How Could a Comma Be So Loaded?

Pesky Punctuation

Punctuation: Those pesky little bits floating around the page don’t really matter, right? Oh, wait…

How Punctuation Can Make or Break a Campaign

Punctuation Counts!

Punctuation can change the entire meaning of a sentence. A classic example is a panda that “eats, shoots, and leaves.” As written, it sounds like the panda has a meal, pulls out a gun and fires it, then exits. Without the commas, the sentence is about what kind of food a panda eats. And clearly, “Let’s eat, Grandpa.” is different than “Let’s eat grandpa.” 

Does Metro PCS Mean Period or Comma? 

You’ve seen the Metro PCS ads: $30, period. Unlimited nationwide data, talk, and text.

Sounds like a good deal, right? But that comma undermines the whole campaign concept. If they wanted to offer you a truly unlimited phone plan at that price, the ad would have been: $30. Period.

That’s the problem—they’re not offering a $30 per month unlimited plan. They even say so in their ads! That comma comes loaded with all kinds of conditions and limitations. 

The cell service company has since fixed this issue and removed the comma, but the damage is done. Even if you didn’t consciously notice it when you saw the ads, your brain may have picked up on the inconsistency. Inconsistency is damaging to brands because it builds distrust, however slight. With a single comma, Metro PCS lost the trust of potential customers.

When to Break Punctuation Rules

Of course, marketers use non-standard punctuation all the time to convey a certain style. Would Dunkin’ Donuts be a national chain if its name were Dunking Doughnuts? The informal sound of the name fits the brand well. Or this clever Snickers ad: “Oh Deer! Its hard to spel when your hungry.”

But some advertisements do a disservice to their product by improper use of punctuation. Take the overuse of the exclamation point. Its ubiquitous presence has completely removed the exclamation point from its original meaning—to convey enthusiasm or surprise. Another frequent mistake is the misuse of apostrophes, which convey ownership, not plurality. It’s not uncommon to see ads for “latte’s” or “newspaper’s.” 

The best way to avoid these errors is to read your work out loud before you put in front of an audience. Then have at least two other people read it and ask for their feedback. Other people’s eyes on your copy (ideally a professional editor's eyes) is the best way to find out if you’re conveying what you think you’re conveying.