It’s all so exciting!!!! The exclamation mark reaches its zenith

Marketers and advertising types have taken note of an odd little trend that popped up a few years back on social media: the once-rare exclamation point. This happiest and strongest of punctuation’s array of sentence enders has been worked harder than ever before, appearing exhaustively in almost all social posts.  In the words of a character in the film Poltergeist, “What’s happening??!!”

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Webster’s defines the exclam thusly:

  1. A mark (!) used especially after an interjection or exclamation to indicate forceful utterance or strong feeling
  1. A distinctive indication of major significance, interest, or contrast <the game put an exclamation point on the season> —also called exclamation mark

 What is implied here is that, like a scream, its usage is inherently intermittent and not the norm.  As in, “My dog is in the car.” versus “My dog is in the car!” Even its name (“exclamation”) signifies a non-audible cue of a raised voice at the end. Which would indicate its confinement to emergency situations and moments of true high emotion.

Nonetheless, a quick swing through the online social swirl reveals the scattering of exclaims like so much grass seed. The standard thought is that this trend is borne out of the desire to signify enthusiasm, peppiness, and a friendly manner in a written medium devoid of live vocal inflection. The writer, Simon Castles, described it as “… markers of sincerity and amiability, as a hedge against being misunderstood.”  But does it make the writer appear less intelligent, less serious, more naive, perhaps?

And what used to satisfy—the single exclam—has now been upgraded to the double, triple or even quadruple exclam. Like the Salchow or Lutz jumps in ice skating, a triple is better. (But unlike skating, not necessarily more skillful.)

Research supports a gender-based component. An often-quoted study from the 1970s indicated that exclamation point usage was a “marker of emotionality or excitability” present more frequently in the written communication of females than males.  More recently, further studies focused on computer-based writing, social media, and digital marketing support the same conclusions. So are women simply more emotional? Or less confident in making declarative statements? Or more fearful of being misinterpreted? Or more invested in being perceived as “enthusiastic?”

Direct marketers have long been aware of the power of the exclamation point. Direct mail and catalogues dating back to the 1960s put the perky punctuator to work as a copy strategy to create excitement about a product and foment buyer action.  Today, we use it perhaps more discerningly—and mindfully depending on the category in which we are marketing away.

For example:

Appropriate: Time is running out to get your free sample!

Not so much: You could have diabetes!

In the professional marketing world, it could be argued that well-crafted copy with honed declarative statements and power-packed action punches need no additional frou-frou punctuation. Is the exclam another example of gilding the lily, driven more by personal and individual writing?

Time will tell!!!!!

Direct Choice Inc. is a full-service direct marketing agency that has worked with national and regional brands in a wide variety of vertical markets. In addition to this blog, you can also find us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn

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