What makes a manifesto powerful?
I love a good manifesto. They’re one of the most expressive things a copywriter has the opportunity to write. Sure they can be challenging to start and insanely frustrating to get right, but they’re one of the few exercises that allow us to write something lengthy that isn’t informative body copy or script dialogue.
Manifestos are great because they pop up in all sorts of places too. Sometimes you’ll write a manifesto for a pitch to help clients see the world you envision for them. Sometimes it’ll be a used in a tv commercial or in print, hoping to inspire its viewers. Sometimes it just sits in a deck and helps set the tone for a campaign. No matter where it’s used, they let you take control of the story. manifestos are like getting to paint with words. They’re creative, symbolic and take the reader on a journey that hopefully makes them feel something powerful. So how do we write a manifesto that really pulls at the heart-strings? Here’s a few tips that give yours that emotional punch.
Avoid Writing a ‘Boilerplate’ Manifesto
Boilerplate language is that generic sounding stuff that typically follows formulaic structure. Many manifestos do it, and in my opinion, it’s lazy writing. Sometimes, a template or a common manifesto ‘formula’ is right for the project. Sometimes you have to do it, because you only have an hour to write something before the client shows up, but if you’re looking to knock someone’s socks off. Avoid that generic manifesto feel.
So what does that boilerplate formula look like? It’s a bit like this generic manifesto… to manifestos.
Manifestos. They’re not just word’s. They’re more than words. They’re Poetry.
Some inspire us to do great things.
Some help us reflect.
Some repeat the same type of sentence over and over again.
Some change the world.
This generic one does not.
You’ve probably seen this style of manifesto before. It repeats itself, evolving and ‘building’ the idea until it finally makes a point aligned with the goal of the brand. A manifesto does not need to take this form! It can be a letter. A haiku. It can be a song. It can also just be really powerful speech that would make the movie VO guy tear up. There’s nothing wrong with starting from a form, but do yourself a favor and use it only to get your thoughts on paper. Get creative! It’s why we do this.
Find an interesting story that tells us something.
Like with all things we write, it’s important to craft a story. When you’re writing a manifesto, telling some sort of story is even more important because powerful manifestos must have a point of view on what they’re talking about. In other words, find a tension and pick a side.
You can come up with a story by drawing on inspiration from the product, audience or campaign idea, synthesizing it with some sort of insight and then poetically express it through words. Remember that your ‘story’ doesn’t need to be something lengthy. It’s really just a unique perspective on a subject that clearly sets up the rest of your manifesto and gives it a point of view.
Don’t talk at your audience. Talk to them.
The most important thing you can do in any manifesto is to try and understand your audience. Sometimes this requires you to go well beyond the research provided to you by the client or your strategy team. If you truly want to connect with them, you need to understand their emotional needs, not just the benefits they receive from the product you’re advertising. What are their internal struggles? Fears? Hopes? Aspirations?
Once you understand your audience, don’t write your manifesto at them (which is what that form manifesto does), but write it like you’re one of them. Don’t over explain the ‘why.’ Avoid simply highlighting the main points.
Instead, engage them in a way that shows you understand them. Use their language, their slang and intentionally allude to things that your reader would already understand. It’s a quick, easy way to make them feel like you really get them and their situation.
Free write a lot of bad manifestos to get to one good manifesto
I typically start writing manifestos by doing research on my audience and then finding a few interesting stories I could use to get my message across. Once I do all that, I start free-writing a manifesto without any expectations of getting my final piece on the page. This free-writing process also helps me get all the ideas out of my head, helping me create a more clear, succinct story.
When I’m free writing, I typically won’t get more than a few sentences on a page at a time, because I’ll start to identify and craft phrases that I think sound powerful. I might write 3 sentences, get a new idea, then start a new manifesto. I might finish a manifesto then try to write it again. All of this work is helping me create a ‘bank’ of language that helps me hone in on my final piece. Then, it’s a matter of weaving all those powerful bits together. Connecting them, linking them and transforming them into a final piece.
Carefully craft, edit and scrutinize every word
In a good manifesto, almost every word is infused with meaning and must be carefully selected. While you edit, cut out unnecessary language, think about the speech-rhythm of how your phrases sound and to find ways to infuse multiple meanings into what you’re writing. Go through your manifesto like a fine-toothed comb. That’s what makes the magic happen.
Get emotional to sound emotional
My last piece of advice for writing a powerful manifesto is to be passionate. If you’re not in the mindset of the reader and you’re not feeling the emotion of the word’s you’re writing, then it’s always going to sound lackluster. Listen to music that will get you in the right mood. Try to visualize yourself as the audience. No matter what you do, write your manifestos with passion. Lastly, when you share them with a client or your creative director, read them with the passion that went into writing it. After all, your words only have power if you believe in them.