An in-depth examination of exclamation points in advertising & creative copywriting.
So, there you are with your pinky on the Shift key and you’re thinking, “This line needs some oomph…what to do?” Then your fingers twitch up towards the (!) to add that most beloved exclamation point. Add some zing, boom! Maybe a little more excitement, bam!! But now I’m screaming!!! Why?!!?!??!
Anyone who’s written anything after the turn of the century has probably questioned their use of the screamer, but creative copywriters and advertisers really seem to suffer through this decision. Even The Onion pokes fun at the anxiety we feel when trying to communicate electronically. There’s no reason to feel the cold savagery of omitting extreme punctuation, though. We can explain how and why to let go of your unrest.
It may seem like you’re adding emphasis (a literal bang) or clarifying excitability, but that’s probably not what’s going on. Even though adding an exclamation point seems like the best option, you should use them very sparingly. Here comes some science for your mind to help illustrate the point.
Research shows that less than 10% of all exclamation marks actually express excitability, and they’re more likely to either indicate a friendly interaction (nearly a third of the time) or to stress the fact-ness of a fact (also about 30%, regardless of how correct the “fact” is). The same researchers actually broke the use of an exclamation mark into 17 different categories and tracked them by gender-use. The study found that women were over 250% more like to use exclamation points overall, and overwhelmingly to indicate facts.
So what does all that mean for your copywriting? Well, exclamation points will likely not give much indication of excitement or urgency as expected. Plus, the use of a “gasper” tends to skew a line of copywriting female (which isn’t a negative, but can alter context or tone to some readers). They can almost guarantee a 12% drop in open rates if used in an email subject line – and that’s true across multiple brands and demographics. Click-throughs on Twitter even seize up if you include an exclamation point in your scarce 140 characters.
Through our own internal tests, we’ve also found that customers will report a line of text to seem cheap or less interesting almost 25% of the time compared to non-exclaimed copy. One survey we performed showed that a call-to-action with an exclamation point seemed “cheaper” up to 67% of the time.
Here’s a quick test. Read these two headlines that should inspire quick action – one with a lazy exclamation point and one with some staccato periods – and see what you think:
Biggest sale ever!
Biggest. Sale. Ever.
Even without the headlines being in a layout, the first headline reads like a busted Time Square Elmo yelling at you through his pallid, felt head. In contrast, the second headline seems almost extreme. Those machine-gun periods make it seem like the end of the world is coming if you don’t bring everyone you know to that big freaking sale.
Being a millennial and having grown up using typed words as a large part of my social interactions, I can attest to people viewing ALL CAPS as a visual for excitement rather than a half dozen ill-placed exclamation points. The use of CAPS and exclamation points does have a pretty overwhelming effect, though. Try and type out some of Sam Jackson’s famous quotes without caps and exclamation points and see how far that gets you.
After multiple surveys, polls and interrogations, here’s one thing we can leave you with: stop using exclamation points. Instead, the next time you’re tempted to mash ‘Shift + 1,’ try using a more subtle, yet savage, period. (looking at you “Yep.” via text).
Oh, and if you need any help with some creative copywriting, don’t forget to drop us a line.