IN DEFENSE OF AMPERSANDS
Is it okay to use ampersands in copywriting?
While many copywriting know-it-alls have become absolutely libertine about dangling one’s participle in public, splitting infinitives among polite company, and even eschewing the vagaries between who and whom, they nonetheless cling tenaciously to their prejudices against the ampersand.
I think I know why. They were taught—quite correctly—that it’s lazy and wrong to connect the clauses of a sentence with an ampersand. Thus, if you attended a mid-century parochial school, as did I, you’d be beaten around the face and neck if you were to write something akin to “Mary went to the store & she bought a soda.” Lessons like that tend to stick.
Unfortunately, this visceral aversion to the ampersand has been over-generalized. Creative directors remove ampersands carte blanche from copy, often with self-righteous zeal. The results can be ugly. Worse, they can be confusing, which has a direct effect on catalog sales. We recommend the ampersand in the following instances:
Ampersands and Ambiguous Modifiers
Black and white shoes connotes two pairs of shoes, one black and the other white. Contrarily, black & white shoes makes it clear that it’s one pair of shoes colored black and white.
Paisley and floral design connotes two different designs on the garment, one paisley and the other floral. Contrarily, Paisley & floral design makes it clear that there is one design, and it’s paisley and floral.
Darted front and back with floral motifs connotes that only the front is darted, and that only the back has the floral motif. Contrarily, Darted front & back with floral motifs is much more clear.
Ampersands as Coordinators
This garment has blue front and back yoke and a five-button closure sounds like the front is blue with no yoke, and the back alone has the yoke and the five-button closure. Better would be: This garment has blue front & back yoke and a five-button closure.
A blue jacket and shirt suit. Is only the jacket blue? Is there a jacket and a coordinated “shirt suit?” Better would be: A blue jacket & shirt suit.
Belt and buckle fastener connotes that there’s a belt and a separate buckle fastener. Better is: Belt & buckle fastener.
Ampersands as Stronger Conjunctions
You’ll want to rock and roll in this outfit connotes something different from you’ll want to rock & roll in this outfit.
A Bill and Hillary marriage is unclear compared to a Bill & Hillary marriage.
‘Bacon and eggs’ might just be ‘eggs and bacon’ and not necessarily ‘bacon & eggs’ at all.
Ampersands as a Space Saver
Butterscotch-and-black looks inelegant compared to butterscotch & black.
Law-and-order is clunky compared to law & order.
Wanna Argue About This?
Stephen G. Barone is a marketing communications specialist and co-principal at barodine marketing communications & research, a general contractor of creative and analytical marketing talent to the science, technology, engineering, medical, professional, and general business communities—as well as the clothing industry.
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