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Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Shun the exclamation point in your headlines

"Vanishing...Statehood Quarters 41 Coin Set!"

"Keep Your Phone Number ... Lower Your Phone Bill!"

These are two real headlines I just saw in two real ads in a real magazine. And they're real good examples of why you should avoid the exclamation point in your headlines. Here's why:
  1. The exclamation point should be the headline itself -- which should be your key selling message targeted to the right audience. In other words, an exclamation point is superfluous. It adds nothing. The two headlines above could work just as well -- if not better -- without it.
  2. Rely in the strength of your selling message. Have confidence in it. Sometimes copywriters add exclamation points because they don't think the message itself is strong enough. If you've done your homework correctly, your key selling message itself should be powerful to your target audience without any ending punctuation.
  3. Some experts argue not to end a headline with any kind of punctuation at all -- not even a with a period (let alone an exclamation point). That's because the idea is to grab your readers' attention and guide them smoothly to the copy -- and the period says "stop."
  4. The exclamation point is the written equivalent of yelling. Why would you want to yell at those you're trying to persuade to buy from you?

The headline's power belongs to its selling message, not to its punctuation. Strong punctuation can't make up for a weak headline. I'm not saying the two headlines above are weak (they could be getting high response rates); I'm saying that too often too many succumb to the temptation of throwing an exclamation point at the end of a headline to give it the illusion of passion.

And after saying all this, there are exceptions to this rule (not including your client or boss insisting on using an exclamation point).

One exception is using an exclamation point in a quote or testimonial headline. In the same magazine the two headlines above were in, there was an ad for Oreck vacuums. It showed a picture of David Oreck standing next to a vacuum cleaner under this headline: "My Hypo-Allergenic Oreck XL Ultra. It filters the air as you vacuum your floors!" This use of the exclamation point works because it's in a quote. David Oreck has a right to be excited about the benefits of his vacuum cleaners.

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