Mt A. student reveals linguistic tricks of fast food advertising

Lirah Steeves

Lirah Steeves

A Mount Allison University linguistics student says fast food advertisers routinely use puns and creative word plays in their fierce competition for the loyalty of burger, fries and frosties consumers.

In her recent academic essay on “McMarketing,” Lirah Steeves points to KFC’s “doublicious” chicken sandwiches and Burger King’s “Flame Grilled Whoppers” as examples of branding strategies that rely on colourful language.

“I found that there are a lot of different linguistic tricks that (fast food) advertisers use to kind of make their advertising campaigns stand out against their competitors,” Steeves tells Warktimes.

She points to Burger King’s 2013 “Satisfries” campaign blending both verb and noun to reassure consumers that French fries with less fat and fewer calories could still deliver “Big Taste.”

However, in this case, she found that trying to make greasy fries sound like health food backfired.

“It kind of came back to bite them in the butt because the consumers turned around and started calling Satisfries, ‘the saddest fries’ because they weren’t happy with the product,” she says.

Her essay points to McDonald’s use of linguistic clipping and blending as an apparently successful marketing strategy:

The polysyllabic restaurant name is shortened to Mc-, which is used as a prefix for multiple combinations: McMuffin, McDouble, McChicken, McWrap, McNuggets, McFlurry, among others. This is McDonald’s most recognized advertising pattern. Since each menu item is reminiscent of the restaurant’s name itself and interconnects with the other menu items, including the signature Big Mac hamburger, this linguistic process creates a sense of product unity.

Steeves’s essay concludes that, as the failure of the Satisfries campaign showed, clever word play and lingustics tricks alone are not enough to win the competition for fast food consumers.

She found that marketers must consider the potential conflict between consumers’ desire to be treated as independent selves  (Burger King’s 1970s campaign “Have it Your Way”) with an equally strong desire to be seen as interdependent selves focussed on family, culture and traditions (McDonald’s coining of “McDonaldland” in the late 70s to create a fantasy world for children).

“In all,” her essay concludes, “linguistic processes do not function alone in marketing campaigns, since advertisers must carefully consider the perspectives of the consumers with their word choices as well.”

Link: CHMA-FM, Boardwalk Radio report on fast food ads.

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