Our obsession with the exclamation point has reached an unhealthy level.
I’ve got a bone to pick with the exclamation point. Not so much the punctuation itself. The mark is beautiful when used correctly. The problem is too many marketers are misusing it. I’m talking to you, copywriters and creatives. Allow me to illustrate my point (pun intended).
I’ve been driving all over Michigan the past month for my son’s high school and travel baseball. As usual, Michigan highways are a disaster. Seeing how it’s “Orange Barrel Season,” I’ve recently found myself stopped in traffic quite often. This has given me a lot of time to look around at all the billboards on the road. I love a good billboard. There’s nothing better than a board that captures your attention with an appealing design and skillfully written copy. Creating a good billboard is not easy. It’s hard to make something that looks good and gets the message across in six words or less. For the love of all that’s holy, why are we using so many exclamation points to make our point?
Merriam-Webster defines an exclamation point as:
A mark ! used especially after an interjection or exclamation to indicate forceful utterance or strong feeling.
An exclamatory sentence is one that expresses a strong or forceful emotion, such as anger, surprise, or joy.
By that definition, we should only use exclamation points when we feel strongly about something. Yet, they seem to be the headline writers’ punctuation mark of choice, even over the period in far too many cases.
Did we all forget our Schoolhouse Rock? If you tuned into Saturday morning cartoons like I did in the ’70s, you’d know that:
Interjections show excitement or emotion. They are generally set apart from a sentence by an exclamation point.
You tell me. Is it necessary to use an exclamation point in these instances?
Everybody needs a wingman! – Seen on a pest control billboard
Michigan’s largest selection! – Headline on a mattress company’s billboard
It’s a home run! – Spotted on a health club billboard that’s partnering with Detroit Tigers
Save thousands! – Car dealership billboard
Opening soon! – Billboard announcing a new dentist’s office
Now hiring! – A phrase used on way too many recruitment billboards (I’ve written about this before.)
When should an exclamation point be used in marketing or business writing? I’d say almost never. What is so exciting at work or about a commercial product that requires an interjection? I rest my case.
Instead of stressing about if you should use an exclamation point or not, author Kevin Daum suggests we just stop using exclamation points altogether. I couldn’t agree more. Resist the temptation to end that email with “Have a great weekend!” or that call-to-action button with “Buy Now!” It’s easier to never start in the first place with the overzealous use of exclamation points.
Like every rule, there are exceptions. For example:
That was an insane walk-off homer!
Our company just set a new sales record!
We cured cancer!!! (That one deserves three exclamation points.)
Let’s not let the exception become the rule. The next time you’re tempted to use an exclamation point, take Nancy Regan’s advice and just say no.