S Shape Deep Dive


This is one of the most effective manifesto structures for new business pitches and campaign launches. The reason is because when they are done well, they’re packed with ideas for individual commercials, print ads, and other executions. The hard part is doing them well.
This shape got its name because of the path that you take the listener on. I picture the start of the journey being at the top right of the “S”, then a sinuous path all the way to the bottom left.
During that trip, you have a lot of work to do. You need to establish a problem they’ve never thought about before, share with them what you believe, demonstrate why the status quo is bad, show how it can be different, then get them excited about that difference.
It’s a long walk. But if you do it right, this can be the best manifesto to get people excited about a big idea.

How it works

Step 1 — Problem: A captivating intro to what’s wrong.

Every manifesto like this starts with an introduction to the problem. But that’s often where the similarities stop. I’ve seen great S-Shape manifestos start with the following:
  • A short story about how the product was used in the past, but which is no longer possible.
  • A long list of different examples of the problem shot one after the other rapid fire.
  • A soap box observation about the troubling state of whatever the concept is pressing against.
The main thing to think about here is that you need to make your problem interesting. Ideally, you also make it relevant, ownable, and contrarian.
Here’s a masterful example from Krispy Kreme:
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.
If you have a good idea or a good brief, this should be easy. If you have neither, you might have more work to do before you get started on your manifesto. What you’re looking for is something to be mad at. You need to be uncomfortable or upset with the way things are now.
That’s why your product or concept exists: to make things better.

Step 2 — Belief: Your take on the problem.

This usually takes one of two forms. Either you’re going to share your solution or you’re going to share your frustration. The important thing is that this section is about what you believe.
You don’t have to actually say “this is what we believe,” although some manifestos do that. The more common way is just to phrase it as a declarative statement.
Here’s an example from the Diesel “Be Stupid” manifesto:
We're with stupid. Stupid is the relentless pursuit of a regret free life.
Hearing that, we get excited. It’s a sharp, focused, polarizing belief about something specific. We know we’re going to get a bunch of enjoyable examples about how living stupidly removes regrets.
Do not skip this step. You need to tell us your unique take on the problem. This is what sets up the rest of the manifesto. We’re going to be confused if we don’t know where you stand.

Step 3 — Critique: Observations on what’s so bad.

This is when you take a critical look at the container of whatever your topic is about. The “container” could be the world, the industry, the sport, the school, the mindset, and so on.
The way to know which container to pick is to know how many areas your product touches. If it’s a global product, than you’re talking about the world. If it’s only for footballers, than you’re talking about the sport.
Your goal here is to show all the things that are negatively affected by the problem you’ve identified. A lot of manifestos use hyperbole here. It’s not about conveying truth; it’s about being truthful.
Take this example from the Miller manifesto:
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.
This is obviously untrue. Nothing about the High Life put a man on the moon, and the absence of it didn’t kill the space program. But it’s a representation of the truth. It demonstrates that the High Life is about courageous, diligent hard work.
You’ll need to decide how much and how far you’re willing to stretch the hyperboles to make your point. In more serious manifestos, you might need to go more toward powerful insights rather than enjoyable examples.
Here’s an example of a different tone from the “Looking Back” manifesto from Clark Street Bridge:
And looking back, they took a picture of Earth. A small blue dot in a single beam of sunlight. And that, should anyone ever ask you, is the definition of art.
Is that the definition of art? Definitely not. But there’s something captivating about the simplicity and confidence of the statement.

Step 4 — Turn: The impact or need for your better way.

This is where your manifesto turns. It often turns more positive. If the critique section has talked about why something is bad, now is the time to show the better way that’s better. If the critique was about something that’s missing from life, now we see what happens when that thing is added to life. If you want, you can go back and forth between the world turning its back on your solution and embracing your solution.
Refrain from making this section a rallying cry. We’re not there yet. We first need to feel the importance of your solution. Demonstrate the ways it affects your container. Use vivid examples with rich detail.
Some manifestos also take this section and go the other way. Instead of showing the vision, they turn toward a different, more intense demonstration of the problem.
The Cadillac manifesto about the penalty of leadership does this. Rather than show the value of leadership (which isn’t the point of the piece), they take a turn toward specific examples of great leaders not getting the acknolwedgement they deserve.
Long, long after a great work or a good word has been done, those who are disappointed or envious continue to cry out that it cannot be done. Spiteful little voices in the domain of art were raised against our own Whistler as a mountebank, long after the big world had acclaimed him its greatest artistic genius.Multitudes flocked to Bayreuth to worship at the musical shrine of Wagner, while the little group of those whom he had dethroned and displaced argued angrily that he was no musician at all. The little world continued to protest that Fulton could never build a steamboat, while the big world flocked to the river banks to see his boat steam by.
What’s most important here is that the halfway point creates a turn. You do not want to spend the middle 50% of your manifesto just listing the same examples over and over. (If you do, you should write a Z-Shape manifesto instead.) The S-Shape demands that new ways of discussing the problem or solution are introduced throughout the piece. Whether you go positive, negative, or something else—is up to you.

Step 5 — Rally: Motivation and inspiration to pursue it.

Nearly all S-Shape manifestos end with what I call the Rally. This isn’t always a rallying cry, although it often is. It can also just be a rally around an idea. This is where you see repetitive structure a lot, as in the Miller Manifesto below. The repetition of “We will …” creates rhythm that quickens our heartbeats.
This is where you need to put the clearest and most powerful examples of your idea. Bad versions of the S-Shape continue to wade in the waters of clever lines and playful hyperbole. I recommend not doing this. Think of the president’s speech from Independence Day:
We will not go quietly into the night. We will not vanish without a fight. We’re going to live on. We’re going to survive. Today, we celebrate our independence day.
I’ve also seen this work well where you describe your product or service with parallel structure. “Ford tough means this. Ford tough means that. Ford tough means this and that.” You can also do this with your concept. “Power is blank. Power is blank. Power is blank.”
If you go this direction, make sure you don’t use too much parallel structure before this point. It will diminish the power of it here at the end. If you’re tempted to use it earlier, visit the Technique sections in Part III to vary it up a bit.
Now that we have a good understanding of the structure. Let’s take a look at a complete manifesto and see where and how each of the these beats align.

Example: Miller, “This is The High Life”

This is one of the best public-facing manifestos. There are many more manifestos like this that nobody sees. However, those pieces usually go on to inspire great work and rarely released to the public.
This manifesto is an exception. It gives us the best glimpse into this complex and persuasive structure. Let’s take a look line by line and see how it aligns to the S-Shape format.


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.
Technically, there’s a line before this, but this is the beginning of the manifesto text. It comes on with a smack across the face. A “large-scale decline in American manhood” already starts to make us both uneasy and interested. There’s also an concession that Miller High Life is not as popular as it should be. This is rare and impressive. The writer is saying to us that nothing is immune from the truth of the moment, not even our product.
So we’ve established the problem: Manhood is suffering and it’s taking Miller High Life with it. The next logical question is: what does Miller think manhood looks like? This is what ushers us into the belief section.


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.
This paragraph does two things. It defines Miller’s belief in manhood and it also demonstrates the lens through which the rest of the manifesto is going to analyze and critique the world. We’re going to get a lot of great examples about how the world has gone away from hard work. We also see that this campaign is demonstrating that Miller is not only the champion of this new wave of manhood, but it is also the reward.
Now that we understand what our POV is, it’s time to have fun. Before we get to the vision of how great the world will be when Miller’s version of manhood takes over, we first need to demonstrate how bad this problem is. We have our lens, now we need to critique the current world.


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?
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.
This is often the most fun part of the manifesto to craft. The critique is where you get to point out everything wrong with the world through the lens of your idea. Notice how rich and vivid the examples are: “Consumes the road like a many-finned shark.” “Sad popularity of a so-called sport like soccer.” Even describing “Convenience, Aerobic Fitness, and Yogurt” as “chosen religions” demonstrates a strong tone of voice. That is especially effective for a manifesto about manhood, for which confidence is a key element.
Throughout this script, the manifesto contrasts the negative with the positive. We don’t just focus on bad things like grounding a space program, but we also see the opposite positive like putting a man on the moon. This is effective, but not a requirement. Many manifestos would have just listed examples of the lack of manhood in modern society. And that would have been fine. Though in general, the richer the details, the better the manifestos. So if you have more you can add in, the better.


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?
The turn for this manifesto is a plea. We’re no longer just commenting and observing. Now the manifesto is getting desperate. We see the world “crying out” and “isn’t it time” for us to “reclaim,” “pursue,” and “embrace.”
That shift in emotion is a clever way of demonstrating the vision for the future without calling attention to it. We see that Miller’s efforts will be to encourage that mindset so that as many people as possible can enjoy the High Life “which each of us, by nature’s grace, is born.”
This is what sets up the next section. We have the stakes as to why we need this more than ever in our lives. So the next question is, how do we get there?


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.
This is a fantastic example of a rally section. We’re given specific instructions that demonstrate the path toward the vision of the campaign. The rally section is often where many of the commercial ideas come from, and for good reason. It has the most action and intention toward the solution.
The final paragraph is also proof of why many of these manifestos remain internal and don’t go out to the public. This manifesto is not for their audience. This is for Miller. Or, more specifically, the marketing team.l This shows what they’re going to do and the reasons why they’re going to do it. They’re not just making beer; they have a duty to “give the world some much-needed lessons in how to lead this High Life.” Doesn’t your mind swarm with ads? If the answer is yes, you generally have a pretty good manifesto on your hands.


The preparation for this manifesto structure revolves around filling your head with lots and lots of examples. This is not the time to take the factory tour. Instead, you need to have three main buckets of ideas.
First, you need to understand how your problem is currently negatively impacting the world, sport, industry, mindset, or other topic of your idea. You need a lot of examples of what the current state of the situation is. Here’s a list of everything the Miller manifesto above pointed out when men don’t pursue the high life.
  • Laziness
  • Fear
  • Salad worship
  • Cheap thermal-tile glue grounding your space program
  • K-cars
  • The so-called sport of soccer
  • Feeling lost
  • Confusion
  • Convenience
  • Aerobic Fitness
  • Yogurt
  • Feeling hollow
  • Coffee Boutiques
  • John Tesh
  • Richard Simmons
  • The fitness industry
  • Self-lighting charcol
  • Leather interiors
  • Automatic transitions
  • SUVS
Just as important is to understand all the ways that your product makes the world better. This is often done through hyperbole, so it doesn’t need to be truthful. But it does need to resonate. Make sure these details connect with your audience. That’s why it’s so important to get right. Here are all of those examples from the Miller manifesto.
  • Living boldly, proudly, manly
  • A brighter, bolder world
  • Being a man
  • Returning to simple, manly virtues
  • Not taking yourself too seriously
  • Hard work
  • Creating a better world for himself, his family, and his neighbor
  • Building a nation
  • Keeping Boris in his place
  • Setting land-speed records
  • Putting a man on the moon
  • Oversized, road-consuming Cadillacs
  • Football
  • Dick Butkus, Knute Rockne, Jim Thorpe
  • Good steak
  • Elbow grease
  • Bacon grease
For both, I recommend writing out a huge list of good stuff and bad stuff. I will often do random Google image searches about my topic and just look for stuff that comes to mind. Another trick is to use a random word generator. Whatever word it says, see if there’s something insightful you could say for either one of your lists.
Your goal is just to get a lot of stuff in your head before you start writing. If you’re lucky, you’ll actually stumble on even better ones during the writing process. But in experience, that’s helped along by spending time thinking about it before hand.
One more rule to remember: it’s better to have a shorter manifesto with better examples than it is to have a longer one that’s thinned out. What people are going to remember most is how you make them feel. Get the best ones you can, organize them with the structure above, and you should be in good shape.