Feb 7, 2011

Word Formation in Advertising and Marketing

Morphemes are language segments that meet three criteria: (1) it is a meaningful word or part of a word. (2) It cannot be divided into smaller parts without jeopardizing the original meaning. (3) It recurs in different verbal environments with a relatively stable meaning (Stageberg, 2000). For example, in the word lighten, we have two morphemes: light + (-en). The first morpheme is a free one, since it can stand alone with meaning whereas the second part (-en) is a bound morpheme since they don’t have a meaning when in isolation but need a second bound or free morpheme to complete their meaning.

With that said, I shall introduce the importance of morphemes in the world of marketing and advertisement. As a conceptual copyrighter in the field of product branding and development, morphemes have an important value in selling and launching new products on the market. A few years ago, 7UP had a highly successful advertising campaign that referred to its product as the “un-cola” (7-Up The Uncola, 1968). With such an intended grammatical “misuse” of the morpheme “-un” which conveys negativity, PepsiCo attracted the attention to its product. This ad was rated as very intelligently designed to conquer the competition between Pepsi and its products and Coca-Cola.

The above-mentioned case displays a direct use of morphological knowledge into creative use, back in the 1960s. However, with the 21st century, morphemic analysis and product branding have established quite a close relationship, especially when it comes to naming a brand, company or designing an ad campaign.

For 12 days, I gathered names of reputable commercial institutions such as stores or companies or even brands. In the following pages, I intend to study each of these words morphologically. There will be a description of the method used to design the names and how this method affected or still affects their image in the market.

Where some morphemes are direct, noticeable and apparent, the larger part is hidden to the untrained eye yet somehow perceptible to the common collective understanding of the people. Such concealed morphemes are classified under the vault of phonesthemes. These clusters of consonants convey and emphasize their meaning when combined together. Coined in 1930, the word phonestheme was used to label the systematic pairing of form and meaning in a language.

“Phonesthemes are frequently recurring sound-meaning pairing that are not clearly contrastive morphemes. An example is the English onset gl-, which, like other phonesthemes, is relatively infrequent in English, except among words with meanings related to ‘vision’ and ‘light’. Some of these are exemplified in 1a. Another well-documented phonestheme is the English onset sn-, which occurs in a large number of words related to ‘mouth’ and ‘nose’ (1b).

1. a. gl­- ‘light, vision’ glimmer, glisten, glitter, gleam, glow, , etc.

b. sn- ‘nose, mouth’ snore, snack, , snarl, snort, sniff, sneeze, etc.” (Bergen, 2004)

Making use of phonesthemes in brand image and conceptual product identity became a successful combination of creativity and usage. Let us take the example of the newest soft drink on the market today. It’s called “GLINTER”.

It is interesting to know that the cluster gl­- in Glinter conveys the meaning of light and vision, but also glitter and glow. Their slogan is “To let you hugging fashion and expressing energy!” so in then end, fashion of the 21st century is all about glow and glitter. Also, the transparent packaging of the drink reflects the vision, the transparent vision of what the drink is all about, unlike other soft drinks that are packaged in tin or aluminum cans. This product not only reflects a certain lifestyle but reflects its name in its packaging (Marketing, 2004).

“In 1932, the cosmetic house Max Factor invented the first commercially available lip gloss, known as X-Rated. With subtle sheen and shine, the X-Rated lip gloss provided women allover the country with a clear and lightweight alternative to lipstick with a sexy and wet glow.” (Michalak, 2006)

The above quotation is another example of the use of phonestheme gl- in marketing. The name gloss and its attributions convey the meaning of gl- related to shine and shimmer. The combination of the cluster gl-, with its meaning to the production of the actual lip color, was a success to the Max Factor Company that today small business makeup companies just use the word gloss to mean the tube that contains that shiny, shimmery material that was a lighter and sexier alternative to the traditional lipstick.

In another example, the cluster sp- conveys energy, life and movement (Shisler, 1997 ). In 1961, the Coca-Cola Company released into the markets the Sprite soft drink. The drink had a strong appeal to young people which are characterized of being energetic and full of life. Moreover, the drink’s slogan was to encourage people to quench their thirst with Sprite that is a fast and reliable satisfaction, parallel to a fast and energetic movement (Coca-Cola Brands, 2006).

Moreover, creativity is not only bound to phonesthemes or the cluster of consonants. Most of the time, word formation was the basis for brand and product naming. Many do not realize that most of the manufactured goods they see around are named via the word formation processes.

Hence, while doing my research of names, I was amazed at the many products, brands and companies names that were formed simply by playing with words. Clipping, coining, blending or simply reduplicating and acronymic formation are the most common and most used word formation.

In the following section, a list of major names in the world of business will be discussed and dissected to find out the origin of their formation.

1. Malapco: the name of a major petroleum company in Lebanon. The name is a mixture of clipping and acronym. Clipping is the cutting of sounds in a word or syllable. Acronym formation is the use of the first sound (usually first letter) in a word and using it with other letters –that have also been “acronymized” – to form a new word. Malapco stands for Malah Petroleum Company. They clipped the end of Malah into –Mala- and took the first letter of Petroleum –P- and Company –C-. the coining or blending of both processes gave the brand name Malapco to refer to a petroleum distribution company.

Another example is the famous Wikipedia website. It is a digital online encyclopedia. The name is coined by removing the first three syllables of encyclopedia (en/cy/clo) and adding the name wiki. In Hawaiian language, wiki means fast bus. Hence, the name Wikipedia refers to a fast search in the encyclopedia (Whales, 1994).

2. Top Toy: the name of a toy company in Lebanon. The name is formed by reduplicating or repetition of the same sounds and order from the first syllable and changing one sound of the same order. Hence, in Top Toy, the sounds /t/ and /o/ are sustained and the change is done to the last sound: /p/ is changed into /y/. In this instance, this type of reduplication affects only one sound and is called partial reduplication. Other reduplication formations are known as complete/full reduplication. The word is repeated fully and with no changes in the sounds or sound order as in bye-bye, choo-choo. Such reduplications are mostly found in children literature for naming characters or places. Another partial reduplication relies on changing the initial consonant sound in the repeated couple. Such examples are combined to form names of games for children, such as roly-poly: a small bug that can turn itself into a ball.

3. Nicorette: the name of a pharmaceutical preparation. It’s a gum used to help smokers quit smoking. It is the blending of two words into one. Nicorette is made of Nicotine and Cigarette. Clipped then combined together, both parts gave rise to a new product-brand, used widely to mean the process by which one may get help to quit smoking (GlaxoSmithKline, 2007).

4. Amazon, Apple and Twitter: these are examples of websites and electronic devices that have acquired a large reputation in the 21st century, after the great technological and digital revolution. The process by which these common names became proper nouns is called antonomasia. In their dictionary entries, Amazon comes from the Greek Mythology to refer to a member of a nation of women warriors reputed to have lived in Scythia. Often Amazon is a tall, aggressive, strong-willed woman. However, the name is now known to be a website directory for online shopping. However, the attributes of the original definition is used to designate the latter use. The same applies for the website Twitter. It is chatting room where people are connected continuously. By definition to twitter is to make high-pitched sounds, as of birds (Word Net Web). However, nowadays, when people talk of twitter, they mean the social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read messages known as tweets.

Apple, on the other hand, is the name of a fruit. However, in the late 20th century and after the rise of computers and its science, the Apple Company chose its name after the apple experience of Sir Isaac Newton. Its initial company logo was with Isaac Newton under an apple tree. Later, the logo changed into a half bitten apple, to convey the acquiring of new and indispensable technology which is characteristic of the fruit “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. (Apple)

Many are the instances in which one might find examples of different word formation which have helped the rise of many products. In the world of advertisement and marketing, creativity is a required skill. Knowing that the English language, and many other languages, is a static one, that is, it is a language in which few changes might arise, and knowing that new dictionary entries are hard to provide, word formation processes have become the answer to creative naming of brands and companies.

Works Cited

7-Up The Uncola. (1968). Retrieved 2010, from RetroJunk: http://www.retrojunk.com/details_commercial/1480/

Apple. (n.d.). Retrieved 2010, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Inc.#Culture

Bergen, B. K. (2004, June). The Psychological Reality of Phonaesthemes. Language , p. 290.

Coca-Cola Brands. (2006). Retrieved 2010, from Virtual Vender: http://www.virtualvender.coca-cola.com/ft/index.jsp

GlaxoSmithKline. (2007). Nicorette Stop Smoking. Retrieved 2010, from Nicorette.

Google dictionary. (n.d.). Retrieved 2010, from Google: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&rlz=1C1SKPC_enLB366LB390&defl=en&q=define:twitter&sa=X&ei=rWkgTcPsMMqXhQfLs93zDQ&ved=0CBYQkAE

Marketing, K. (2004). Glinter. Retrieved 2010, from Keko Group.

Michalak, J. (2006). Who Invented Lip Gloss. Retrieved 2010, from Love to Know: http://makeup.lovetoknow.com/Who_Invented_Lip_Gloss

Shisler, B. (1997 ). Dictionary of English Phonesthemes Part 2. Retrieved from Reocities: http://reocities.com/SoHo/Studios/9783/phond2.html#initial

Stageberg, N. C. (2000). Morphemes. In An Introductory English Grammar (p. 117). Orlando: Earl McPeek.

Whales, J. (1994). Wiki. Retrieved 2010, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wiki

Word Net Web. (n.d.). Retrieved 2010, from Word Net Web: http://wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn?s=twitter

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