Advertising and the Language of Persuasion

This course will explore a side of advertising beyond its reputation as an often deceptive nuisance. What sets a compelling ad apart? How do its verbal and visual components collaborate to amplify its impact? We will address the topic from a linguist's perspective, adding insights from psychological research and marketing expertise. Students will engage directly with a large number of tangible examples in print ads and TV commercials, searching for composition and linguistic subtleties that succeed or fail in creating effective persuasion tools. While we'll touch on ethically questionable practices, our primary focus will be to recognize the ingenious ways that ads are structured to gain our attention and to maintain it for long enough to engage our interest and be remembered afterward. Class sessions will analyze a series of ads, each of which we’ll solicit insights and impressions from class members to complement the prepared lectures. Weekly assignments will involve finding ads that exemplify or cast new light on the course content.After many decades of research, marketers have come to understand the intricate interplay between reason and emotion in our behavior. By examining how ads appeal to our rational and emotional sides, we will better understand what advertisers know about us. In the process, we may well also learn some new things about ourselves.

Will Leben
Professor of Linguistics, Emeritus, Stanford


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Online, instructor-led
Jan 22 - Mar 18, 2024
Stanford Continuing Studies