How to Write a Manifesto


Overview

The best way to learn how to write a manifesto is by developing a firm grasp of manifesto structure. This gives you a powerful toolkit for crafting great manifestos, as well as the ability to quickly diagnose bad manifestos and see how to improve them.

Deep dives

Every structure below has a link to a deep dive article that explains each step in the formula in detail. You’ll also break down a real manifesto to see how each section works together.

What are the five structures?

Each structure is generally used to achieve the following outcomes. These are not hard rules, just the most common use case for each shape.
 

S Shape Manifestos

Use case

This structure is often used for establishing big ideas, new business pitches, rebrands, and the like. They rarely are seen by the public.

The name

This structure gets its name from the sinuous journey we take the listener on. I picture the start of the S being the beginning of the problem, then looping up around until finally rallying toward the ending.

Steps

  1. Problem: A captivating intro.
  1. Belief: How we’ve lost our way.
  1. Critique: Why it’s so bad.
  1. Turn: The impact of your better way.
  1. Rally: Motivation to pursue it.

Template

  • What upsets your brand? (~15%)
  • What belief makes you so upset? (~10%)
  • What examples prove that? (~25%)
  • What perspective will change us? (~25%)
  • What do we need to do to get it? (~25%)

Examples

Press the arrow to expand the full script
Miller, “This is The High Life”
Problem
Only a large-scale decline in American manhood can account for the near disappearance of Miller High Life Beer. High Life is part of a brighter, bolder world that, through laziness, fear, and salad worship, we've forgotten. Let us help men be men again, that this brand can once again be great.
Belief
To live the High Life is to be a man. To return to simple, manly virtues; to a time when men didn't take themselves too seriously; when a man worked hard to create a better world for himself, his family, and his neighbor, and knew the proper reward for his efforts: Miller High Life Time.
Critique
To live the High Life is to exercise the manly principles that built a nation, kept Boris in his place, and set several land-speed records. Pursue the High Life and you put a man on the moon. Turn your back on it, and a cheap thermal-tile glue grounds your whole space program. Pursue the High Life and your oversized Cadillac consumes the road like a many-finned shark. Turn your back on the High Life? Have a nice K-car. When a once proud man loses his taste for the High Life, even his taste for football-the sport of Dick Butkus, Knute Rockne, and Jim Thorpe-wanes. How else do we explain the new, sad popularity of a so-called sport like soccer? America, is that you?
Turn
We have gotten soft. Lost. Confused, we are slowly realizing that our chosen religions—Convenience, Aerobic Fitness, Yogurt—leave us feeling hollow in the way a good steak never would. The world cries out for men to walk the Higher Path. Coffee boutiques consume retail space that might better be used by hardware merchants. John Tesh is able to have a career. Richard Simmons is allowed to live. Fitness industry stocks pay better dividends than aerospace exploration. Isn't it time for a man to reclaim control of his own destiny; to pursue the High Life in the manner our founding fathers had intended; to embrace the High Life to which each of us, by nature's grace, is born?
Rally
We will throw away our self-lighting charcoal. We will question the leather interiors and automatic transmissions of the sports utility vehicles we dare call "trucks? We will stare down every shameful modern manifestation of male impersonation and say: you cannot kill our beer. You cannot take away the High Life to which we are entitled. Try as you might, you cannot keep a High Life man down. Let us then assert manliness in all its simple glory. Let us revisit a time when elbow grease and bacon grease, like High Life, are never in short supply. Bound by honor to our brave social contract, we accept it as our duty to give the world some much-needed lessons in how to lead this High Life.
Diesel, “Be Stupid”
Problem
Like balloons, we are filled with hopes and dreams but over time a single sentence creeps into our lives. Don't be stupid.
Belief
It's the crusher of possibility. It's the world's greatest deflator. The world is full of smart people doing all kinds of smart things that smarts well. We're with stupid. Stupid is the relentless pursuit of a regret free life.
Critique
Smart may have the brains, but stupid has the balls. Smart recognizes things for how they are. Stupid sees things for how they could be. Smart critiques. Stupid creates.
Turn
The fact is if we didn't have stupid thoughts, we'd have no interesting thoughts at all. Smart may have the plans... but stupid has the stories. Smart may have authority, but stupid has one hell of a hangover. It's not smart to take risks, it's stupid.
Rally
To be stupid is to be brave. Stupid isn't afraid to fail. Stupid knows there are worse things than failure like not even trying. Smart had one good idea and that idea was stupid. You can't outsmart stupid, so don't even try. Try to remember, only stupid can be truly brilliant. So be stupid.
Beats by Dre, “You Love Me”
Problem
You love me. You love me not. You love black culture. But do you love me?
Belief
You love how I sound. My voice. These beats. This flow. Not me though, right? You love how I look. My hair. This skin. But me? Nah.
Critique
We don’t get to exist. We’re forced to survive. We still fight. We still play while the world burns. On fields that ain’t even level. All men are created equal. That’s my favorite part. You hate us so deeply. But you’re still so impressed.
Turn
Why can’t you see? There’s history in our skin. You built this country on our backs. I’m him. He’s me. She, us, we—are all black.
Rally
Love me. Or not. We love each other deeply. We gonna be us. We gonna break bread. We gonna defy gravity. You love my culture. But do you love me? What a world that would be.
 

U Shape Manifestos

Use case

Best for creating emotion around a complex point. It’s when you want to pull us into a problem, then change our thinking.

The name

The name comes from the two distinct halves. Half down into the problem, then a positive turn, then half up into the solution. This is a “U” instead of a “V” since it’s so important to have the turn in the middle.

Steps

  1. Downward: The depth of the problem.
  1. Turn: A quick shift, giving hope.
  1. Upward: Positive build to your solution.

Template

  • What is wrong right now? (~49%)
  • How do we turn this around? (~1%)
  • What is your better way? (~50%)

Examples

Press the arrow to expand the full script
CoorDown, “Assume that I Can”
Downward
Hey bartender. You assume that I cannot drink a margarita. So you don’t serve me a margarita. So I don’t drink a margarita. Your assumption becomes reality. And parents. You assume that I cannot live on my own. So you don’t encourage me to live on my own. So I don’t live on my own. Coach. You assume that I cannot hit harder. So you don’t train me to hit harder. So I don’t hit harder. And teacher. You assume that I cannot learn Shakespeare. So you don’t teach me Shakespeare. So I don’t learn Shakespeare.
Turn
But hey
Upward
If all your assumptions become reality Then assume that I can drink a margarita. So you serve me a margarita. So I drink a margarita. Assume that I can live on my own. So I live on my own. Assume that I can hit harder. So I hit harder. Assume that I can learn Shakespeare. So I learn fucking Shakespeare. You assumed I couldn’t swear, right? Assume that I can do that job. That I can go to parties. That I can have sex. That I can be on stage. Assume that I can. So maybe I will.
Nike, “Dream Crazier”
Downward
If we show emotion, we’re called dramatic. If we want to play against men, we’re nuts. And if we dream of equal opportunity, delusional. If we stand for something, we’re unhinged. When we’re too good, there’s something wrong with us. And if we get angry, we’re hysterical, irrational, or just being crazy.
Turn
But.
Upward
A woman running a marathon was crazy. A woman boxing was crazy. A woman dunking—crazy. Coaching an NBA team—crazy. A woman competing in a hijab, changing her sport, landing a double-cork 1080, or winning 23 Grand Slams, having a baby, and then coming back for more? Crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy, and crazy. So if they want to call you crazy—fine. Show them what crazy can do.
TBWA\Chiat\Day, “Do The Brave Thing”
Downward
Don't do the right thing. God knows, you'll be tempted. The right thing sounds so good in meetings. It looks fantastic in charts. The right thing soothes racing pulses, and settles churning stomachs. Everybody can get on board with the right thing. The right thing is "good enough." But good enough is not enough. Don't do it. Don't do the right thing. Avoid it like the plague.
Turn
So, what are you supposed to do? The wrong thing? Of course not.
Upward
Do the brave thing. The thing that troubles your sleep. The thing with a million unknowns. That seems ridiculous one moment, and genius the next. That's the thing you should do. Chase it down. Do the thing that disrupts. That upends. That doesn't just defy the status quo, but reshapes it, forever. You can do that. You have that in you. To do the right thing or not, is a choice. To disrupt or not, is a choice. Let's do the brave thing.
 

Z Shape Manifestos

Use case

When you want to make a single, simple point with a lot of examples to back it up. This is not good for complicated points.

The name

Its name comes from the shape of the Z. It has a few lines at the top, a few at the bottom, and a whole bunch of examples in between.

Steps

  1. WTF: Tension that spikes interest
  1. POV: Insightful POV that pays it off
  1. Proof: Showing all sides of that POV
  1. Thus: The impact of that POV

Template

  • What makes your POV interesting? (~5%)
  • What is your POV, clearly started? (~5%)
  • What examples prove that? (~85%)
  • How should this POV change us? (~5%)

Examples

Press the arrow to expand the full script
Apple, “The Crazy Ones
WTF
Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo.
POV
You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Proof
Because they change things. They invent. They imagine. They heal. They explore. They create. They inspire. They push the human race forward. Maybe they have to be crazy. How else can you stare at an empty canvas and see a work of art? Or sit in silence and hear a song that’s never been written? Or gaze at a red planet and see a laboratory on wheels? We make tools for these kinds of people. While some see them as the crazy ones, we see genius.
Thus
Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Chrysler, “Born of Fire”
WTF
I got a question for you. What does this city know about luxury, hm? What does a town that's been to hell and back know about the finer things in life?
POV
Well I'll tell you. More than most.
Proof
You see, it's the hottest fires that make the hardest steel. Add hard work and conviction. And a know how that runs generations deep in every last one of us. That's who we are. That's our story. Now it's probably not the one you've been reading in the papers. The one being written by folks who have never even been here. Don't know what we're capable of. Because when it comes to luxury, it's as much about where it's from as who it's for. Now we're from America, but this isn't New York City. Or the Windy City. Or Sin City. And we're certainly no one's Emerald City.
Thus
This is the Motor City. And this is what we do.
Nike, “Dream Crazy”
WTF
If people say your dreams are crazy, if they laugh at what you think you can do
POV
Good. Stay that way. Because what non-believers fail to understand is that calling a dream crazy is not an insult. It's a compliment.
Proof
Don't try to be the fastest runner in your school, or the fastest in the world. Be the fastest ever. Don't picture yourself wearing LBJ's jersey. Picture LBJ wearing yours. Don't settle for homecoming queen or linebacker. Do both. Lose a hundred-twenty pounds then become an Ironman after beating a brain tumor. Don't believe you have to be like anybody to be somebody. If you're born a refugee, don't let it stop you from playing soccer for the national team at age 16. Don't become the best basketball player on the planet. Be bigger than basketball. Believe in something even if it means sacrificing everything. When they talk about the greatest team in the history of the sport, make sure it's your team. If you have only one hand, don't just watch football play it. At the highest level. If you're a girl from Compton, don't just become a tennis player. Become the greatest athlete ever.
Thus
So don't ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they're crazy enough.
 

E Shape Manifestos

Use case

Ideal for celebrating, honoring, or paying tribute. Usually bad for setting up new ideas.

The name

The name came from the parallel bars of the “E” all being the same, which indicates the parallel structure of the form.

Steps

  1. Parallel Examples: Showing breadth, depth, connection, and contrast.
  1. Parallel Summary: The final sentence that explains the point of it all.

Template

  • Why are you exploring this thing, person, idea, or mindset from all sides? (~99%)
  • What is a simple insight that summarizes what all of that adds up to? (~1%)

Examples

Press the arrow to expand the full script
Chivas Regal, “Father’s Day"
Parallel Examples
Because I've known you all my life. Because a red Rudge bicycle once made me the happiest boy on the street. Because you let me play cricket on the lawn. Because you used to dance in the kitchen with a tea-towel round your waist. Because your cheque book was always busy on my behalf. Because our house was always full of books and laughter. Because of countless Saturday mornings you gave up to watch a small boy play rugby. Because you never expected too much of me or let me get away with too little. Because of all the nights you sat working at your desk while I lay sleeping in my bed. Because you never embarrassed me by talking about the birds and the bees. Because I know there's a faded newspaper clipping in your wallet about my scholarship. Because you always made me polish the heels of my shoes as brightly as the toes. Because you’ve remembered my birthday 38 times out of 38. Because you still hug me when we meet. Because you still buy my mother flowers. Because you've more than your fair share of grey hairs and I know who helped put them there. Because you're a marvelous grandfather. Because you made my wife feel one of the family. Because you wanted to go to McDonalds the last time I bought you lunch. Because you've always been there when I've needed you. Because you let me make my own mistakes and never once said "I told you so.” Because you still pretend you only need glasses for reading. Because I don't say thank you as often as I should. Because it's Father's Day
Parallel Summary
Because if you don't deserve Chivas Regal, who does?
Seattle Mariners, “Thanks for Everything, Junior”
Parallel Examples
Thanks for the swing. Thanks for the arm. Thanks for the glove, forever golden. Thanks for the slide. Thanks for the smile. The grin. The laugh. Thanks for being the kid. And for making us all feel like one. Thanks for the swagger. Thanks for making backwards hats fashion-forward. Thanks for making 24 the most sought-after number in little league. Thanks for making every at-bat must-see TV. Thanks for showing us that mortals can be Spiderman. Thanks for electrifying the dome. Thanks for helping us build our own field of dreams. Thanks for putting Mariners baseball on the map. Thanks for 630. And thanks for 95. Thanks for the memories. Thanks for the stories we can tell our grandchildren.
Parallel Summary
Thanks for everything, Junior.
Nike, “A Message from Nike Running”
Parallel Examples
We are what we believe. We founded and built an entire company on that idea. And we believe In helping RUNNERS - fast runners, slow runners, heavy runners, skinny runners, long-distance runners and sprinters. We believe In helping middle-distance runners too. And runners from Kenya, Japan, Oklahoma and every other corner of this planet. We believe In the magic of Hayward Field. We believe in long Sunday runs. We believe 20 quarters under 70 Is still a good workout. We believe in tempo runs and fartlek. We believe JOGGERS are RUNNERS. We believe in cross-country. We believe in J.V. dual meets on Tuesday afternoons. We believe in professional Track & Field. We believe running is therapy. We believe the smell of the starter's gun is an aphrodisiac. We believe lactic acid is good for you. We believe that your PERSONAL BEST isn't always a PR. We believe in knowing the route and running aimlessly. We believe this should be fun. We believe running in the dark, in the cold, in the heat, in the humidly, in the rain and in the snow is part of the deal. We believe in skipping a day. We believe in making mistakes and learning from them. We believe innovation is the oxygen of our brand. We believe in testing, re-testing, wear testing, testing on our spouses and testing on super fast guinea pigs. We believe in the genius of Bowman and the spirit of PRE. We believe THERE IS NO FINISH LINE.
Parallel Summary
We believe in you. Just do it. Run.
 

J Shape Manifestos

Use case

Perfect for creating a mood, community, or mindset. Rarely used for launch campaigns.

The name

The J Shape gets its name from the free fall for most of the script. I picture the long stem of the J as a complete nose dive. Then clarity catches the listener and they land safely at your POV.

Steps

  1. No Context: Only details, nothing about why we should care.
  1. Context: Give us the final piece that tells us what it all means.

Template

  • What mood, journey or mindset do you want to pull us into, and why? (~85%)
  • What helps us realize the significance of everything that came before it? (~5%)
 

Examples

Press the arrow to expand the full script
Puma, “After Hours Athlete”
No Context
Backspin on a warped table under bad light. A kiss off the 8-ball, a bank on the six. Double bull on a single throw, three pints in. Picking up a spare in the final frame. Singing on-key, off-key, and, losing keys. Steady hands, blurry eyes. Bars, billiards, basements. Bacon sandwiches with extra hot sauce. Surviving buzz-kills, third-wheels, cock-blocks and cabs in the rain. Finish lines drawn by dawn.
Context
These are the providence of the After Hours Athlete. When last call calls, don't answer. The night, too, is for sport. And they are the champions.
Nike, “You were Born a Daughter”
No Context
You were born a daughter. You looked up to your mother. You looked up to your father. You looked up at everyone. You wanted to be a princess. You thought you were a princess. You wanted to own a horse. You wanted to be a horse. You wanted your brother to be a horse. You wanted to wear pink. You never wanted to wear pink. You wanted to be a Veterinarian. You wanted to be President. You wanted to be the President’s Veterinarian. You were picked last for the team. You were the best one on the team. You refused to be on the team. You wanted to be good in algebra. You hid during algebra. You wanted the boys to notice you. You were afraid the boys would notice you. You started to get acne. You started to get breasts. You started to get acne that was bigger than your breasts. You wouldn’t wear a bra. You couldn’t wait to wear a bra. You couldn’t fit into a bra. You didn’t like the way you looked. You didn’t like the way your parents looked. You didn’t want to grow up. You had your first best friend. You had your first date. You had your second best friend. You had your second first date. You spent hours on the telephone. You got kissed. You got to kiss back. You went to the prom. You didn’t go to the prom. You went to the prom with the wrong person. You spent hours on the telephone. You fell in love. You fell in love. You fell in love. You lost your best friend. You lost your other best friend. You really fell in love. You became a steady girlfriend.
Context
You became a significant other. You became significant to yourself. Sooner or later, you start taking yourself seriously. You know when you need a break. You know when you need a rest. You know what to get worked up about and what to get rid of. And you know when it’s time to take care of yourself, for yourself. To do something that makes you stronger, faster, more complete. Because you know it’s never too late to have a life. And never too late to change one. Just do it.
Krispy Kreme, “Donuts are Bad for You”
No Context
Donuts are bad for you. So are cream cakes, lie-ins and loud rock music. So is sugar. If you take it in your tea, stop immediately. If you take two sugars in your tea, obviously you're trying to commit suicide and it's a cry for help. Don't do it. Your life is precious. Not drinking enough water is bad for you. You must drink 6½ pints a day, or you'll get dehydrated and that's bad for you too. Don't drink too much though, that can be really bad for you. If you drink over 14 pints at once it makes you feel drunk. So don't drink too much water and drive. TV is bad for you. Watching too much can cost you your friends. None at all and you've got nothing to talk to them about. Lack of exercise is bad for you. But getting addicted to gyms is bad for you too. Also, some gym towels aren't laundered properly and spread germs. Germs are bad for you. Stress is bad for you. Well, at least too much stress is bad for you. Not enough and you don't realize you're alive which is bad for you too. The thing is, life and the living that is involved is bad for you. It must be, because it kills everyone in the end.
Context
At Krispy Kreme, we think the key to life, by which we mean eating doughnuts, is balance. Sure, if you eat them morning, noon, and night and they are brought directly to your armchair, then that would be bad. But then if you've never felt the pleasure of eating a delicious fluffy original glazed doughnut hot off the line and, heaven forbid, you get struck by lightning, well surely that would be really bad. Really really bad.