Some advertisements are blunt and straightforward: “Save 50%!” “Visit Beautiful Vermont.” Others communicate more indirectly and creatively, using idioms or slang with double meanings.
Here are four recent examples of successful ambiguity in advertising, and one example of unintentional—and unwelcome—ambiguity.
“Wait, Lyft has rental cars? Get outta town.”
The three words in the second deck have a playful twist. Get outta town is a slangy expression of disbelief: What, really? No way! And you can use a rental car to literally get out of town.
#2. Downtown San Francisco trash can
“Wanna talk trash? We can take it!”
To talk trash is to say insulting things about an opponent, but this receptacle is talking about trash. We can take it also has a double meaning: “We don’t mind the insults” and “We can accept that wad of fast-food wrappers you were about to toss into the gutter.”
“Your issue tracker shouldn’t be a four letter word.”
Issue-tracking software like Shortcut’s follows bugs or customer-service problems from report to resolution. Shortcut wants you to know their product won’t cause you to curse (utter a four-letter word*). And since one of Shortcut’s competitors is a company called Jira—a four-letter name—the ad is also telling you where not to spend your money.
“Don’t run out when you run out.”
A billboard from grocery-delivery service Popcorn plays on two meanings of run out: to leave the house to perform an errand and to come to the end of a resource.
Finally, here’s an example of ambiguity that misses the mark. It isn’t pleasingly teasing; it’s just confusing.
I received an email with this subject line—“The blouse: minimal appeal”—on June 24 from COS**, a sub-brand of the H&M Group that boasts of selling “essentials for the modern wardrobe.” I see a problem with minimal, which has two meanings: “least possible amount” (minimal effort) and, when capitalized, “related to the artistic movement known as Minimalism.” Sometimes minimal has positive overtones, as in “minimal loss of life.” But a blouse with “minimal appeal” has almost no appeal at all. What’s wanted instead, I’m guessing, is minimalist, which unambiguously means “the fewest elements with the greatest impact.” I’ll leave it to you to judge the appeal of the blouses in question, which are also described as “easy, breezy.”
Related: Here are two articles about ambiguous language: “In Praise of Ambiguity,” by Adam Cooper; and “The Power of Ambiguity,” by me.
* Yes, “four-letter” should have a hyphen. It’s a compound modifier.
** Why all caps? Because it’s an acronym: Collection Of Style.
It means that there is ambiguity in the word's morphological structure.
For example, consider "untieable". Is this "untie+able" or "un+tieable"? In this case, the structural ambiguity also leads to two different meanings: does it mean "capable of being untied", or "incapable of being tied", respectively? https://wordmaker.info/how-many/ambiguity.html
Posted by: Wordy17alex | September 20, 2022 at 04:21 AM