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Punctuation in advertising

Photo Archiv Schweitzer: Frauenhand mit Stift an Tastatur

Special symbols with unique purpose

Proofreaders and advertisers don’t always take kindly to each other. The sacred rules of one leave the other indifferent. This applies to more than just spelling. Punctuation also likes to find exceptional uses in advertising, which is why full stops, commas and the like were added to type as special characters.

The semicolon ;

If a comma is too little and a full stop is too much, you can use a semicolon. 

“Can” is the key word. In practice, it is hardly used any more (and not just in advertising). Today the semicolon has become the poor, wretched soul responsible for the finer nuances that few people still want to hang on to. As a matter of fact, there are people bustling around in social media groups trying to save the semicolon. And the semicolon needs this support so it can be removed from the list of endangered punctuation.  

The exclamation point !

The exclamation point adds emphasis to the phrase that comes before it.

Emphasis? Sure! Advertisers love that! Luckily not over and over!!! And yet: Even a tiny dot has its raison d'être. Because anyone hollering an idea into the world with emphasis is hard to notice amidst ubiquitous shrill proclamations – a modest whisper (gladly with a semicolon) is becoming increasingly effective.

The hyphen -

Advertisers and proofreaders alike enjoy hyphens when used to separate words at the end of line. But it’s a different story when it comes to the hyphen’s function of connecting several words: then both parties are at loggerheads with each other, especially when it comes to brand names. First, the rule:

A hyphen must be used to hyphenate two or more words when creating compound adjectives, verbs or nouns from individual words, or to tell the ages of people or things.

Consequently, this tiny stroke can have a huge influence on meaning. Take for example the following sign: “OBSERVE NO-SMOKING POLICY”. If we remove the hyphen, the statement means exactly the opposite: “OBSERVE NO SMOKING POLICY”. This rule also applies to brand names in the same way. If only business didn’t have the need to create unique distinguishing features with their logos and brands that also set them apart typographically. The most common reason: the logo looks much better without a hyphen and the logotype is more streamlined. All according to the slogan: “We know that’s not how you write it, but it looks better that way.”

The dash –

Let’s wrap things up by talking about the hyphen’s big brother:

A dash is used to separate parts of a sentence, often signalling something unexpected. (Sometimes a colon or comma can take its place.)

One tiny, dastardly comma is usually insufficient for advertisers. Everything is unexpected and should be announced with a fanfare. It’s no wonder that the longer em dash has been experiencing a boom while the colon seems to be fading into obscurity.

On the other hand, people aren’t thinking big enough. Dashes (en dash: - and em dash: —) are thrown into the same pile. People don’t differentiate between the two. And the unexpected usually ends up with less pomp.

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