There are all sorts of things happening in this ad, which I see every day at the train station bus stop.

Every time I walk past it I look again to see if I’m missing something, if it’s just me that’s reading it wrong in some way. Because I kind of can’t believe I’m reading what I’m reading.

In case it’s unclear, here’s exactly how the copy in the ad has been written:

“86 million Americans maybe even you, have prediabetes. Guy-waiting-for-the-bus.” 

Can you spot all the copywriting errors? There are 13 words totaling 82 characters, making it kind of impressive how many punctuation problems they fit in here. I’m going to present the copy again with the correct – or at least better – punctuation and phrasing highlighted in red.

“86 million Americans INSERT EMDASH maybe even you INSERT EMDASH have prediabetes COMMA NOT A PERIOD Guy-Waiting-For-The-Bus ALL PARTS OF THE FAKE NAME TITLE CAPITALIZED.” 

Here’s how that then looks in practice.

“86 million Americans – maybe even you – have prediabetes, Guy-Waiting-For-The-Bus.”

See how that flows a bit better? The emdash statement gets your attention, while the comma before the name adheres to how most style guides want you to address or reference an individual. None of them want you to put that name or title in its own sentence, completely disconnected from what’s come before.

If you flipped the structure a bit it reads even more clearly.

“86 million Americans – maybe even you, Guy-Waiting-For-The-Bus – have prediabetes.” 

Now it ends with the most important message, which creates a much stronger message. We get the same effect if we go with this.

“86 million American have prediabetes, maybe even you, Guy-Waiting-For-The-Bus.” 

Or we break it into two smaller, punchier sentences.

“86 million American have prediabetes. That may include you, Guy-Waiting-For-The-Bus.” 

Phrasing it as a question could get people thinking.

“86 million American have prediabetes. Does that include you, Guy-Waiting-For-The-Bus?” 

That’s four variations on the existing copy that read more clearly by not breaking it up into weird sentence fragments. There are likely countless others possible by going back to the source and creating wholly new messaging.

What’s surprising about this is that it’s part of a campaign from the Ad Council, the Centers for Disease Control and the American Medical Association. So at the minimum, 20+ people looked at this and signed off on it, including ad industry professionals. That’s…shocking.

People, review your copy. Read it out loud. Have five other people read it out loud. Don’t let things like this make it into print or other distribution. Because…wow.

Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.


One thought on “We Need To Discuss Punctuation

  1. I like the changes you made, but for some reason, the “Guy-Waiting-For-The-Bus” is so distracting. Why does it need the dashes? Why can’t it be in quotations, or even, not anything extra? Just: guy, waiting on the bus. But yeah, the original ad could definitely be improved. Especially for a company so large and well known as them.

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