Language Investigation on Shampoo Bottles
To investigate how the language on Shampoo bottles varies depending on what consumers want to hear and market competition; the more specialised the shampoo, the more restrained and technical the language whereas the more generalised the shampoo, the more persuasive and informal the language. To achieve this aim, I will be focusing on Texts 1, 2, 3 and 4. Text 1 and 4 are similar because they are shampoos catered for a large target market. Text 1 is for “All Hair Types” and Text 4 is for “frizz prone wavy /curly hair” which is essentially for anyone with wavy or curly hair, because these hair types are naturally “frizzy” if not straight. Text 2 and 3 are similar because they are specialized for people suffering from a chronic scalp disease and for babies with sensitive skin. This analysis will investigate the variation in language between these two types (generalised and specialised) of shampoos and why.
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I shall compare the lexical frameworks to discuss the choices of adjectives adverbs and verbs; how jargon and formality lend authority and create trust especially for special expectations; and the use of positive lexis, modifiers and conversational language to appeal to the general expectations of a wider audience. I shall also discuss the similarities between the texts in the area of lexical cohesion whereby all texts regardless of target audience employ the method of repetition and collocations to be memorable.
I shall use the semantical framework to compare the use of personification, idioms, collocations and levels of formality as a persuasive method to portray consideration of consumers’ needs, exclusivity of product and to promise exceeding results.
I shall use the phonological framework to investigate how alliteration is used in a commercial shampoo to be memorable and appealing.
I shall compare the sentence structures to discuss the functions of the Imperative moods and the Interrogative moods (in commercial shampoos) in enticing readers to agree.
Finally I shall compare the grammatical framework to investigate the use of ellipsis to create a conversational tone; the use of second person personal and possessive pronouns which help establish the relationship between producer and consumer; the use of the concrete noun “baby” as a proper noun and its implications; the verb voice to create a sense of immediate effect and activity.
Considering the general preference and expectations for shiny hair, the market for this type of shampoo is large with almost uncountable choices of products to pick from hence a shampoo catering to this expectation has to outshine its many competitors through methods of persuasion. In Text 1 , the brand Umberto Giannini being very aware of this fact has adopted many methods of persuasion, firstly in the choice of adjectives and verbs being hyperbolic such as the adjectives “dazzling” and “ultimate” to describe the abstract noun “shine” and the gerund “stunning” to illustrate its range of products. The use of such adjectives creates a desirable image in the minds of the readers and promises the absolute. The use of the adjectives “shiny”, “glossy” and “light reflecting” is a form of lexical cohesion to create an overall feature of coherence with the audience; which helps them identify the central information of the text and in this case it is “shine” in all its variation. Repetition is effective for being memorable and convincing.
The noun phrase or the name of shampoo “dazzling shine” is repeated three times in the text and further emphasized using block letters; repetition is a form of Involvement Strategy because it seeks to engage the audience to the product. The prevalent use of pre-modifiers is once again identified in the coined compound adjective “weightless soft” to describe the ideal hair texture, which portrays this shampoo as an all-in -one answer to the perfect hair. It does not only promise “shine” but everything a consumer could expect, it even “moisturises”, ” protects” and ”tames frizz”. The juxtaposition of the superlative “dullest” next to the modified noun phrase “light reflecting lustre” portrays this shampoo as a miracle worker because it promises to be the perfect solution ( light reflecting) to the worst-off problem (dullest). The verb “maximise” coheres to the hyperbolic tone of the entire text. The text ends with the superlative “great” followed by an exclamation mark to further convince its audience that it is the best product in the market. This corresponds to the part of my aim to show that the language on shampoo bottles tell consumers what they want to hear.
According to linguists HP Grice and Deborah Tannen in order to communicate properly, the writer must engage with its audience to reflect and create interpersonal involvement between writer and speaker, this theory is known as “involvement strategies”. Tannen’s idea of involvement is that it is an emotional connection. In Text 1, we see this theory unfolding through the use of conversational language so that it establishes an informal relationship between the writer and reader and also it makes the text easily understood. The discourse marker “so” at the beginning of the interrogative clause, followed by an ellipsis, is typical of a conversational question. This informality is further asserted through the use of the second person pronoun “you” directly addressing the reader in a personal manner. The manner of the question, by omitting the verb “do” assumes a superior knowledge of what the reader wants (“so …you want…”).
The manner of this question could also imply that the writer is sympathetic and aware of the reader’s wants, it also implies that their reader’s hair is not “shiny” or “glossy”, thereby invoking an emotional connection and by doing so creates an Involvement Strategy. Within this question, the subject-verb clause “you want” also carries a declarative mood, in that it tells the reader what they want; thereby enticing them to agree that they want “shiny, glossy hair” and that their hair at present is not already shiny and glossy. By choosing to use the third person pronoun “they” instead of the first person pronoun “we” in “they do what they say” makes the statement more testimonial therefore more convincing. Knowing that consumers tend to believe testimonies from other consumers instead of the seller, the writer has strategically passed the ball to the court of the consumers by using the third person pronoun “they” as if to say, why not convince yourselves instead of us trying to convince you, which is another form of Involvement Strategy. This sentence was also emphasised through the use of block letters making it stand out from the rest of the text and diminishing the words “that make on claim” preceding it.
The use of common everyday idioms in Text 1 reflects that it is targeted for native English speakers (social context influencing language use) and is also used to sound friendly and humorous, making the brand likeable and lifelike almost like a person because of its conversational and helpful tone. The wordplay “shine” instead of “stand… out from the crowd” followed by “… out from the crowd shampoo” creates double meaning; one promising prominent results and the other promoting the exclusivity of the shampoo. The text finishes with another idiom “hold your head up high” giving the reader a reason to be confident because of appearance (“you look great”) which reflects the social context where appearance plays a great role in influencing people’s confidence and the language on beauty products like shampoo bottles is very much determined by this. According to MAK Halliday’s theory of Systemic Functional Linguistics, language cannot be disassociated from meaning and that language acts upon, and is constrained and influenced by social context.
As mentioned in my “aim”, the shampoo in Text 4 is faced with the similar challenges as Text 1 and therefore has to find strategic methods of persuasion to compete for exclusivity; unlike the pervasive hyperbolic lexis adopted in Text 1, Text 4 employs the lexis of health. Concrete nouns such as “serum” followed by the proper nouns “Aloe” and “Elida Hair Institute” and the abstract noun “natural” portray this product as health-conscious and scientifically credible. The scientific approach is further assisted by the verbs “developed” and “designed” which are commonly used in the areas of scientific research; these specific choices of verbs also carry the metamessage of exclusivity, custom made pattern, specifically and specially designed to fit its purpose or made with care and precision for the good of the consumer. Scientific language usually connotes precision and credibility, and advertisers commonly exploit the rigour and honesty we ascribe to science. As Halliday pointed out in his Systemic Functional Linguistics theory that language cannot be disassociated from meaning, and in this case, the choice of language is carefully selected based on society’s stance on health which is the fear of death and illness especially Cancer which is often triggered by ‘unnatural’ products.
To incorporate a friendly manner while maintaining serious credibility, the writer has adopted two “Involvement Strategies” in the broad areas of repetition and dialogue. Text 4 uses the repetition of phonemes like the alliteration of “f” ( “freedom from frizz”, “frizz free”, “frustrated by frizz”, “fabulously frizz-free”) and the alliteration of “a” (“anywhere at any time”). Repetition establishes rhythm, meaning and character by patterns of constants and contrasts. Repetition can be thought of as the “sounds” of a text which creates a memorable or even a playful effect on the audience which can be attractive. In the area of dialogue, the writer employs interrogative clause for interaction and the second person personal and possessive pronouns as a form of direct interaction. The possessive pronoun is also tactical based on the psychological assumption on ownership; that is people tend to place more value and care on things they own; and therefore pay more attention to anything that concerns it.
In the sentence beginning “for you and your…” the double placement of the second person pronoun makes the statement very personal, because not only does it address the reader but also the reader’s valuable possession; and grammatically by starting the sentence with the subordinate clause, the focus is once again on the reader, making the reader feel important, and directly addressed which can sometimes make some feel respected. The use of the interrogative (“Are you frustrated by frizz?”) as we have discussed in text one, is to entice readers to agree and also to begin an interaction. It goes on to imply that Sunsilk understands and knows and have the answer. It implies that the reader should be feeling “frustrated by frizz” and if they have never been concerned by frizz, they might start to be by reading this question. The text ends in an uplifting tone with the hyperbolic verb “Celebrate”, to have feast for “beautiful” hair; absurd as it may sound, beauty products have effectively influence society to place so much importance and focus on their appearance to the point of influencing their confidence, mood and even reasons for celebration.
Text 2 employs the term “Therapeutic” which is euphemistic for ‘medicinal’ to be appealing and to connote soothingness given the discomfort the consumer is experiencing. Unlike Text 1 and 4, the typeface of this text is small and maintained throughout, portraying minimalism and seriousness of tone. The tone is monotonous without exclamations, ellipsis, modifiers or interrogative sentences for interaction. Text 2 uses jargon (” scalp psoriasis, Seborrhoeic Dermatitis, Solubilised Coal tar extract”) to identify with a specialist small audience with specialist knowledge and to sound knowledgeable and authoritative so as to lend confidence to the consumer.
The only adjective used in this text is “effective” to describe the abstract noun “treatment” unlike the previously discussed texts where there are many adjectives employed to be persuasive. This is probably because the shampoo in text 2 has not much competition and is a prescriptive product (“for use as directed by doctor”) therefore the minimal persuasive method that is used is for reasons to assure the consumer; rather than to entice the consumer to agree or to seek consumers’ approval. This detail confirms my aim to prove that market competition does influence language use. An example of this minimal persuasive method is the catchphrase “Treats your scalp, cares for your hair”. The verb “cares” can only be ascribed to humans or animals and not inanimate objects; by using this verb metaphorically for the shampoo personifies it giving it human value which reflects on the makers of this product who might want to portray consideration for the consumer’s illness.
The densest part of the whole text comes at the end under the “caution” section, whereby it is composed in the imperative mood. A series of sentences beginning with negative verbs like “Do not…” and “Avoid…” is repeated throughout this small caption. Given the nature of the strong drug in the shampoo, the writer has to sound authoritative and to be taken seriously so as to not put the consumer at any risk and the imperative mood is apt for this reason.
Text 3 is a shampoo for babies with sensitive skin and targeted at parents who are naturally very careful about products used on their babies hence according to Halliday’s Systemic Functional Linguistics, the language on the shampoo bottle will have to be reassuring and has to invoke confidence in the consumer. Because a mother of a child who has sensitive skin will know all the jargon associated with it(“tearless, clinically, eczema, hypoallergenic, consultant, dermatologist, paediatrician”) the writer has chosen to use this language to identify with the target consumer portraying knowledge and understanding of the baby’s skin thereby invoking confidence for the product.
Unlike the previous three texts, this text is the most lexically repetitive of them all. Words such as ” eczema, dry skin, sensitive, clinically, delicate, hypoallergenic, dermatologically, gently and Boots Baby” are mentioned more than once or even twice. Like text 2, the typeface in this text in small and maintained throughout without typographical emphasis unlike text 1 and 3. The tone of the text is rhythmic because of the repetition of the mentioned words unlike the conversational, exclamatory and hyperbolic tone in the more general shampoos discussed. It is a long text, but its contents are mostly repetitive which makes me concur that repetition is a strategic method to create rhythm or melody which are easily etched into memory. Methods of persuasion are limited when the target market is a serious and concerned parent, and this is evident in the excessively repetitive text.
Another salient feature of this text is there are no determiners preceding
the concrete noun “baby” instead it is used as a proper noun (“delicate baby’s skin; protect baby’s delicate scalp; good for baby”). Proper nouns are specific, unique or individualistic; by using the proper noun the writer tactically ascribes these qualities to the consumer’s baby knowing well and understanding the parent-child relationship which is the uniqueness of every child to their parent. This detail portrays Boots Baby as a brand that understands. The rhythmic repetition of the abstract noun “sensitive” and the adverb of manner “gently” set the tone for the whole text which is restrained, mild and sensitive considering that the subject (babies) is fragile.
All of the shampoo bottles have a caption in their text for “Directions” regardless if it is the most basic type of shampoo. Though it is common sense on how to use shampoo and one does not necessarily need instructions on how to apply shampoo, shampoo bottles still follow a certain “structure of expectation”. All of the shampoo bottles address the consumer directly using the second person pronoun. And finally all the shampoo bottles repeat their brand name throughout the text.
It is clearly shown from the analysis above language on each shampoo bottles varies according to audience and market competition like Text 1 promising to be everything one can want in a shampoo bottle while Text 2 does not say much at all besides its specific purpose because both compete on different market, the latter being in a more niche market. I have found that this leads to the language on specialised shampoo to be less affected and moderate. These findings cohere with my aim.
To substantiate my investigation further, I would have preferred a stronger example of a specialised shampoo instead of the baby shampoo (because it is becoming more competitive and generalised), something more comparable to Text 2 perhaps a shampoo for hair loss, which is more specialised. I will be sure to find more similarities in language use.