The Oxford Comma In Marketing

Loved by some and hated by others, we’re here to make a case for the oxford comma in digital marketing. No other punctuation mark has sparked such heated controversy, but the Oxford comma holds a special (and contested) place in the hearts of English majors and content marketers. While some feel it’s unnecessary or pretentious, including the Oxford comma in marketing materials is the easiest way to cut down on confusion and drive conversions. When readers understand your writing the first time around, they’re more likely to engage with your content and seek out your services. To eliminate ambiguity and ensure that your writing is clear and readily understandable, the Oxford comma in marketing is a must.

What is the Oxford Comma?

The Oxford comma is also known as the serial comma, the final comma in a series. Oxford University’s dictionary defines it as “an optional comma before the word ‘and’ at the end of a list,” but the Oxford comma can also appear before the conjunction “or.” 

The associated press, responsible for AP style, has a complicated relationship with the Oxford comma. They encourage all magazines, newspapers, and public relations offices that use AP style to ditch the Oxford comma unless it is necessary for clarity. But what does that mean? Let’s look at an example: 

“Online Optimism has offices in New Orleans, Atlanta and D.C.”

In this scenario, AP recommends omitting the Oxford comma. While the sentence still technically makes sense, adding a serial comma between Atlanta and D.C. improves the flow of the sentence. Furthermore, by including an Oxford comma, we let the reader know at first glance that all three locations have their own unique offices.

However, even the staunchest Oxford comma opposer must admit that the mark is deeply necessary at times. Let’s look at another example:

“Online Optimism has the best Design, Digital Ads, and Search and Content team!”

In this instance, the Oxford comma after Digital Ads makes the department divisions crystal clear. At first glance, a potential customer knows that Online Optimism has the best combined Search and Content team in addition to Design and Digital Ads. Keeping all three divisions separated by commas eliminates any potential confusion. 

But without the penultimate Oxford comma, everything gets confused:

“Online Optimism has the best Design, Digital Ads and Search and Content team!”

Without the Oxford comma, our departments become a jumbled mess. For example, the reader is unsure of whether there’s a “Digital Ads and Search” department, a standalone “Content” team, or a “Search and Content” unit. This is why the Oxford comma in marketing is so necessary.

The Oxford Comma in Marketing

Though the Oxford comma is widely accepted in academia, the debate around the Oxford comma in marketing, law, and beyond is still raging on. 

However, a multi-million dollar class-action lawsuit recently made a powerful case for the Oxford comma in marketing. Oakhurst Dairy, a Maine-based dairy company, settled an overtime dispute with its truck drivers that centered around the lack of a clarifying Oxford comma in state law. The issue began in 2014 when drivers sued Oakhurst for four years worth of denied overtime pay. While state law requires overtime pay for most work, they grant exemptions for “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods.” 

The lack of a comma between “packing for shipment” and “distribution of” made it unclear whether the law exempted distribution or just packing for distribution. The court ruled that the lack of a comma made the payment exemptions unclear, and Oakhurst Dairy ponied up $5-million in backlogged overtime pay for its trucking distributors. Since then, the state of Maine has amended the law by adding a semicolon after each item in the list, opting for clarity rather than confusion. 

While the Oxford comma stakes aren’t always this high, the Oakhurst Dairy debacle proves that it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to punctuation. Don’t risk confusing readers and losing out on a potential customer because of an absent comma. To learn more, check out our best practices for the Oxford comma in marketing.

Best Practices When Using the Oxford Comma in Marketing

As digital marketing experts, Online Optimism is responsible for cultivating a consistent brand experience across all platforms and content. And to us, that means comma consistency. To use the Oxford comma in marketing both clearly and consistently, you need to keep these tips in mind:

1. Make a Choice and Stick to It

At Online Optimism, we’re fans of the Oxford comma in marketing materials. We believe it promotes clarity and eliminates confusion, retaining potential customers longer and better. But no matter which comma camp you’re in, your team needs to make a decision and stick to it. Then, once you’ve made your decision, communicate your brand’s comma style standards to every team member. From social media to content marketing, cultivating consistency across platforms makes your company look professional rather than disjointed. 

2. Prioritize Clarity

The Oxford comma is the easiest way to maintain clarity in your marketing communications. While not every punctuation mishap results in a lawsuit, the Oxford comma has the power to prevent ambiguity. If you choose not to make the Oxford comma your marketing standard, brush up on comma convention so you can use it when needed.

3. Communicate with the Client

No matter your company comma stance, clients should ultimately have the final say in their punctuation. If you and your team have decided to incorporate the Oxford comma in marketing materials, communicate that to the client. If they disagree and instead opt for a no-frills approach to content marketing, make a note of it and communicate that information to your team. 

If the client is open to it, encourage the Oxford comma in marketing for clarity’s sake. If your products confuse your readers, they’re not going to take the time to resolve ambiguity. You need to make the clearest, most readable decision the first time around to retain readers. So while the Oxford comma may seem superfluous, it’s better to use it rather than risk confusion and failed conversions.

Talk to the Experts at Online Optimism

The Oxford comma in marketing helps eliminate ambiguity and promote clarity, making your content marketing readable and engaging. By adding one little punctuation mark to the end of your lists, you can drive conversions and resolve confusion before it happens. 

But no matter your stance on the Oxford comma in marketing and beyond, the experts at Online Optimism are here to help. If we can’t convince you that the Oxford comma is the end-all-be-all of proper punctuation, we’re ready to put our differences aside and create strong, engaging content no matter the topic. Contact us today to learn more about how Online Optimism’s search and content capabilities can benefit your business.