The exclamation point is one of the deadliest forms of punctuation in the English arsenal. It doesn’t carry a gun (like the semicolon, which will happily kill an entire paragraph for kicks), but it’s a risky addition to any sentence, and it’s always taking lives. The victim is frequently social media ad copy.
Social advertisers have two or three lines to grab the attention of their audience and get a message across. Great marketers will be funny, shocking or informative to get attention. Less great marketers will jam exclamation points onto the end of their sentences, hoping to generate excitement artificially.
Why do we hate the exclamation point so much? How could anyone hate punctuation that simultaneously warns people away from electric fences but also stirs the heart like “Get Ready for This” playing at a peewee basketball game? We’re glad you asked.
Exclamation point overuse sounds desperate
There’s a breathless desperation to sentences with unnecessary exclamation points. “Stop by today for a fantastic deal! 50% off every plumbus in stock! Don’t miss out!” Ignore the plumbus, check the exclamation points.
That ad copy is frantic. It’s grabbing strangers by the hand and begging them to be interested. Good ad copy has dignity; bad copy is a mugging.
It makes writers look inexperienced
Got kids? If not, that’s okay. It’s likely that you were a kid at some time or another. Grab something your kid wrote when they were about eight years old (or think back to your early writing) and see what punctuation gets the most play. Give you a hint: it’s not the colon.
Kids like exclamation points because they make sentences sound big and happy, and who doesn’t like that?
Most of the adult world, it turns out! Writing with overused exclamation points will read like a third grader wrote it, even if the sentences are structurally sound and thoughtful! If any single person actually talks like this on the street, they’re taken away for public safety reasons! We find it hard to disagree with that action!
We expect kids to draft whimsical sentences full of adventure. We expect adults to write like grown-ups and tell us what we need to know.
It does the opposite of what you want it to
Marketing is being pushed in a more subtle direction, with native advertising and content marketing becoming more common as audiences grow dissatisfied with overwrought sales pitches. Hyped-up ad copy reads like ad copy. Hardly anyone wants to see that.
Take a look at our sale copy from earlier. Why does someone need to buy anything from the company that wrote the ad? Amazon probably has the same thing for half off, minus a trip out of the house, and they’ll make that sale any day of the week, not “Today only!” The copy is nearly devoid of content and there’s nowhere for an audience to connect as humans.
What could they do instead? Just about anything, if it’s original. Put a dog in a leather jacket and stand a plumbus next to it for an instantly shareable picture, write a haiku or just be straightforward. If copy doesn’t read like an advertisement (or at least not one empty of content), audiences are more likely to see, understand and respond positively.
Stop exclaiming, start writing
Trust us, we know that it can feel awkward to end a marketing sentence with a plain old full stop. Using a simple period to end a sales sentence can even feel snobby, sometimes.
Just look at Apple’s marketing over the last decade or so. Their writing pulls viewers in with simple, matter of fact statements (and a wee bit of arrogance, but that’s a brand thing), so they can get away with snootiness like “There’s iPhone. And then there’s everything else.” While it may feel a little awkward, it grabs attention, and that’s because of the writing, not punctuation.
You want your copy to stir people up and get them interested. Instead of putting your faith in the exclamation point, consider revising your sentences so the words do the work. Compel people not with your punctuation but with your scary marketing mind powers. And when you’ve got that down, start fiddling with the knobs a little bit to see which rules you like and which you want to break and maybe — maybe — use an exclamation point here or there.
But probably not!