Mike Fromowitz
Sep 30, 2011

The Power of Manifestos

Do you get frustrated by companies that don’t tell you why they are in business? In a marketplace filled with commodity products, brand knock-offs, copyright infringements and questionable new ...

The Power of Manifestos

Do you get frustrated by companies that don’t tell you why they are in business? In a marketplace filled with commodity products, brand knock-offs, copyright infringements and questionable new company start-ups on the Internet, I believe more and more people are requiring businesses to define their company in more than just products and services.

Most business owners only explain what they do, defining their business by the products they make or sell.  They don’t tell you why they do it, or why they exist. Whether you’re an advertising agency, a marketing consultancy or a company that markets products or brands, a well thought out company manifesto gives customers the reason to align with you, promote you, and become members of your tribe.

We have entered a period where the consumer is now making purchases based on more that the simple act of what the product or service does for them. Consumers are increasingly making decisions that are aligned with their own values and beliefs. If your company, brand or products are aligned with your customers views, attitudes and lifestyles, some amazing things will happen.

Writing a company manifesto for both your employees and your customers is a way to communicate why your business exists, and why you get out bed everyday. Add your ultimate values to the equation and you’ll be explaining how you’ll go about your business as well.

What a Manifesto is Not

A manifesto is not your business plan and does not include information about your products and services. It is not about how you’re going to make money. Nor is a mission statement a manifesto. Most mission statements are corporate, boring, and reek of status quo. The manifesto is by no means an exercise meant to impress people with the writing. A manifesto should simply fulfill the need to get out why the company does what it does. If you begin talking about what your business does, you’re getting off track.

A manifesto is a way of announcing not only where you are going but how you are going to get there,  and also why you want to get there: the beliefs and principles that connect intellect to emotion.

Manifestos are a powerful catalyst. By publicly stating your views and intentions, you create a pact for taking action. Manifestos were written to spark revolutions and movements: the American Revolution and Communist Revolution;  art and design  movements (Dada Manifesto 1916 and the Surrealist Manifesto 1924), to name but a few. Even Firefoxe’s web browser was launched with its own manifesto.

Needless to say, developing a set of principles that you believe in and constantly strive to stand by is an invaluable tool. If you want to change the world, even in just a small way, creating a business manifesto is a great place to start.

To spark your imagination, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite manifestos:

The Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright

This manifesto, from architect Frank Lloyd Wright, was written as a series of “fellowship assets” meant to guide the apprentices who worked with him at his school, Taliesin.

  1. An honest ego in a healthy body.
  2. An eye to see nature.
  3. A heart to feel nature.
  4. Courage to follow nature.
  5. The sense of proportion (humor).
  6. Appreciation of work as idea and idea as work.
  7. Fertility of imagination.
  8. Capacity for faith and rebellion.
  9. Disregard for commonplace (inorganic) elegance.
  10. Instinctive cooperation.

The Clothing Company: Levi’s

In 2009, Levi Strauss launched a new advertising campaign, “Go Forth”, presenting an optimistic tone in a time of pessimism in the United States. The goforth.levi.com, (see: Now is our time.) campaign elements borrow words and concepts from American poet Walt Whitman to establish its own Manifesto— a pioneering tone for the “New Americans”.

The Levi’s GO FORTH manifesto reads:

I am the new American pioneer. Looking forward, never back. No longer content to wait for better times... I will work for better times. ‘Cause no one built this country in suits. All I need is all I got. Bruises heal. Stink is good. And apathy is death. So I strike up for the new world! A newer, mightier world. The one I will make to my liking. For after the darkness comes the dawn. There is a better tomorrow. Look across the plains and mountains and see America’s eternal promise. A promise of progress. Go forth with me.

The Marketer: Seth Godin

Seth Godin has written thirteen books that have been translated into more than thirty languages. Every one has been a bestseller. American Way Magazine calls him, "America's Greatest Marketer," and his blog is perhaps the most popular in the world written by a single individual. The always insightful Godin wrote his own manifesto “Unforgivable Manifesto” a few years ago. His notion that we’re all marketers in point 7 is quite an eye opener.

  1. The greatest innovations appear to come from those that are self-reliant. Individuals who go right to the edge and do something worth talking about. Not solo, of course, but as instigators of a team. In two words: don’t settle.
  2. The greatest marketers do two things: they treat customers with respect and they measure.
  3. The greatest salespeople understand that people resist change and that ‘no’ is the single easiest way to do that.
  4. The greatest bloggers blog for their readers, not for themselves.
  5. There really isn’t much a of ‘short run’. It quickly becomes yesterday. The long run, on the other hand, sticks around for quite a while.
  6. The internet doesn’t forget. And sooner or later, the internet finds out.
  7. Everyone is a marketer, even people and organizations that don’t market. They’re just marketers who are doing it poorly.
  8. Amazing organizations and people receive rewards that more than make up for the effort required to be that good.
  9. There is no number 9.
  10. Mass taste is rarely good taste.

The Media Entrepreneurs: Bre Pettis & Kio Stark

‘THE CULT OF BEING DONE’ Manifesto was written by Bre Pettis in collaboration with Kio Stark in 20 minutes because “we only had 20 minutes to get it done”. Bre Pettis is a founder of Makerbot, a company that produces robots that make things. Bre is also a founder of NYCResistor, a hacker collective in Brooklyn. Besides being a TV host and Video Podcast producer, he's created new media for Etsy.com, hosted Make Magazine's Weekend Projects podcast, and has been a schoolteacher, artist, and puppeteer.

Kio Stark is a writer who just completed her first book ‘Follow Me Down’—about the way humans relate to technology—and to each other, mediated by technology. On top of nearly 15 years experience in interactive advertising, she also teaches at—New York University in the graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP).

  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.
  8. Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
  9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  11. Destruction is a variant of done.
  12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
  13. Done is the engine of more.

The Ad Agency: Bob Levenson & Bill Bernbach

William “Bill” Bernbach, one of the founders of DDB, redefined advertising in the 1950′s with his ”creative manifesto” which stated: “Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, good writing can be good selling.”

Bernbach’s iconic ‘Think Small’ VW Beetle campaigns were the antidote to conspicuous consumption of the times. ‘Think Small’ was thinking quite big, actually. “The rounded fenders were, in effect, the biggest tail fins of all, for what Volkswagen sold with its seductive, disarming candor was nothing more lofty than conspicuously inconspicuous consumption. Beetle ownership allowed you to show off that you didn’t need to show off.”( Ad Age ).

Bill Bernbach left behind him an inspiring legacy and an ever present challenge to be the very best. One of the many touchstones was the Manifesto written by Bernbach’s famous colleague Bob Levenson,  one of the most successful creative directors and agency executives in the industry.

In Levenson's own words, "We knew we were onto something, in terms of changing the face of the business. Bernbach was always urging us to find ways to attract attention, but also to make the product the star. That's what it was about. You can overlay all kinds of fancy language on top of that, but in the end it's about making somebody want what you're selling. We were working against what the conventional advertising norms were at the time. (Bill) cared more about how someone would approach a problem and find the heart of the matter. And put it down in some way that it hadn't been put down before."

And Levenson did just that when he responded to a contest from Time Magazine in the late 1960's. Ad agencies were invited to create an advertisement in the public interest. Levenson penned a manifesto for the ad industry that conveys so much honesty and respect for the profession and its constituents that it still resonates with incredible power today (and it won the contest). The original advertisement titled “DO THIS OR DIE” is attached bellow followed by the copy.


Is this ad some kind of trick? No. But it could have been. And at exactly that point rests a do or die decision for American business. We in advertising, together with our clients, have all the power and skill to trick people. Or so we think. But we're wrong. We can't fool any of the people any of the time. There is indeed a twelve-year-old mentality in this country; every six-year-old has one. We are a nation of smart people. And most smart people ignore most advertising because most advertising ignores smart people. Instead we talk to each other. We debate endlessly about the medium and the message. Nonsense. In advertising, the message itself is the message. A blank page and a blank television screen are one and the same. And above all, the messages we put on those pages and on those television screens must be the truth. For if we play tricks with the truth, we die.

Now. The other side of the coin. Telling the truth about a product demands a product that's worth telling the truth about. Sadly, so many products aren't. So many products don't do anything better. Or anything different. So many don't work quite right. Or don't last. Or simply don't matter. If we also play this trick, we also die. Because advertising only helps a bad product fail faster. No donkey chases the carrot forever. He catches on. And quits. That's the lesson to remember. Unless we do, we die. Unless we change, the tidal wave of consumer indifference will wallop into the mountain of advertising and manufacturing drivel. That day we die. We'll die in our marketplace. On our shelves. In our gleaming packages of empty promises. Not with a bang. Not with a whimper. But by our own skilled hands. 

The Designer: John Maeda

RISD president John Maeda’s book, The Laws of Simplicity, contains only about 100 pages, but it is one of my favorites.  It has some insights that apply as easily to arranging your living room as to designing a visionary product.  Maeda notes: "Humans want 'more' (food, storage, stuff). So 'more' is an important marketing concept. But while humans want more, design is about less. Yahoo design is about more. Google design is about less." Maeda’s manifesto elaborates on 10 laws for business, design, and life:

  1. Reduce: The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.
  2. Organize: Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.
  3. Time: Savings in time feel like simplicity.
  4. Learn. Knowledge makes everything simpler.
  5. Differences: Simplicity and complexity need each other.
  6. Context: What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.
  7. Emotion: More emotions are better than less.
  8. Trust: In simplicity we trust.
  9. Failure: Some things can never be made simple.
  10. The One: Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

The Writer: Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s “Rules for life” is a manifesto originally written when he was 18 years old. It contains some useful gems. In particular, the notion of managing your energy and prioritizing based on goals (no. 5), and of managing your finances wisely by always keeping a low overhead (no. 9 & 10).

  1. Get up early (five o'clock).
  2. Go to bed early (nine to ten o'clock).
  3. Eat little and avoid sweets.
  4. Try to do everything by yourself.
  5. Have a goal for your whole life, a goal for one section of your life, a goal for a shorter period and a goal for the year; a goal for every month, a goal for every week, a goal for every day, a goal for every hour and for every minute, and sacrifice the lesser goal to the greater.
  6. Keep away from women.
  7. Kill desire by work.
  8. Be good, but try to let no one know it.
  9. Always live less expensively than you might.
  10. Change nothing in your style of living even if you become ten times richer.

The father of creativity: Dr. E. Paul Torrance

Torrance developed the widely used Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, which are used to identify creative ability in children. He also created the Future Problem Solving Program, the mission of which is to “To develop the ability of young people globally to design and promote positive futures using critical, creative thinking.” Based on his findings, Torrance wrote the following manifesto:

  1. Don’t be afraid to fall in love with something and pursue it with intensity.
  2. Know, understand, take pride in, practice, develop, exploit, and enjoy your greatest strengths.
  3. Learn to free yourself from the expectations of others and walk away from the games they impose on you. Free yourself to play your own game.
  4. Find a great teacher or mentor who will help you.
  5. Don’t waste energy trying to be well-rounded.
  6. Do what you love and can do well.
  7. Learn the skills of interdependence.

The Company: Apple

Apple's new CEO Tim Cook boiled the company’s culture down to what was essentially an 8-point manifesto. He did this as the company's COO in 2009, when Steve Jobs went on medical leave. At the time, financial analysts were making dire predictions about the future of the company.

  1. We believe that we're on the face of the earth to make great products.
  2. We're constantly focusing on innovating.
  3. We believe in the simple, not the complex.
  4. We believe we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.
  5. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can focus on the few that are meaningful to us.
  6. We believe in deep collaboration and cross pollination in order to innovate in a way others cannot.
  7. We don't settle for anything other than excellence in any group in the company.
  8. We have the self-honesty to admit when we're wrong and the courage to change.

So what’s your message?

A manifesto is a great way to condense your message into a short, all-encompassing format. Customers, clients, staff, shareholders and more, can read it, print it, email it to their friends, or feed it to their dog. By reading it they will get a better understanding of your core message, which you may have been trying to communicate for years through a website, annual report, a blog, or social media.

To be unique, to be revolutionary, to be a brand with a difference, you're company and your employees must be passionate about your business. Your manifesto, should you decide to write one, must be something not only worth reading, but worth acting on. Can your company create a movement? Can it improve people's lives in some small but important way?

To create a company manifesto you need a strong message before you even think about writing a manifesto. And if you do it right,  it is certain to improve:

  • your branding efforts
  • your overall purpose
  • how your audience relates to you
  • your value offer
  • your market positioning
  • your communications direction

A manifesto crystalizes and clarifies the intention of an organization, and it asks others (employees and customers) to join together and make it a reality. Powerful stuff. Not easy to write, but powerful stuff.


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