Chairs vs Sophie

Compare these two spots.

Both are from tech giants. Both have great production value. Nice writing. Well-directed. Good-looking film. But there’s a very different feel in how we connect with each.

One talks at us, the other shows us.
One tells us exactly what it is trying to say, the other invites us in.
One feels corporate (although it shows humans), the other is human.
One is ye old Manifesto. The other is a story.


Carl Sandburg and Manifestos

We’ve written before about manifestos. A well-written one can be a powerful opening to a meeting. Couple it with the right art direction, and a great manifesto can sell a campaign, even if it never appears as a print ad or in the voiceover.

As a writer, you need to know how to write a great manifesto. As an art director, you need to be able to imbue those words with meaning, making them even more relevant. They may not be ads, but they can help you make and sell better ones.
Here’s a poem I recently found by Carl Sandburg. I think this would make a great manifesto. Maybe for Corvette. Or Gulfstream. Or FedEx. (Any other ideas?) It’s about the right length. What really works for me are the cadence and the imagery. Read it out loud. Poetry, like manifestos, is meant to be heard.

The silent litany of the workmen goes on –
Speed, speed, we are the makers of speed.
We make the flying, crying motors,
Clutches, brakes, and axles,
Gears, ignitions, accelerators,
Spokes and springs and shock absorbers.
The silent litany of the workmen goes on –
Speed, speed, we are the makers of speed;
Axles, clutches, levers, shovels,
We make signals and lay the way –
Speed, speed.

The trees come down to our tools,
We carve the wood to the wanted shape.
The whining propeller’s song in the sky,
The steady drone of the overland truck,
Comes from our hands; us; the makers of speed.

Speed; the turbines crossing the Big Pond,
Every nut and bolt, every bar and screw,
Every fitted and whirring shaft,
They came from us, the makers,
Us, who know how,
Us, the high designers and the automatic feeders,
Us, with heads,
Us, with hands,
Us on the long haul, the short flight,
We are the makers; lay the blame on us –
The makers of speed.

(I’m not expecting any takers on this, but if any of you art directors want to art direct Sandburg’s poem and submit it, we’ll post it, tweet it, link to your portfolio and sing your praises.)

The Blank Page Manifesto

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about our industry and its future. The great thing about advertising is it’s in constant flux. That’s also the scary thing.
When I left portfolio school, it was with a book full of print ads. That wouldn’t cut it today. The bar is much, much higher. You’ve got to have ambient media, web executions, product design. Big thinking no longer means a double-page spread.
And yet you probably spend a lot of time in school working on headlines and layouts. We spend tons of time on this blog discussing body copy and photography – techniques that seem hardly revolutionary or cutting edge.
So are we wasting our time? Are you wasting yours? I don’t think so.
I’ve written something that’s put things in perspective for me as a teacher and creative director. And I hope it puts things in perspective for you as students, juniors and the future of this industry.
If you agree with it and if it helps, please share it, post it or print it. Just don’t change it or charge for it.

Here’s the link for The Blank Page Manifesto.

An Argument for Manifestos

Just a follow-up to Jim’s assignment.

You could argue that writing manifestos is a waste of effort. They can be time consuming, and there’s no manifestos category at Cannes or the One Show. Much better to just sit down and start coming up with ideas, right?

Maybe. But here’s my argument for writing manifestos.

It used to take me a long time to write one. Then I realized that a manifesto doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to do three things…

  1. Crystalize the direction (not just for you, but for everyone else involved in the project).
  2. Get the client excited.
  3. Serve as a springboard for future ideas.

Manifestos are a great way to open a presentation. It’s far more exciting to open a meeting with a battle cry than to say, “Okay, let’s look at some work.” Once, I even read a manifesto with some accompanying music.

I’ve had the account team internally and clients during a presentation applaud a manifesto. I promise you, you’re going to have a much easier time selling the real work if you can get people applauding BEFORE you even show it to them.

Lastly, if you’re a writer, you need to be able to write. That means you need to have a sense of language. It means you have to be able to simultaneously clarify and dramatize an idea. Headlines are a great way to do this. But a manifesto is an even broader canvas.

One caveat about manifestos: Clients tend to love them because they can say everything and nothing at the same time. The more specific you can be in your manifesto, the better chance you have of selling the work that you came to show. Don’t hesitate to go back and retrofit your manifesto to sell the work.

The Manifesto

When I’m trying to wrap my head around a brand, I’ll often write a manifesto. I give this assignment to my classes a lot as well, and they’ve always found it pretty useful.

The manifesto is just a paragraph or two that answers a very simple question: What do we stand for? Part of this may be what we’re against. But basically, you want some very concrete language that defines the brand in an impassioned way. If you read it out loud, you should feel it. It should be something that deserves background music. Something you want to stand up and salute.

If the brief is the intellectual foundation for a brand, the manifesto is its emotional foundation. Often, you’ll be able to pick through your manifesto and find great headline fodder, or thoughts that can lead to other ads. And they’re great to read in client meetings before you present the creative, because they fire everyone up and set up the work.

Here are a couple of examples of good manifestos:


And this one below was written by one of my former students (an art director!) for Ford Mustang.

FORD MUSTANG. A little Detroit exists in all of us, whether we admit it or not. If you’re a tax accountant in San Jose or a 3rd grade teacher in Macon, Georgia, you wish, at least a little, that you were from Detroit. Then you’d have some of the attitude, the swagger, the trigger middle finger and the grizzly-bear-like resistance to winter that we have. The only reason we need hipsters and yuppies is to rob them. This is Detroit. Rock City. Motor City. We helped end the nightmarish disco era and gave you Techno and Motown. This is Hockey Town. Not Golf Town. Not Niketown. Not US Open Town. The only tennis players you’ll find here are the ones dating our hockey players. We have an insatiable desire to live off sliders and donuts and we’re riotous fans of the flagrant foul and the dirty pick-and-roll up high. We wanted to jump Ron Artest in the parking lot, sleep with his sister and then run from the cops. We breed loudmouth white guys with nasty demeanors and questionable music which we bump in our 10s. And deep down you realize you’re one of us too. But your inner 313 is still stuck in the closet, unsatisfied, waiting to shout “don’t fuck with me after 9pm.” You’re stuck in a cul-de-sac or a cubicle with a cup of decaf coffee, and you can’t stomach Schlitz and you order your wings mild. You’ve been resisting, but now it’s time to indulge. Finally say what you’ve been secretly dying to say all these years: Move, bitch. Get out of the way.