The Ad Grad

The Three Most Hideous Punctuation Errors in Advertising

Posted in Advertising, Copywriting by brookerandel on May 22, 2010

In advertising, concept comes first. But having a big-picture focus shouldn’t mean forgetting to polish and perfect every nuanced detail of a campaign. Suzanne Pope, ACD at John St, recently wrote about the implications of typos in ads. And she’s right. Obvious errors, like misspellings,  are bad.  But poor punctuation is just as common and often just as ugly. In fact, Grammar Girl Mignon Fogarty proves this point with her recent tweet:

So how does poor punctuation play out in advertising? What a well-timed question, my friend. Here’s a breakdown of the three most hideous misuses of punctuation in advertising. (Disagree with my top three? Add yours to the comments).


An ellipsis, or the infamous dot-dot-dot (…), represents a pause or break. While we do pause frequently in natural speech, ellipses look terrible in print, especially in advertising. When an advertiser uses an ellipsis, they come across as overly dramatic or untrustworthy. Here’s an example of a poorly placed ellipsis:

It’s better to be straight and to the point than to make consumers…question your sincerity.


Oh, quotation marks. For some reason, local advertisers especially seem to struggle with when and where to use quotes. And when faced with this struggle, it seems they always throw them in to there “just to be safe.” But if the copy isn’t actually quoting someone (or mock-quoting someone), then the quotes undermine the message. Here’s a classic example from the endlessly funny “Blog” of “Unnecessary” Quotation Marks:

I hope this yard sale lasts forever (Credit: The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks)

Or take this sign, which attempts to explain the rules of the gym:

(Credit: The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks)

When in doubt, go without. “Trust me.”

Exclamation Points

Exclamation points are intended to show enthusiasm. In advertising, they just look cheesy.

And stupid:

Remember, exclamation points are not question marks. They make ads sound incredibly desperate for attention!!!!


Advertising should be clear and meaningful. Punctuation can help achieve this, but not when used incorrectly. So…be aware. Be “alert.” And please! Be more observant.

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