Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Don't Be An Asterisk - A Linguistic Analysis

The following magazine ad is one of 27 that have been nominated for an MPA Kelly Award for outstanding magazine advertising.

The ad copy reads as follows:

When you take steroids, there's no hiding it. Eventually everyone will see you for what you really are. A fake. A fraud. An asterisk.


Linguistically, this advertising campaign is one of the best I have seen of late. The tagline for the campaign (which doubles as the web address) makes outstanding use of syllabification, phonetics, and semantics to deliver a double message that really reinforces the negatives of using steroids.

Semantically, when it comes to sports, an asterisk is associated with a footnote to an athlete's record. In other words, if an athlete sets a record but is found to have been using steroids during the time the record was set, the athlete will be thought of as a fake and a fraud and the record will not be respected.

Phonetically, when reading the tagline and breaking it up into syllables, the word asterisk lends part of itself to another well known phrase, "don't be an ass," which provides for a second semantic interpretation of the tagline.

In sum, the syllabification, phonetics and semantics involved in the tagline of this ad campaign send two messages to athletes who uses steroids: (1) they are at risk of having an asterisk attached to any records they set, and (2) they are asses.


Erin Davis said...

I agree. Brilliant ad, and the man in the ad looks like a young Arnold Schwarzennegar. I doubt that's a coincidence.

JD (The Engine Room) said...

I don't associate an asterisk with a footnote to an athlete's record - maybe because I'm not sporty or maybe because I'm British. Also I didn't pick up on the 'don't be an ass' thing, again probably because it's not such a common phrase in British English.

However the asterisk on the model's head looks a bit like bulging veins, leading me to think that he's about to have an embolism or something. That alone is enough to deter me from taking steroids!

Anonymous said...

This ad is shit. I'm sorry, but the only way in which it's at all effective is if the viewer knows about this asterisk business in record books. I watch a decent amount of sports and had no idea. Granted, it's what I assumed it meant when I read it. However, that's not enough. I shouldn't have to guess as to what message it's trying to get across.

Furthermore, when writing an ad you have to pretend your audience is stupid. Simplicity is key. Think about how many people are going to see this online that, in all honestly, aren't that intelligent (or at least when it comes to written language). I guarantee a lot of younger people have seen this and thought the asterisk was a star.

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