U Shape Deep Dive


Introduction

This is the best manifesto to create emotion. It wasn’t until I was studying manifestos regularly that I even noticed the pattern between this type of structures. Now that I’ve identified it, I see it everywhere.
The structure has two distinct halves. The first half always pulls the listener down into the valley of the problem. The manifesto then turns upward, and we rise up, up, up, up toward the insight at the end. The positivity in the second half is essential to the power of these pieces. It need to offset the bad vibes from the first half.
Because of that, you need to make sure that you have an insight or story with enough power to pull us all the way out of the valley. You can’t just drag us in with tales of how bad it is, only to leave us there to die. But for really good insights or really good solutions, it’s worth the journey.
In my experience, this is the manifesto type that is most likely to get applause at the end. It’s also the most common manifesto type for cause-related companies since the U-shape is perfect for establishing and solving a problem.
 

How it works

Step 1 — Downward: Demonstrate the depth of the problem.

For story-based manifestos, this is easy. Simply tell us a story that drags us into the depth of whatever problem you’re trying to create. The best thing you can do is make it tangible, relevant, or relatable. The Girl Effect does this incredibly well in “The Clock is Ticking,” which we’ll look at in more detail below.
However, this is not the only way to write a U-Shaped manifesto. You can also do it with a series of examples. The thing to remember is that you need to continually think about pulling the listener down. Things need to get worse and worse and worse. Why? Two reasons. First, that crushing feeling is what makes them want a solution even more. Our brains start to crave a freedom from the discomfort. Second, we have an intuitive sense that if you’re going to be this negative, there’s a lot of positive stuff waiting for us soon.
That’s why it’s so essential to have a good second half. We’re making a promise to the listener that if they come with us on this journey, they will be rewarded with good feelings by the end.
Here’s a series of examples from Nike’s, “Dream Crazier”:
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.
We could write an entire chapter on how good this piece is. For now, just take note of how the examples get more and more intense. The piece goes from words like “dramatic” and “nuts” to “hysterical” and “crazy.” They also did a great job of demonstrating the importance of what women in sports are accomplishing. Rather than just saying versions of “if we show emotion,” the script talks about equal opportunity, standing for something, and excellence. That raises the stakes and gives the piece more power.
Eventually, “Dream Crazier” turns all this negativity upwards because of their insight about the two definitions of “crazy.” But this can be done with many different types of insights. You don’t need to have something as simple as that for it to work.

Step 2 — Turn: A short line that signals a shift upward.

Amazingly, it’s actually worth mentioning this part of the script. Every U-Shape manifesto has a turn. It’s essential, but you don’t need to think hard about it. More than half of the ones I’ve studied just use the word “But” in a really dramatic way. Nearly every time, it’s effective—and for the same reason as we mentioned in the previous section. Our brains are waiting for the signal. We want the hopeful music to start.
There are ways to do it without saying just the word “But.” One is by adding a bit more context. In “#ShareTheLoad” from Ariel, their turn is, “But it’s not too late.” That signals to the listener the kind of turn that’s about to happen. Effective, but not required.
Another way to go is to expand this section a little. You really don’t want to take too long here, but there can be reason to put in a few extra words that make the transition work harder. Take this example from TBWA\Chiat\Day. They’ve spent the first half of the script telling people not to do the right thing. Rather than just turning the corner with something like “Instead,” they say this:
So, what are you supposed to do? The wrong thing? Of course not.
This works because it dispels the most pressing question that the listener might have. Since they want to take the manifesto in the direction of doing the “brave thing,” which is not obvious, they have done a good job squashing this lingering thought in the listener’s mind that might pull them out of the emotional arc they’re creating.

Step 3 — Upward: Positive build toward your solution.

Now it’s time for the clouds to part. Your goal is to raise our heartbeat. This is where we see the solution or insight, and feel the power of its impact on the world, the industry, or ourselves.
Remember to have this part be of equal length as the first half. The two halves should also feel more or less like mirror images. If someone is apologizing in the first half, they’re demonstrating what they’re going to do differently in the second. If the script has been about negative examples in the first half, we see positive examples in the second.
The key to this section is that you want to lead toward your big idea without saying it explicitly until the end. Your big idea, or your best line, or the final piece, needs to come at the end—because that’s where it will have the biggest emotional impact.
Nike’s “Dream Crazier” does this by stacking a lot of impressive examples over and over. And only until we’re so stunned at the contribution and excellence of female athletes, we hear the punch line:
So if they want to call you crazy—fine. Show them what crazy can do.
Imagine if that had come at the middle of the script, right after the turn. Would it be as effective? Probably not. In fact, if it did come earlier, we would be expecting an even better line at the end.
That said, the ending doesn’t have to be monumental. It just needs to be the thing you want your audience to remember. My Black is Beautiful actually has a great line before the ending that could have finished the piece:
What’s unbecoming of a black woman is becoming who you are.
However, this isn’t the takeaway from this spot. The ending is the simple, empowering phrase: “Unbecoming is beautiful.” If your idea has an idea like this that you want to give a lot of weight to, consider the U-Shape. In my experience, it’s the only shape where people actually break out into applause at the end. I think it’s because they’ve all been on an emotional journey, and they’re so relieved to end with a feeling of satisfaction at the end.
 

Cheat Sheet

If you want to write a U-Shape manifesto, here are your steps:
Downward: Demonstrate the depth of the problem.
Turn: A short line that signals a shift upward.
Upward: Positive build toward your solution.
 

Example: The Girl Effect, “The Clock is Ticking”

For our example, we’re going to take a look at at story-based manifesto. This does an excellent job of pulling us into the problem and then lifting us out. I return to this script time and again for the the simplicity of the story.

Downward:

We have a situation on our hands. And the clock is ticking. When a girl turns 12 and lives in poverty her future is out of her control. In the eyes of many, she’s a woman now. No, really she is. She faces the reality of being married by the age of 14. Pregnant by the time she’s 15. And if she survives childbirth she might have to sell her body to support her family. Which puts her at risk for contracting and spreading HIV. Not the life you imagined for a 12-year-old, right?
Because this is a story-based manifesto, the path downward is built into the concept. However, the execution is worth noting. Even though they’re talking about the entire population of women who live in poverty, the manifesto focuses it through the eyes of a single girl. This creates an emotional resonance that might not have been as effective if we talked about everyone at once.
Structurally, we can feel the pull downward. Every sentence adds a new depth to the gravity of the situation. This is one of the straightest scripts on this site. There are very few techniques or tricks with the language. But because of the magnitude of the situation, nothing else is needed. The story can stand on its own and the words can just get out of the way.
Now that we’re in the depth of the problem, it’s time to make a turn.

Turn:

But the good news is, there is a solution.
This is what the audience is waiting for. Okay, now we’re here in the depths. We’re heartbroken, we’re said, and the weight of the problem feels immense. What has to change to keep this from happening again?
Upward:
Let’s rewind to her at 12. Happy and healthy. She visits a doctor regularly. She stays in school. Where she’s safe. She uses her education to earn a living. Now, she’s calling the shots. And it looks something like this: She can avoid HIV. She can marry and have children when she’s ready. And her children are healthy like she is. Now imagine this continuing for generation after generation. You get the picture, right? 50 million 12-year-old-girls in poverty. Equal 50 million solutions. This is the power of the Girl Effect. That starts with a 12-year old girl. And impacts the world. The clock is ticking.
Although this might look longer than the first section, the two halves are almost even. There are 94 words in the first part, 106 in the second. But in this section, the sentences are shorter. There’s a cadence to them that propels us upward and builds energy. Done well, punchier sentences can raise can generate excitement because we the facts start coming rapid fire. Quite a difference from the longer sentences in the first section.
More importantly, this script does a great job pulling us all the way out of the valley. We not only see that there is a solution. We also see the simple changes needed to help her. Visiting the doctor. Staying in school. There are, of course, monumental challenges, but the script does the right move by making them feel accessible and achievable. The important thing it’s asking us to do is appreciate that solutions are possible and necessary.
At the end, the script also widens out to show us how this one story represents 50 million girls. That bigness is often found at the end of U-Shape manifestos. As we mentioned earlier, it’s not enough just to have a few good things in the upward slope. We need a lot of them to make us feel like it was worth the emotional journey. Too few, and we feel either cheated or sad. The Girl Effect reaches full height end with “The Clock is Ticking,” and the spot continues to be memorable and relevant as a result.

Homework

Regardless of whether you’re telling a story or listing examples, the preparation for almost all U-Shape manifestos is to do research about the depth of the problem. Often, we have a good idea of the solution baked into the concept, but we need to have a fuller, authentic understanding of what the bad side is. Take a look at all the facts we get in the first half of “The Clock is Ticking”:
  • A impoverished 12-year-old-girl’s life is out of her control.
  • Although we think of her as a girl, many view her as an adult.
  • It’s possible or likely that she’ll be married at 14.
  • It’s possible or likely that she’ll be pregnant at 15.
  • Childbirth poses potentially-fatal health risks.
  • Supporting her family may require her to sell her body.
  • This puts her at risk of contracting HIV.
  • This also puts her at risk of spreading HIV.
These are the kind of facts that seem inevitable after the script is written, but it can be incredibly challenging and time-consuming to collect and organize these facts during the writing process. Just think of all the things that could have been included but were left out. Also think about the research and legal conversations required to validate these statements.
Why is the research important? In my experience, it’s vital not to guess or assume. Failure to be factual with a script like this exposes the brand or the cause to widespread dismissal from the public. There are horror stories of brands that have spent millions making commercials only to shelve them a week after they come out because the script didn’t resonate the way they intended.
There is a second thing to focus on as well. For story-based scripts, you also need to have a crystal-clear explanation of your solution. You can’t make the solution seem more complex than the problem. Take this example from “The (RED) Manifesto.” That script is not a U-Shape structure, but it’s a great illustration of the point:
If they don't get the pills, they die. We don't want them to die. We want to give them the pills. And we can. And you can. And it's easy. All you have to do is upgrade your choice.
In that many words, you understand the core goal of Project (RED). They want to give people pills so people don’t die. The same thing happens in “The Clock is Ticking.” Take time to really figure out the simplest explanation. If you need a good test, call up a friend and say it out loud. Or just say it out loud as if you’re talking to a friend. There’s something about the act of actually speaking that is a good pressure test for how well we actually know something.
If you demonstrate great research in the first half and extreme simplicity in the second half, changes are you have a pretty good script.