Topic Specific language part 1: Advertising and Media

Following requests from my students, I have decided to write more topic specific posts with the kind of vocabulary you will need to tackle the essay writing task and the part three speaking task. As I have mentioned before, there are a number of common topics or themes that we see crop up in the IELTS time and again. Topics such as, crime, health, media, technology, etc. And as I tell all my students, as a general strategy for IELTS preparation, one thing you can do is to familiarise yourself with these, get to know what the questions are (there are a finite number of questions which are reworded but essentially the same from year to year), develop some keywords and topic specific vocabulary, think of ideas to answer them, etc.

I am not talking about memorising answers whether for writing or speaking, although I know that it is tempting to do so, what I mean is to have some ideas and vocab that you can bring into your writing and speaking. Another reason why memorising is a bad idea, is that the answers you have committed to memory may not fit the question exactly, and the examiner can tell a memorised speaking answer in any case.

An additional reason why a familiarity with the questions/themes is important is this, many students tell me that they have never thought about certain topic/questions in their own language, let alone in English. So imagine how difficult it would be to talk/write about something you have no ideas about. So, what I am saying essentially is this, even if your grammar is perfect, you will not get a high score if you do not know what to write/say, this series of vocab and ideas is for those students who want to prepare well and to go into the exam feeling confident that they have the vocab and ideas to tackle any topic/questions they may be asked.

I know this strategy works, several of my students have taken the exam and wrote to me later and said “Kev, the essay task was this, we did it before, the speaking topic was this, I knew what to say, I had lots of ideas, vocab, etc, I had no problems, etc…”

Before continuing, I know what many of you will say, “Kev, I don’t have the time for all this, I can’t learn all this new language, ideas, I am taking the test in a month/week, whatever…” I understand this very well. And to some extent I sympathise, but to a greater extent I do not. That is to say, the number one reason people don’t do well in the IELTS is not that their English is rubbish (although that is obviously a big problem if it is) it is their failure to prepare adequately. Many students contact me with only days, weeks, or if I am lucky, a month to go before the test date.

Now this is not sufficient time for me to teach you every thing you need to know, nor for you to learn new vocab, correct grammar mistakes, practice the strategies I will tell you for the different sections etc. In these circumstances, which are more common than I would like, I try to do the best I can, I focus on strategy and technique because the student hasn’t time to learn everything I would like them to. It is less than ideal, but it is what it is.

So, back to the point, which is how do you get a band score of 7.0 or above? Well, although grammar is important, it isn’t everything, in fact it is only a quarter of everything, and it is not your use of academic sounding words (moreover, in addition, nevertheless, etc). You need to use correct, topic specific language as well as having good ideas that you can use.

With this in mind, I am going to post a new topic as often as I may, with advice for language, ideas to use, examples, and sample essays, etc. As much as I have the time for. Beginning with the topic of Media and Advertising…as with all the topics, I recommend you do your own research, Google the questions, steal ideas, language, etc, make a lexical notebook with your ideas and review it regularly when you practice your writing and speaking.

Essay questions

  • It can be argued that too much violence in the media tends to promote violence in society.

To what extent do you agree?

  • Most people think that the truth should be objective rather than subjective when it comes to the news.

Do you think all news is true?

What is the function of a newspaper?

  • Photographs are explicitly used to support the news in newspapers and online. Some people argue that photos are not reliable for this purpose as they can be manipulated while others believe they are a valuable source of verification.

Discuss both views and give your opinion.

  • Most news being reported these days is bad news, wars, famine, crime, etc.

Why do you think that is?

Do you think the news should be a balance of both good and bad?

  • In recent years there have been several cases of famous people being hounded by the press. Some people believe that celebrities have no automatic right to privacy.

To what extent do you agree?

  • Celebrities and sports-people have a responsibility to set a good example as role models for others.

To what extent do you agree?

  • With the development of internet media some people believe that radio has no future.

To what extent do you agree?

  • Watching TV is a waste of time for children and should be banned.

Do you agree or disagree?

  • Some companies spend millions on advertising their products, these adverts may encourage people to buy things that they really do not need.

What do you think are the positives and negative effects of advertising?

Ideas for you to use


Advertising is a key part of modern business practice

Companies need to inform potential customers about their products and services

Adverts inform us about the choices we might have which we otherwise be unaware of

Advertising itself is an industry which provides many jobs without which there would be higher unemployment

Advertising is considered a form of art by something

Lots of people like advertisements


Advertising lies to people and manipulates them

It sells a lie that owning a product will make them happier

It is all about selling an “image”

It uses glamorous people who do not reflect real lifestyle

This has caused the rise of “consumer culture”

We are treated like sheep to follow the latest rends

Adverts often target children

Children are easily influenced

Children pester their parents to buy things they don’t need


Advertising needs to be regulated

Adverts aimed at children should be banned

Unhealthy foods should not be advertised

Harmful products such as tobacco and alcohol should not be advertised

Advertising is necessary for the working of the free marketing

Sample essays.

Consumers are faced with increasing numbers of advertisements from competing companies. To what extent do you think are consumers influenced by advertisements? What measures can be taken to protect them?

In today’s material world, we are inundated with various forms of advertising. In my view, this can be dangerous as it encourages us to spend without thinking and young people, in particular, need some protection from it. I believe government regulation of some kind would help prevent the negative effects of advertising.

The first point to make is that advertising does make us spend money we do not need to. There are nowadays so many different ways companies promote their products and services, ranging from television commercials to simple flyers that we cannot escape it. If, for example, you watch a football match on television, you will see the logos of the tournament sponsors. Likewise, if you watch the latest blockbuster movie, very probably you will see a product placed in the film by some advertising agency. The  volume of this advertising means that we, as consumers, tend to be profoundly influenced by it and buy without thinking. This may lead to overconsumption and greed on the part of citizens.

Secondly, it is not easy to decide how to regulate advertising. Clearly, governments ought to restrict advertisements for harmful products such as alcohol and tobacco. They do not have the power, however, to control other forms of advertising, although perhaps this should be changed. This means we need to use our common sense when we go to the shops, and ask ourselves whether we really need to make that purchase. For example, parents in particular should, however, ensure that young people are protected from too much exposure to advertising. This can mean simply explaining that it is not in fact necessary to buy the newest Xbox, or simply turning the television off.

My conclusion is that while it may be difficult to escape advertising or its effects in the modern world, we as adults should be aware of its effects and protect our children from exposure to this form of brainwashing. Also, governments should take more control over what we see on on TV, and in the other media and should exercise a greater duty of care to it’s citizens in this respect.

Today the high sales of popular consumer goods reflect the power of advertising and not the real needs of the society in which they are sold.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

It has been argued that the increase in purchases of consumer goods and products is due to the power of the advertisers to persuade consumers to buy, and not that these goods reflect the actual needs and requirements of society.

I agree that although the lure of advertisements helps to sell products to some extent, the reason for the large sale of consumer goods cannot be entirely attributed to it.  I would suggest that the increasing needs of people for convenience and luxury, and the rising purchasing power of many people in society, have contributed considerably to this phenomenon.

Firstly, modern inventions have helped people to have products that would reduce their physical labour, decrease the wastage of time, as well as becoming increasingly convenient.  For this reason it would natural for people to buy things that would make their lives easy and comfortable.  For instance, modern devices like washing machines, dishwashers, blenders and microwave ovens have saved a great deal of time for housewives and reduced their physical effort.  A downside to this however is that this often tempts them to buy more and more of such products when newer features become available and then discard the older ones which does not reflect societal needs as much as it fuels an artificial consumer demand.  Thus, although adverts may have some part to play in these purchases, it could be said that a desire for ease and convenience also is a factor.

Secondly, the rising economic status of many groups in society has enabled people to buy products that would help them to enjoy a luxurious lifestyle and to increase their perceived status.  For example, it is not uncommon in some countries for people to buy several cars, the latest electronic gadgets, expensive dresses, and rare cosmetics to flaunt their wealth.  Another factor is the trend of giving gifts on every important occasion which has also greatly contributed to the sale of consumer goods in large quantities.  Much more than just the suggestive power of advertisements, the requirements of people for an ostentatious lifestyle have definitely helped companies to sell their products to many people.

In conclusion, although admittedly advertisements have a major role in informing people about various products in the markets and their important features, I would argue that they cannot influence the buying habits of people beyond a certain level.  Advertisements have a role to play in familiarising customers with popular brands and helping them to choose a product over others.  However, the quality of the product is significant also, people may buy a product, attracted by a commercial campaign, but if it is not useful to them they would never buy it again.

Topic specific language

  • advertising agency: a company that creates adverts for other companies
  • advertising budget: the amount of money a company decides to spend on advertising
  • brand awareness: how well people know a particular brand
  • brand loyalty: the degree to which people continue to buy from the same brand or company
  • buy and sell: often used to refer to the buying and selling of items between individuals
  • call to action: something that encourages someone to take a particular action, such as making a purchase or clicking a link on a website
  • celebrity endorsement: to have a well-known person promote a product
  • classified ads: small advertisements often put in a newspaper or magazine by individuals
  • to cold call: to call someone with the aim of selling something without them asking you to do so
  • commercial break: the short period during TV programmes when advertisements are shown
  • commercial channel: TV channels that make money from showing advertisements
  • to go viral: to quickly become extremely popular on the Internet through social media
  • junk mail: unwanted promotional leaflets and letters
  • to launch a product: to introduce a new product
  • mailing list: a list of names and contact details used by a company to send information and advertisements
  • mass media: large media outlets like TV, newspapers and magazines
  • niche product: a product that is aimed at a distinct group of people
  • to place an advert: to put an advert somewhere
  • press release: something written by a company for newspapers and magazines and websites to share and publish
  • prime time: the time during the viewing schedule when most people watch TV or listen to a broadcast
  • product placement: to advertise a product by using it as a prop in a TV show or film
  • sales page: a page specifically used to promote a product or service
  • to show adverts: to display adverts on TV
  • social media: websites that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.
  • spam email: unwanted, promotional email
  • target audience: the people a company want to sell their product or service to
  • word of mouth: recommendations made by individuals to other individuals about a product of service

Examples for speaking sections

Part 1

Q: “Are there any TV channels in your country that don’t have adverts?”
A: “Actually no, I have to say they’re all commercial channels and show adverts all day long, far too many really and there’s also a lot of product placement going on, you know, where they have some actor drink or eat a particular product, especially in soap operas for instance.”

Q: “Do you enjoy watching adverts on TV?”

A: “No, not really. I can say to be frank, I really hate commercial breaks during a film, it really spoils the film and during prime time viewing in the evening say, they seem to squeeze even more ads in than usual. Another thing I hate are celebrity endorsements, they really get on my nerves, they are a bad joke because everyone knows they’re only doing it because they’re getting paid not because they like the product.”

Q: “What are the best ways for ordinary people to advertise something they want to sell in your country?”
A: “I would say the simplest way is to place an advert in something like the classified ads section of a local paper although that’s a bit old fashioned these days of course. Most people nowadays use the Internet of course, there are lots of sites like eBay where you can buy and sell things online, and also lots of Facebook groups for people to sell old stuff.”

Part 2 topic card

Describe an advert you once saw that was very effective. You should say

  • where this advert appeared
  • when you saw it
  • what it was advertising

and say why you thought it was so effective.

A: “Ok. I want to talk about a time I saw an ad I really liked. So this was about 4 years ago, at the time I was looking for some software to create videos and one day I got an email from a mailing list I’d signed up to and there was a link in it to a press release. Some company had written about a new product that was similar to what I was looking for and at the end of the press release there was a link to the sales page. Well, I hadn’t heard of the company but I was interested and clicked the link to the ad. The first thing that caught my attention was the number of testimonials from people who had bought the software, they seemed pretty good. You know, I think testimonials are like the online equivalent of word of mouth advertising and are really persuasive, well, for me anyway. So, to continue, when I got to the bottom of the page there was a call to action button inviting me to buy, I was totally persuaded and ended up making a purchase. So what made it so effective for me, I think, was the power of those testimonials, they’d been written by people very much like me. That is, they’d had a need and the software had obviously turned out to be just what they were looking for, when you think that this was a newish company they wouldn’t have had any brand awareness at all, they probably wouldn’t have had much of a budget for advertising and obviously you wouldn’t advertise a product like this via mass media for example, they probably didn’t even have an advertising agency to support them and yet they’d managed to create a great deal of brand loyalty from previous customers. I think that was really effective. In future, I think I will pay attention to this kind of marketing and sign up to more newsletters and mailing lists, you never know what I might buy from them”

Part 3

Q: “What is it that makes an advert effective?”
A: “Well let me see, I suppose out of the many forms of advertising, naturally when a company launches a product they have to consider the Internet, as it is especially useful how it can be used to spread the word on social media. So in this context a video that goes viral is probably the most effective type of advert you could make.”

Q : “What are the advantages to companies of advertising on the Internet rather than TV?”
A: “I’d imagine the main advantage is you can reach your target audience much more effectively, you know, if you bring out a niche product for example or you have a tight advertising budget then you can advertise on particular sites that the people you want to reach visit, which is of course not something you can do on TV.”

Q: “What things do advertising companies do that might give it a bad name?”
A: “For me the most irritating is cold calling, you know, when you get calls from strangers trying to sell you stuff or asking for personal information or whatever, we must get two or three of these every day at work. And then of course there’s junk mail, crap that gets posted through the letterbox. And of course the online equivalent of this is spam emails. I think it’s this kind of advertising that tends to annoy people. It certainly does for me I can tell you!”