DID YOU KNOW JUNE 28 AND OCTOBER 22 ARE INTERNATIONAL CAPS LOCK DAY? IT’S SO AWESOME THAT ONE DAY A YEAR COULDN’T CONTAIN IT.
International Caps Lock Day is an unofficial holiday—like Star Wars Day, Pi Day and International Talk Like a Pirate Day—meaning that we don’t get the day off, but we do get a great excuse to ponder the subject for a day. In fact, that’s what Derek Arnold intended when inventing International Caps Lock Day in the early 2000s. He wanted people to take the use of the caps lock key seriously, given the implications for software engineering and multi-lingual constraints.
Consistent with Arnold’s intent in creating the day, let’s take a (semi-)serious look at the use of the caps lock key. Does it have a place in modern marketing? Is it yelling or something more? To get a broad view, I asked a writer, a media planner, a designer and a developer for their perspective on caps lock.
How would you describe it?
Let’s start with my first question, “Is the use of caps lock yelling?” Here’s how my colleagues described it:
“Caps lock is like trying to signal someone from across the room. You use hand gestures. Stand on a chair. Jump up and down. You try to make yourself seen amongst other things happening around you. That’s all caps.”—Nicki Munro, Senior Content Experience Creator
“Aggressive, overpowering, shouting.”—Dave Whyte, Senior Media Planner/Buyer
“The blocky letter that’s used to start a sentence. I guess…All caps doesn’t mean yelling. It’s an effective [design] tool.”—Chad Krulicki, Creative Director
“Yelling, shouting.”—Matt Habermehl, Code Designer
The majority of these colleagues agreed that, yes, caps lock is a bit like yelling, speaking to an emotional range from attention-grabbing to aggression. Yet, one of my design colleagues took the opposing stance that it can be an effective design element. So, who’s right? They all are.
As marketers, you’re likely familiar with Marshall McLuhan’s “The medium is the message.” It’s as true in this instance as it was when he coined it in 1964. What customers and prospects interpret as ‘the message,’ when they view your marketing, is a product of both what you say and how you say it. Context matters: in some cases, all caps may read as yelling, but in other cases, it may not evoke yelling at all.
Give me an example
Let’s get tangible. If proper use of all caps is contextual, what are some of those appropriate situations? Here’s what my colleagues shared:
“Sometimes a good headline is begging for an all-caps treatment. In certain layouts and formats, caps can be really functional in drawing the eye.”—Nicki Munro, Senior Content Experience Creator
“I can remember a specific time a few years ago when we were strongly encouraged by a client to deliver some creative options that included all caps in our conversion points (buttons for download, contact pages, etc.). It might seem easy enough, but it brought much pain to our design teams.”—Dave Whyte, Senior Media Planner/Buyer
“One client’s brand had a rule that headlines should be set in all caps. Had to do it.”—Chad Krulicki, Creative Director
“As a developer I have to be very careful about case sensitivity. Usually this means never using all caps, but there are times, like when using constants in PHP, that using all caps is a necessity prescribed by the programming language or by best-practice convention.”—Matt Habermehl, Code Designer
In each of these cases, the use of caps lock is much more than a matter of preference. Three of these examples are affected by external factors: a client request, a brand standard and a coding constraint. And, the fourth speaks to a purpose (drawing the eye) rather than preference.
As a Brand Strategist, there is an additional factor I help our teams to understand: the audience’s context. It’s important to put ourselves in the audience’s shoes; try to see things through their eyes. After all, it’s their context that affects how the capital letters (and every other aspect of the brand experience) are perceived, regardless of your intentions. A good brand strategy is founded on insights about the audience (as well as your category and company), which can help with this task—but empathizing is an ongoing effort and one that every contributor should participate in.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The range of perspectives we’ve seen here showcases some of the ways that agency professionals participate in a balancing act: how will customers perceive it, how is it feasible to create, and is it aligned with the strategy? There are many facets to these questions requiring input from a wide range of disciplines. That’s why it takes team—and an interdisciplinary one—to deliver great brand experiences. So, is all caps yelling? Yes and no. Sometimes. What does your audience think?