Note: This article is about language material advertising and it contains many pictures of various ads. These are here as examples, not as links to the products or as endorsements.
When looking for new language resources, we’ve all been subjected to a variety of advertisements for them. If we ever looked them up online, then we are likely to see even more ads for them on many sites from Google Ads, which use targeted advertising. Just having an interest makes us vulnerable to these promotions.
Some are simply naming the product and telling us it will help us learn a language. Some make unreal claims about how much we will learn in an amazingly short time, or promise us ease of learning using a new, just developed method. Some are funny, in the form of humorous videos and images. Some involve sexual suggestions, showing us attractive, scantily clad people using the product.
How effective are these ads? Even when we know that wild claims are false, that there are no “secret methods”, and that the cleavage of a woman has no relation to the worthiness of a course, someone must be following these ads, or else they wouldn’t be produced. So which ones do you think really work on you?
The first advertising method is the straight forward announcement. These give you the facts about the product, like the date and cost of a class, the goals of a course, or simply the imperative that you learn the language. There is something to be said for the basics, since many of us are jaded by the entire advertising industry and refuse to believe any of the hype. We prefer something that is going to be honest with us instead of trying to fool or tease us into using the product.
These can also be very drab, however, in comparison to other types. Seeing factual text doesn’t really draw us in like a funny line or a pretty face. Why would you look at vanilla ice-cream when you could have Chunky Monkey or Nutella Explosion? (nothing against vanilla… it happens to be my favourite ice-cream).
2) Wild Claims
These are probably the ones we are most familiar with, coming most often in the forms of telling us that a language can be learned with no real effort in a very short amount of time. “Mastering Ancient Tibetan in 39 Seconds” is the title I like to use to reflect such ludicrous statements, but the actual claims are only slightly less likely. Pimsleur claims in one of its ads “Learn any language in 10 days! Just sit back and listen!”. This would be an amazing thing if it were really possible. When pressed about the truth of this claim, a Pimsleur representative or supporter would probably clarify that “learn a language” really means that you would have the basics to hold a simple conversation, which is not what a person imagines is meant by “learn a language”. We are more likely to view that phrase as meaning one can reach fluency, but even that term is very subjective and often debatable, so one could make the argument that the advertisement isn’t wrong, just a bit misleading.
3) New Methods
“Whatever method you might be using to learn… forget it! We’ve got a newly developed, top secret, super special language learning program that will give you fluency without any problem.” This kind of claim is similar to the Wild Claims approach, except instead of just telling you that what your wish is attainable in a short time, it is proclaiming that when you use this product, you will be on the cutting edge of learning. You will be tapping into the ancient ninja ways or the future of learning… they just can’t tell you precisely what this is in the advertisement because, well, it’s a secret, and if they make it public knowledge, then EVERYONE will be learning languages in no time, and that would be a bad thing, right? But this is your chance to get in on the secret with this incredible offer. Do it now!
One of these ads often seen online, again from Pimsleur, has the title “Language Professors Hate Him!” followed by the paragraph:
“Doctor’s discovery revealed the secret to speaking any language in just 10 days. Watch this shocking video and discover how you can rapidly learn any language in just 10 days using this sneaky linguistic secret. Free from the computer… Free from memorization… and absolutely guaranteed!” Pimsleur Approach
Not only is it a secret and “shocking”, but you won’t even need to memorize anything. How exactly does one learn a language without memorizing it?
4) Endorsements and Usage Numbers
Another trick used by advertisers is having a celebrity or “real person” tell you how wonderful the product is. Rosetta Stone runs these kinds of ads all the time, having people tell you that they have used the product, it has helped them, and it is the only method that should be used. I only found one celebrity endorsing Rosetta Stone, Lesley Ann Machado, who is some American actress I have never heard of. Celebrities, like actors and athletes, are often used to promote non-language products, but I guess that learning another language is not as important an accomplishment as repeating memorized lines in front of a camera or kicking a ball in the eyes of society. Sad.
Perhaps if they used someone that the language community recognized as a “celebrity”, these ads might work better. Would you use Rosetta Stone if Benny Lewis endorsed it? Would you rush out to buy Pimsleur if Richard Simcott told you it was the secret to his polyglottal success?
These ads can also try to convince you that this products is used by many others or by large organizations, and thus you should use it as well. All those other people can’t be wrong, can they?
5) Promise of the World
The advertisements can also be vague, essentially saying that if you use the product, then your life will suddenly become great and the whole world will be yours, to do with as you will. It is possible that these claims might be true about learning another language in general, that doesn’t necessarily mean that this product is the best way to achieve that.
This kind of suggestion is often done with pictures of situations you might want to reach, like talking easily with people in another language, or showing people having fun while exploring another country. Its like the alcohol advertisements which suggest that just by drinking this brand of beer, you will become super sexy, the life of the party, and everything will just be awesome!
Humour is perhaps one of the most effective ways of getting a person’s attention in an advertisement, since everyone feels good after watching it and remembers it, even if they can’t quite remember the actual product.
A very popular video ad for Berlitz shows a young man being shown to a table with radio equipment. Apparently this is his first time in this job position, so he is very nervous. Before long, he hears a panicked voice coming over the radio, calling for help. The nervous man speaks into the microphone tentatively, saying in broken English, “Hallo. This is the German Coast Guard”. The voice replies “We’re sinking! We’re sinking!”. The man speaks into the microphone again with the punchline “What are you… sinking about?”. The video then shows “Improve you English. Berlitz. Language for life”.
Another advertisement by Belecole attempts to be funny but is more painful and insulting with this statement appearing on a chalkboard: “Learn French, because there’s small chance that French will learn another language”. I say painful because that is poor English, and using a language properly is vitally important in an ad for a language product.
“Sex sells.” That is a universal axiom, and we see it daily in so much of the world around us. Television ads, magazine covers, even the voice on the radio, all using a female to promote the product. I didn’t think anyone would try using that to sell language products, since language learning is considered as such an intellectual pursuit, but then I saw some Pimsleur ads on Facebook, showing a picture of a woman with the caption “Shocking Spanish Video. If you don’t know Spanish, you must see this video… Watch now”. The woman, of course, has nothing to do with Spanish or Pimsleur or even the video, but it caught my eye and made me read the text.
Sex is also being used in the Rosetta Stone commercial with the actress Lesley Ann Machado because even if I don’t know who she is, thus losing the endorsement power, she is still an attractive woman that is telling me what to do. I will never touch Rosetta Stone again, but I will always watch that commercial for it, rather than cursing the TV like I do when other Rosetta Stone commercials come on.
If sex doesn’t persuade you, how about saving money? Another trick of advertising the products is to show you what they would “normally” cost you, then giving you a “special offer” of a reduced fee. This is the bargain tease, trying to make you think that by buying the product right now, you will be saving lots of money and getting a great deal. But it’s only for a limited time, so you must act now! Of course, after this sale is over (if it ever actually is), another one will begin. The price they are showing as “normal” may not even be a price they ever sell it at, but they want to convince you that you and only you are getting this special rate. What a bargain! Snap it up!
I personally am constantly spammed with email from Rosetta Stone, telling me it is my “last chance” to get Rosetta Stone for this “incredibly low price”, which is still a few hundred dollars, but not quite as high as their normal few hundred dollar price.
I’m not trying to advocate for or against any of these products and have only chosen them because we DO see their advertisements, so they must be making an impact. Advertising is big business and is known to play rather loosely with the truth, being more prone to gimmicks and hype rather than the facts of the products.
Which of these ads or methods would you or have you followed? Which do you completely ignore? How would you advertise your own language products or resources?
The following are more examples of language product ads. I am posting them here as examples, not as endorsements.