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Teaching tropes and schemes through TV ads

The language of advertising as we all know is rhetorical in nature. And while talking about rhetorical figures, we divide them under two broad heads namely schemes and tropes. Schemes include figures like parallelism, rhyme, alliteration, assonance, consonance etc. Traditionally they have been described as ‘abnormal arrangements lending themselves to the forceful and harmonious presentation of ideas.’1 Tropes have been described as ‘devices involving alteration of the normal meaning of an expression.’2 These include figures like antonomasia, irony, metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche etc. Geoffrey N. Leech reinterprets them linguistically and says that ‘Schemes have to do with expression and tropes with content.’ 3

One may wonder how such features can be taught through ads. When we watch ads on TV, we fail to realise that it is because of these poetic features in their punch lines and slogans that they get registered in our unconscious mind.

The present paper discusses some schemes and tropes and talks about the pedagogical implications of ads from this angle because they can be used as one of the effective tools of teaching poetry. For this purpose, the paper has been divided into the following four parts:

1.Discussion of ads with figures of speech

2.Reasons for these choices

3.Problems faced by students of literature


1. Discussion of ads with figures of speech

To begin with schemes, there are ads with parallelismie‘the introduction of extra regularities … into the language.’4This is quite an effective and an oft-used device in the field of advertising. The ad below is a striking example of this feature:

It’s my identity

It’s my freedom

Because it’s my bike

Castrol Liquid Engineering. 5

Apart from the contraction in it’s – a feature mainly of the spoken form – from the full form it is – a feature of the written form primarily – the three simple sentences assert the possessiveness and the care of the speaker for his bike through Castrol.

A perfect example of parallelism in terms of adverb is in the catch phrase of ‘Airtel mobile service’:

Airtel. Anytime. Anywhere.6

The ad writers often make use of such types of parallelisms as it is easier for the targeted consumer to retain them.

The same ad of Airtel is a good example of assonance too, where the sound /e/ has been used in the two adverbs anytime and anywhere.

The use of alliteration  is quite apparent in Lime and lemony Limca. 7

The discource of advertising is very close to that of poetry. The most striking and common feature between the two fields is rhyme. This can be used in many different ways. It can be a pure Hindi rhyme:

Ariel ki safai, do khushbooon mei aai. 8

The rhyme can be in Hinglish:

Taste mein best, Mummy aur Everest.9 It can also be in the form of an internal rhyme:

Dot, dot, dot, what’s hot?10 

The product names are also at times thought of from this point of view. The name of the hair jell ‘Set Wet’ is one such example.

The ad of Close Up11 in the form of a song is a clear case of parody. The singing style of the legendary actor and singer K L Sehgal has been parodied here.

Going further, we find that product names like Kurkure are onomatopoeic. Here the namesuggests the sound that is made while eating the crispy and crunchy snack.

To move on to tropes, we first take up anachronism, which means ‘placing of an event or person or thing out of its actual age.’12 The very recent ad of Tata Sky13 is a wonderful example of it. In this ad we see the children of a school, all wearing wigs on their heads to resemble the great scientist, Albert Einstein, learning through the instructions given on the Tata Sky disk. In the times of Einstein there were no such disks, rather TV was also in a very crude form.

The statement by Sachin Tendulkar that ‘Boost is ‘the secret of my energy’14 is a clear case of hyperbole. How can an energy drink become the secret of a person’s energy? It cannot be Boost alone, or Boost at all. The secret of one’s energy may be a balanced and  nutritious diet and regular exercises.

One of the common tropes found in ads is pun, which is at times made use of in such a concealed manner that it normally skips notice. Even in the most innocent of the lines like:

Make Santro your first car15

a pun can be traced in ‘first’. The word first can be interpreted as ‘happening or coming before all other similar things’ or ‘the most important or best thing.’16 Though it is the second meaning which the advertiser intends to convey, yet it is left open for the consumer to interpret the word the way s/he wants to, because with his buying capacity increasing by leaps and bounds, even the first meaning can appeal to her/him.

Antonomasia, which means ‘the substitution of any epithet or phrase for a proper name, the opposite substitution of a proper name for some generic term’,17 is again quite common in ads. In the ad of Turbojet Diesel,18 the common noun ‘beast’ has been used for the proper noun ‘Turbojet Diesel’ to highlight the potency of the oil, though the ‘generic’ feature is missing.

One of the other tropes closely related to this is metonymy. It is a ‘figure of speech involving the substitution of one noun for another of which it is an attribute or which is closely associated with it.’ 19 The famous ad phrase for example ‘two minutes,’ has closely got related to ‘Maggie Noodles.’

Likewise, synecdoche can also be traced in ads and in surrogate ads in particular. In the ad of Royal Golf accessories, 20 it is the part (‘Golf accessories’) which refers indirectly to the whole (the whole range of wines available under that brand).

2. Reasons for making these choices

Some of the common schemes and tropes have been discussed here because these features are common to poetry. After all advertising is ‘poetry in quest of sale’. Teaching poetry in a classroom is the most daunting task for a teacher because of the technicalities involved in it. Barring the identification of alliteration, rhyme, simile etc. the other features become really difficult for him/ her to teach and for the student to understand.

The teaching of poetry has been neglected in a structural course aimed at developing ‘linguistic skills’ and ‘oral expressions.’ 21 It is difficult for an average undergraduate student to appreciate English poems. The need is to revise the selections of poems or rather keep re-revising them on a regular basis and give place to new poetry in the teaching curriculum.

Teaching poetry the way it is being done at present or has been done in the past through a mere summary and paraphrase is a sheer waste of time and energy of both the teacher and the taught. The situation goes from bad to worse when it is done in one’s mother tongue. Teachers shun away from talking about the technical aspects of a poem either due to their ignorance of them or because they find it difficult to simplify those complexities for their students. Ads on TV and even in print can be used as tools to overcome these limitations or at least minimise the problems. However, this paper concentrates on TV ads as they can be referred to immediately and have a quick recall value.

Brumfit, while laying down guidelines for the learners of poetry in India, very rightly states that ‘there is no “method” of teaching poetry.’ 22 So clarifying the concepts of poetry through TV ads is not the only method but is one among the many that can be made use of. The basic reason why ads may probably appeal is that on an average most of us watch TV for not less than half an hour daily and are during the period bombarded with no less than 30 to 40 ads. The whole corpus of these ads can be used as a reference source, teaching tool or practice material. Ads are like unseen poems, which can be analysed from many different angles. Lengthy poems seem to scare most of the learners. So in order to build their interest, ads can be picked up as initial teaching tools. 

The students’ understanding of poetry should not be based on their being able to recall the lines or the theme of the poem only. Rather their analysis and understanding of the poetic features should be the point of focus.

3. Problems faced by students of literature

Most of the second language learners of English face problems in understanding an English poem. One of the reasons for their lack of interest in poetry is the theme of the poem, which in most of the cases, is beyond their cultural realm. Also, the geographical setting is different. Those living near the sea or sand cannot visualise the landscapes, the forests, the snowy regions and the harshness of winter in an English land. This acts as a ‘turn-off’ for most of the learners. The visual association, whether it is in the form of a physical image or pictorial representation, leaves a lasting impact on a person and ads can make up for this deficiency at times.

Another difficulty that the learner is faced with has to do with lexis. Words in poetry have complexity of meaning, which the learners generally do not probe into, and are for this reason not able to understand things in English. Whenever they are questioned about their favourite poet, the popular choice is from among the romantics – William Wordsworth, S T Coleridge, P B Shelley and John Keats – for the very obvious reason that their poetry is simple to understand. Poets like John Milton and T S Eliot are not the favourites of too many because their poetry is difficult, nay, obscure, thanks to the allusions, myths etc used by them. A simple rhyme like  ‘Echoing Green’ by William Blake is easily understood because of the universal theme and simplicity of words.

Further, students are not exposed to much poetry. They hardly read poetry beyond what is prescribed in the syllabus. This results in a blockage in their creativity. They can neither think nor write anything creatively. No wonder their overall performance is poor beyond belief.

Students are unable to spot figures of speech and other poetic devices used by the poet in a particular poem. The rhythm, the rise and fall and metric construction are the things that elude them. As a result a poem is most of the time read as a piece of prose.

4. Suggestions

Interest in spotting out schemes and tropes in a poem can be created by preparing tasks and activities initially through ads. The learners can be provided with opportunities to come out with their independent responses which will enhance their creativity and ensure a better understanding of the technical aspects of poetry.

As a sample, a simple sonnet ‘Death be not proud’ from John Donne’s collection of Holy Sonnets: Divine Meditations 23 can be taken up. After being acquainted with terms like rhyme, personification, alliteration, synecdoche, metonymy, rhetorical question and paradox, through examples from ads, the students can be asked to trace these features in the sonnet. When a list of this kind is provided, they will find it easier to trace the features, especially when they have parallels from ads provided as ready reference.

We can begin by talking about personification. ‘Death’ and ‘Fate’ have been personified in this sonnet. End rhyme can be traced all through the sonnet. To cite an example it is in ‘soe’,  ‘overthrow’, ‘flow’ and ‘goe’ and then in ‘thee’,  ‘mee’, ‘bee’ and ‘deliverie’.

The noun phrase ‘best men’, which refers to virtuous people,is an example of ‘synecdoche’ and the noun ‘charmes’, referring to drugs with magical properties, is an example of metonymy.

 ‘Why swell’st thou then?’ is undoubtedly a rhetorical question

To top it all, the poem ends with a paradox, ‘Death thou shalt die.’

It is fairly easy for a student to spot alliteration in a given line but these days there is an increasing tendency to use creative devices other than alliteration, rhyme and jingles. However, instances of these can be traced and pointed out both in poems and ads quite easily. The slogans of Limca and Airtel are quite apt examples of alliteration. Other ads can be picked up to cite more examples, and the literary devices can be simplified and explained effectively.

Rhyme – in the form of internal rhyme, end rhyme or word rhyme – can be given as examples from the ads cited above and then their parallels can be traced in various poems.

The pun by John Donne on his surname and the verb ‘done’ in one of his poems and the use of pun at various other places in different poems by different poets can be explained quite well by first citing some examples of it from ads on TV eg

Marc. The mark of a new generation. 24

The pun on the word ‘mark’ is caused by the orthographical changes (Marc) made in the product name (mark), and also through the noun form.

Parody, a comic imitation for the purpose of amusement, can be best understood through the ads that parody KL Sehgal, Lalo Yadav etc. These examples can make the literary feature quite clear and the students can easily correlate the term.

Anachronism, which may take some time for the teacher to explain, can easily be remembered through the ads which are set in a historic framework and show the person(s) using a recently introduced product or a modern invention.

Tropes like antonomasia, metonymy, synecdoche etc, which pose problems for learners at times, can also be explained through examples cited from ads.

As stated earlier, ads are not the ultimate solution to the teaching of poetry but can be exploited as an effective pedagogic tool. The world of ads gives wings to one’s imagination, so ads can also be utilized to relate and corelate things which are beyond the imaginative powers of an average student.


  1. Leech, Geoffrey N., A linguistic guide to English poetry. New York: Longman Group Ltd., 1983, p74         
  2. —, p74         
  3. —, p74         
  4. —, p62         
  5. Castrol. Advertisement. MTV. 23.12.2006
  6. Airtel. Advertisement. Star Plus. 17.8.2004
  7. Limca. Advertisement. Doordarshan. May 2000.
  8. Ariel. Advertisement. BBC. 20.01.2005
  9. Everest masale. Advertisement. ZeeTV. 31.12.2005

10.  indiatimes.com. Advertisement. Zoom. 20.01.2005

11.  Close Up. Advertisement. Star Plus. 23.01.2007

12.  Abrams, M H A Glossary of Literary Terms. Madras: Macmillan India Limited, 1993, p133  

13.  Tata Sky. Advertisement. Zee TV. 24.01.2007

14.  Boost. Advertisement. Star Plus. 22.01.2007

15.  Santro Car. Advertisement. Star Plus. 27.8.2005

16.  Hornby, AS, Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. India: Oxford University Press. 2005, p579

17.  Answers.com 18.01.2007

18.  Turbojet Diesel. Advertisement. BBC. 23.03.2004

19.  Answers.com 18.01.2007

20.  Royal Golf accessories. Advertisement. CNN IBN. 20.01.2007

21.  Coreiro, Catherine, ‘Teaching of Poetry – Difficulties and Remedies.’ Innovative English. CIEFL Ramesh Mohan Library 372.20954 JAI, p12

22.  ibid., p 15

23.  Donne, John ‘Holy Sonnets: Divine Meditations’ in The Metaphysical Poets ed. Helen Gardner. Great Britain: Penguin Books,1984, p85

24.  Marc. Advertisement. Star Plus. 22.08.2004


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Originally posted 2004-05-26 02:26:15.

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