Why Brand Manifestos Matter

Higher Order

Jeremy Schwartz Jeremy SchwartzNov 19, 2019

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The first time I ever saw the idea of a brand manifesto was back in the late ’90s, when I was still cutting my creative chops at Hill Holliday in Boston. One of our design leads had this 8.5 x 11-inch piece of paper taped to the wall of his office. It was titled “An Incomplete Manifesto for Growth,” and the author was a Canadian graphic designer named Bruce Mau.

Before that, I had only heard the term “manifesto” in history class. “The Communist Manifesto,” the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and, of course, the U.S. Declaration of Independence. And as I started working with significant brands earlier that decade, often we were hammered with mission statements as part of the briefing process before we started crafting advertising campaigns for our corporate clients. Remember that section of the brief back then? Unfortunately, all too often they outlined general operating goals with obtuse language crafted to get board approval.

Early in my career, I worked on a significant financial investment firm account, and guess what? Its mission was to make “financial expertise more accessible and effective.” Needless to say, that section of those early briefs typically offered little insight into the true passion and pulse of the companies we were tasked to bring to life on TV or in print.

But Mau’s manifesto spoke to me in a way unlike any of those overly responsible proclamations ever could. With a single page and two columns of sans-serif type, Mau fueled my desire to be a creative problem-solver, and that desire continues to this day.

The first point that caught my eye:

“DON’T BE COOL. Cool is conservative fear dressed in black. Free yourself from limits of this sort.”

And:

“AVOID FIELDS. JUMP FENCES. Disciplinary boundaries…are attempts to control the wilding of creative life. They are…efforts to order what are manifold, complex, evolutionary processes. Our job is to jump fences and cross fields.”

And my favorite:

“___________. Intentionally left blank. Allow space for the ideas you haven’t had yet and for the ideas of others.”

You can read the whole manifesto here. But, suffice to say, I wasn’t the only creative it lit up. Mau’s 43-point manifesto spread like wildfire. In fact, if you ask me, I’d say it pretty much inspired the entire marketing-manifesto movement that shows no signs of slowing.

Brand manifestos matter because they put into words what matters most to your brand. Sometimes poetic, sometimes pragmatic, the best manifestos always make an emotional connection. They always inspire. Because they take an abstract idea — your brand — and literally make it manifest.

Brands are born when the people behind them believe in something. And manifestos matter because they give voice to those beliefs.

At our agency, we recently started this thought-leadership publication with a new take on something we believe is central to marketing success: ambition. Our idea is that ambition is a noble cause, not the take-no-prisoners version of ambition typically associated with advancing rank. We want to push noble ambition forward as fuel for our collective desire to leave our world better than how we found it. That can mean propping up a single person — or an entire community. And it can mean driving long-term, business-building value for brands.

Here’s the manifesto we put out into the world to bring this belief to life.

What do you believe in? What does your brand stand for? A well-crafted manifesto gives your customers and coworkers the 30,000-foot view. Believe in the original idea and innovation that made your brand distinctive and successful from the very beginning. Honor that truth as you help it evolve and stay relevant in the world. Show them what lights your fire, why they should care about your brand and how it’s going to inspire and make impact.

“Be careful to take risks.” As Mau wrote, “Time is genetic. Today is the child of yesterday and the parent of tomorrow. The work you produce today will create your future.” Noble ambition, indeed.

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