Linguistic Devices in Russian Print Advertising

The purpose of advertising is, quite simply, to get people to purchase certain goods or services. More specifically, advertising seeks to create a “need” for an unnecessary product or a reason to purchase one brand over another where the product is essentially the same. Advertising utilizes both visual and linguistic means to achieve this goal; this paper will deal with the linguistic aspects of advertising in Russia, that is, the language employed in the text of an advertisement.

The use of language in advertising is not as straightforward as it may seem: the advertisement must influence the consumer without violating the politeness norms or the truth-in-advertising laws, such as they may be, of the society. As a result, there are many linguistic devices found in advertising which make claims about the product, flatter the consumer, and shade the truth to varying degrees, while still abiding by the norms of the society. Additionally, advertising language is tailored to fit the target audience of the advertisement, so the text of an advertisement depends on the age, gender, or social status (or combination thereof) of the targeted consumer.

Western advertising has had many decades to develop into what it now is, and as such has had a tremendous influence on modern Russian advertising. This influence is due to the fact that advertising was limited during the Soviet era and also to the fact that many new advertisements in Russia are promoting Western products. Nevertheless, some of the linguistic devices found in Western advertising are not found in Russian advertising, and, conversely, Russian advertising has begun to use devices not found in Western advertisements. Examples of linguistic devices used in Western advertising are “weasel” claims (using words like “virtually” and “helps to”), celebrity endorsements, rhetorical questions, vague claims, and using the same language variety as the targeted consumers. Russian has borrowed many of these devices and added some of its own, such as emphasized politeness and the use of Old Russian script for certain “traditional” Russian products, such as bread.

This paper will discuss in detail the instances of the aforementioned linguistic devices in print advertising. The basis for this discussion is examples of print advertising drawn from various newspapers and magazines published in 1998–99. The advertisements fall into three basic categories: straight Western advertisements (i.e., in English or French), direct translations of Western advertisements, and original Russian advertisements. Each category has its own linguistic characteristics which are connected to the degree of Western influence and to the consumers assumed to be reading that particular publication. It will be shown that while there is still much influence from the West, Russian advertising is beginning to develop linguistic and cultural conventions of its own.