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I admit it: I’m a bit obsessive. Some senseless thing will snag in my brain and annoy me… pretty much forever. Then suddenly I see said senseless annoying thing everywhere and obsessively point it out each time, wailing my bewilderment to the faceless Powers That Be. When these things happen I wish for an overarching Bureau of Explanations where I can go and ask why this senseless thing is happening and lodge an official complaint. Alas, I am left here to whine in solitude and in blogs.
Today I would like to share one of those small senseless things with you so that you can avoid contributing to my mental demise. And also so your marketing does not become as senseless as others who have transgressed against reason. Today, I would like to discuss the senseless, often absurd and regularly contradictory use of quotation marks in advertising, product displays and marketing in general.
Quotation Marks: The Irony Of Marketing
This whole thing started one Saturday afternoon in the A&P. As I gathered my produce for the week, I noticed a sign that said “Fresh” bananas. Just like that. “Fresh” bananas. And I wondered: are they ironically fresh? Are they what you would call quote-unquote-fresh, as you make those little hash marks with your fingers in the air and roll your eyes?
Since then, every banana in the produce section has been labeled “Fresh”, as opposed to say… stale bananas. Or three week old bananas. They sit next to “Fresh” garlic and “Fresh” potatoes. I’ll tell you, I don’t do much produce shopping in A&P anymore.
Quotation marks, in that air-quote and isolated way tend to denote sarcasm or some meaning other than the literal one. Why on earth would you want someone to think you’re being sarcastic about your products?
The same goes for “New”. I saw a sign recently in a deli for “New” Pumpkin Cream Cheese. One day I am going to be brave enough to ask the owner why he included quote marks. In the meantime, I’ll pass on the maybe-new-maybe-not-maybe-old-and-moldy-cream-cheese.
Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say
I understand that in a society of texting and autocorrect, most of us bypass punctuation and style altogether, but it pays to get the basics straight. I get the sense that quotes are sometimes used for emphasis, as in, Hey, these bananas are REALLY FRESH! If that’s the case, just say it. Quotes don’t make it true. On the contrary, quotes, as you’ve seen, make it rather untrue. Italics, bold and capitalization can all be used to better effect for emphasis. If the sign in the deli had read, NEW! Pumpkin Cream Cheese then I might have bought some.
When it comes to marketing copy, signange and advertising, it’s important to say what you mean. You can do that with words. You can do that with pictures. And you can do it with correct punctuation. You can sell me a Beef Burger any day. But advertise a “Beef” Burger and I’m only going to wonder what’s “really” in it.
This lesson is simple: if you want people to think your products are the opposite of the thing you’re advertising, go ahead and use quotes. Otherwise, leave the quotes for the Quotes and let words like Fresh and New speak for themselves.