Content marketing, Hall of shame, Style

The shocking truth about copywriters, content marketers and exclamation marks!

Sexy young woman as devil in fire

Good heavens!

Copywriters turn out to be big fat liars!

My newsletter yesterday was on the (thorny) subject of exclamation marks.

I tested, as I always do, two subject lines:

[A] OMG!!! This month’s newsletter!!!


[B] This month’s newsletter

I had an inkling which one would win and my inkling turned out to be solid.

Have you inkled yet?

Subject line [A] won significantly, with 14.3% opens against 11.4% opens for version [B].

Clearly, something must be very wrong

Copywriters and content marketers – who comprise my list – HATE exclamation marks.

They – and I – rail against their use in copy. They blog about them, speak against them, publish books decrying them.

And, as I have done myself, they delight in quoting F. Scott Fitzgerald’s timeless broadside:

“An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.”

But send them a newsletter with six exclamation marks in the subject line and a significant majority open the dog’s-dicky one.

There is no way to get past this evidence of the efficacy of the exclamation mark. I am not saying they people like them. I am not saying that people prefer them.

I AM saying that, when offered the chance to open a newsletter introduced by a subject line teeming with them, they do it.

And when your prospect “does it”, your job as a copywriter is complete.

Not only did my test produce an interesting result, it also led to the following emails from members of my newsletter:

“This is a great article, which gives us a pointer to the difference between good writing and the dollops of sludge, which appear on blogs, web sites and social media.”

“You make a good point about the exclamation mark. I’m not sure if F. Scott Fitzgerald meant to deliberately cull that innocent punctuation mark, but he used his words so well that we can’t help but read them over and over. And now we repeat them with conviction.” 

“Loved the piece on exclamation marks. Very topical as I have an author who uses not one or two, after what he considers to be humorous, but three!”

“Just to say I really enjoyed your piece on exclamation marks

“Enjoyed the newsletter as always and the topic of exclamation marks is as hot as ever(!). I’m almost scared to use them now.”

“Omg!!!! That was such a good newsletter! Awesome :-)”

“I don’t normally receive emails with subject titles that make me laugh out loud.”

It probably was the exclamation mark that gave your newsletter this month an open from me!

“I fully confess to actually liking them, I find they can add personality and excitement (which is important in a motivational role). That being said, each use is accompanied by a short hesitation … should I really? You can imagine at The Economist, the full-stop culture abounds. So thank you for underlining the positives.”

So what’s going on?

I suspect that many of us have become conditioned by reading each other’s opinions to dismiss the exclamation mark out of hand.

It’s true that a row of five is offensive to eye and ear…

That a feeble pun is only made feebler by the addition of a screamer…

And that a derisory offer is not made impressive by the same lame trick


Like every other punctuation mark, it has a place at the table of correct English composition. As my original post makes clear.

As another authority on the English language, Herbert Fowler said, in his book Modern English Usage,

Not to use a mark of exclamation is sometimes wrong: How they laughed., instead of How they laughed!, is not English”.

Suck on that, pedants!!!

(Then please leave a comment. I have another inkling that this debate is far from over.)

1 Comment(s)

  1. Honor Clement-Hayes

    It’s like Comic Sans for designers – it’s part of our cult to hate bangs. But I love them. I use them all the time, in my own writing and my work.

    They’re ace.

    They’re ace!

    See how good that felt?

    11th September 2015 at 9:11 am | Reply

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