There’s no getting around it: Marketing messages are glutted with exclamation points. Columnist Patrick Armitage says it’s time for marketers to stop the deluge and instead raise the creative bar.
So many messages. So many tweets. So many blogs. So many Instas. So little time.
It’s hard times out there for us marketers. Our messages just don’t get the attention they once did. In 2013 (before content really started skyrocketing to the heights of today), Sirius Decisions concluded that 60 percent to 70 percent of B2B content goes unread.
And in these tough times, we’ve turned to the exclamation point to self-medicate — to draw attention, to create action, to do the heavy lifting.
It’s such an addictive grammatical drug — so cheap and effective.
But the high doesn’t last nearly as long as it used to. The impact of an exclamation point just doesn’t kick in like it once did.
Exclamation points have glutted the market. And despite their waning efficacy, we’re still so utterly, completely strung out on them.
What Happened? We Started Fighting Fire (Clickbait) With Fire (Exclamation Points)
Everyone continues to get the football pulled out from under them (à la Lucy and Charlie Brown) by clickbait-y articles that don’t deliver, hot takes that don’t land, or articles that profess to be “The Ultimate Guide to [Insert Anything]” and yet are anything but.
It’s made us battle-hardened cynics who click every link with a raised eyebrow, expecting disappointment. In a survey of 800 Americans by Content Science, 65 percent found online content “hit or miss” or “unreliable.”
And then when marketers really do have something of note to say, it gets lost in the jet wash of content. So we’ve become desperate.
We turn back to the one thing that comforts us, numbs our pain. And in this time of vulnerability and desperation, we keep turning to our old friend: “Sweet Lady E” or “E” as the kids call it: the exclamation point.
The Starburst Of Grammar
Our overuse has made the exclamation point the starburst of grammar hacks.
You know the starburst. You’ve seen it a million times.
It’s that hackneyed call-out on a website or advertisement that proclaims (in a star; it must always be in a star) “Completely FREE” or “Act NOW.” It’s been a staple of the advertising world for decades.
When first implemented, it was an effective device for calling attention to an offer or special. But its overuse has turned the once effective starburst into a cliche among designers and advertisers.
And so follows the fate of the exclamation point.
This Is My Inbox On “E” … Any Questions?
This is a screenshot of my inbox.
Note the exclamation points. (Company names and details have been blurred to protect the innocent and addicted.) The messages arrived in chronological order; I did not edit the order.
Registering for a webinar deserves an exclamation point, really?
Mobile SEO…an exclamation point? Really?
We’ve become an industry of “Boys and Girls Who Cried Wolf.” If everything is exclamation-point worthy, nothing is.
Back in journalism school, I heard that you only get seven exclamation points in your life — so use them wisely.
We’re Not Changing Lives; We’re Marketing
Think back to all the marketing messages you’ve read that correctly warranted an exclamation point. I can think of exactly zero times where I was like, “Yes, that exclamation point was totally necessary.”
It’s marketing — let’s chill out. Exclamation points are for life-altering experiences, not new software updates. Consider the app update I recently got:
If this company only has seven exclamation points to use, it just used two — two of seven to announce that they fixed frozen screens and the ability to view full-screen mode via landscape. Please, try to hold back your excitement.
Louis C.K. decries the overuse of hyperbole to sell the mundane.
“As humans, we waste the s — t out of our words. It’s sad. We use words like ‘awesome’ and ‘wonderful’ like they’re candy. It was awesome? Really? It inspired awe? It was wonderful? Are you serious? It was full of wonder? You use the word ‘amazing’ to describe a goddamn sandwich at Wendy’s. What’s going to happen on your wedding day, or when your first child is born? How will you describe it? You already wasted ‘amazing’ on a f — g sandwich.”
You can apply Louis C.K.’s same logic to exclamation points. If you’re going to slap one on a bug fix, what are you going to do when you roll out a new product?
Follow The Leaders
Consider the world’s most valuable brands:
Go to their websites. Look at their marketing and messaging. Notice anything? No exclamation points (until someone points out one for me, but overwhelmingly, exclamation-point-free).
There’s an understated elegance (yes, elegance) to not using an exclamation point.
Consider the journey of the consumer. They get online and have to navigate the canopy jungle of ad popups, video ads appearing out of nowhere in the background, retargeting ads, ads in their inbox and sponsored Facebook posts, and they just want a quiet place away from it all.
Companies are in the unique position of providing a sanctuary away from the Las Vegas strip of the modern internet. The irony of the modern internet is that the only place where you don’t get ads is on the corporate sites themselves.
So why are we continuing to yell at our customers and potential customers? Give them an experience where they don’t have to navigate skeptically, afraid that around another corner is a popup with exclamation points yelling at them once again.
Don’t Type An “!”, Show An “!”
Put the exclamation point away. Customers don’t want to be told, “This is amazing!” — they want to be shown amazing and come to that conclusion themselves.
Exclamation Point = Buyer Beware
In my experience, the exclamation point doesn’t actually say, “This is awesome!” It’s a warning sign that says: “Caution: We’re overselling the crap out of this!”
At BlogMutt, we also catch ourselves falling into the trap of the exclamation point. It’s just so damn convenient. It’s a cheap high. That said, we’ve worked hard to eliminate all exclamation points from our new site.
And that’s the problem.
It’s lazy. It’s easy. And we’re better than that.
I’ve heard and will perpetuate this adage: “If you’re using an exclamation point, your sentence isn’t working hard enough.”
I would expand this to: “If you’re using an exclamation point, your business isn’t working hard enough.” Let the product, user experience and customer service do the exclamation pointing. Not your marketing copy.
You’re Good Enough. Smart Enough. And Gosh Darnit, Too Creative To Use Exclamation Points
A close friend mentioned that saying, “I’m bored” was verboten in her household. Her mom would say, “You’re too creative to be bored.” I love this anecdote. Not only because it fits nicely with my argument, but it’s also been my bully pulpit against the use of exclamation points.
I remind my colleagues (and believe) that they are too creative to use exclamation points. Rewriting copy that carries the same emphasis without an exclamation point might not be faster or easier, but it’s the little differences and attention to details that raise the collective bar of creativity for top brands.
The exclamation point is a cheap accoutrement that may work in a pinch, but if you keep going back to chase that high “the next thing you know, there’s money missing off the dresser, and your daughter’s knocked up.”
For the future of marketing, for the sake of the customer, for your daughter’s sake, and for the sanctity of appropriate exclamation point usage (weddings, births, lottery wins, etc.), let’s endeavor to raise the creative bar together.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.
(Some images used under license from Shutterstock.com.)