divided into

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     A Critical Discourse Analysis on

    Cosmetic Advertisements

    three parts according to their different effects represented by A, B and C:

    1) A. From age 30, the first signs of ageing appear and the skin's needs change.

    B. VISIBLE RESULTS contains Activa CellTM to help reactivate the skins natural

    defense and repair processes.

    C. The Anti Ageing cleansing range has been specifically developed to fight against

    the loss of radiance, dull complexion and irregular skin texture. Visible Results Daily

    Skin Perfecting Moisturiser visibly refines and softens skin texture and reduces the

    appearance of wrinkles. (L'oreal)

    This advertisement has three parts. Part A talks about the current situation of the skin

    quality and the person's need, or the problem that is troubling him or her; part B is the

    name of the cosmetic product; part C is the result or effects after using the cosmetic

    product. So the whole advertisement is composed of three parts: the problem, the

    product and the solution by means of using the product.

    Lets have a look at the second one which can be divided into four parts represented by A, B, C and D:

    2) A. Fight fine lines, refine pores and achieve beautifully smooth skin immediately with this simple, two-step set.

    3) B. Step 1: Refine to wet face with fingertips. Using circular motions, gently massage face with Fingertips for 1-2 minutes. Rinse thoroughly with warm water and

    pat dry.

    Follow with Step 2: Replenish separates the set from the competition. It's a rich serum,

    containing vitamins, antioxidants and anti-irritant.

    C. Try it! Love it!

    D. These results were experienced after just one week.

    85% saw improvement in skin texture.

    73% saw a reduction in fine lines.

    71% saw smaller-looking pores.

    Part A points out the purpose of using the product---to cure the skin problem; part B describes in detail how the products work step by step; part C is a slogan and

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     A Critical Discourse Analysis on

    Cosmetic Advertisements the part D is the result.

     From the above examples, it is easy to conclude the schematic structure of

    cosmetic advertisements. The basic components of it are slogan, problem, solution

    and result.

    Concluded from 30 advertising textual, I get the result as follow: all of them

    have the component of “problem”. 28 have the component "solution". More than half

    of the advertisements have the part of "result", while not many have the component


    Components Slogan Problem Solution Result

    Appearance times 11 30 28 18

    Total number 30 30 30 30

    As is noted above, the parts of "problem" and "solution" exist almost in all the

    advertisements. And these two parts each can be stated in a sentence or some

    sentences or even some paragraphs, as the examples above show. The component of

    "slogan" and "result" are optional, some of the advertisements have, some don't.

    Discourses as a means to communicate are organized according to certain kind

    of thought pattern. The text pattern is the reflection of semantic contents, so different

    [6]text patterns reflect different meanings .

    The two examples are all organized according to the thought pattern. The reason

    is that having stated the factual “problem”, the adoption of structures like “the answer to this question, one solution to this problem” becomes natural. In the specific area of cosmetic advertisements, the names of the cosmetic products instead of words like

    “solution” and “answer” are more often used, especially in the part of “solution”.

    The sequence of every part serves well the purpose of influencing and

    persuading the consumers as it is natural reaction of us to find a solution to a problem,

    especially when it comes to our appearances, and then to test the effectiveness of the


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     A Critical Discourse Analysis on

    Cosmetic Advertisements

     The reason why this pattern of structure tends to be misleading is that by stating

    a so-called answer after a question as a proven fact, the advertisement takes

    something for granted. This gives the consumer the feeling that it is he who has come

    to the conclusion on his own, or at least that the solution is the true answer.

    Consequently, the consumer will think he has made up his own opinion on the product

    presented in the advertisement. He is not aware of the fact that he has been taken over

    unconsciously. The reader or hearer here has become the victim of manipulation.

    2.2 Vocabulary

    The linguistic damage that an effective but deceitful advertisement does on us is

    much greater than we suspect. We think of these influences as limited to their

    immediate listeners, but word usage spreads out like waves on a pond, and in the field

    of advertising, a kind of social activity, in which the sponsor tries to gain benefit.

    Words are especially well designed and can hardly be spotted by average consumers.

    Some word usages are very appealing to women consumer, describing the ideal effect

    after the use of the cosmetic product; some sound effective in changing the current

    condition and for great improvement; some are too subtly weaved into the discourse

    to be caught of their illogical usage. Some kinds of these uses are cited as follows:

    2.2.1 Powerful Words

    Words grouped into this kind are observed to describe the working process of the

    cosmetic product. In most cases, the products are cleansing or anti-aging products.

    Look at the following examples:

    3) In just one weep peel away years of dullness, dryness&age damage. (AVON)

    4)Without overdrying the skin, the Normaderm Acne Medication product penetrate

    pores deeply to control acne blemishes and keep skin clear. (Vichy)

    5) The Anti Ageing cleansing range has been specifically developed to fight against

    the loss of radiance, dull complexion and irregular skin texture. (L' Oreal)

     Other words like these are “inject”, “attack” and “innovate”, etc. These

    “powerful words” are usually used to describe the working process of the cosmetic

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     A Critical Discourse Analysis on

    Cosmetic Advertisements

    products of cleansing or anti-aging.

     The reason for the advertisers particular favor for these words in cleansing or anti-aging products is that when one wants to be clean or wants to return to the year of

    youth, he or she would want it done quickly and thoroughly. It is not difficult to

    understand now why there are so dramatic difference in choice of words between the

    texts describing the quality of skin and the texts describing the working process of the


    2.2.2 Illogical and Vague Words

     Some words in this group are illogically used, contradictory to the fact. Some

    may seem quite all right, but after a second thought, one may suspect there is

    something wrong with it. Let's examine the following advertisements:

    6) The BODY EXPERTISE range contains 10 innovative products, which provide the

    ideal programmer to take your body in hand. Combining high technology with

    luxurious textures, the BODY EXPERTISE range offers you a unique chance to

    experience the luxuriousness of a spa treatment within your own home. (L' Oreal)

    Some discourse of cosmetics advertising promises that using these products will

    make you stand out. The product is promoted as an indication of your uniqueness and

    personal identity. Of course, the logic of capitalism is predicated on selling as many of

    the same products as possible, in order to make production more efficient. Thus, “a beauty all your own” is shared by millions of other women. Another word which is

    quite similar with “unique” is “private”. 7) Innovation: Activa-Cell. 8 days to see a perfect skin, like new. (L' Oreal)

     Everyone wants the “perfect”, and probably no one would say he or she has the

    perfect skin. There are two reasons. The first is that there is no such standard as what

    kind of skin is perfect skin. Everyone would describe the ideal skin for him or herself

    differently. The second reason is that even if one has had the perfect, he or she would

    not be content with it. There is always some room for improvement, one would think.

    And the saying “nothing\no one is perfect” has become kind of an absolute truth for many people, which might be very true from the logical view. So it is how the word

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