For the past few days, even longer, I have been working on a manifesto for one of our clients. Actually, I’ve been working on two. Even more actually, I’ve been working on manifestos for 25 years, since becoming a copywriter.
Nothing suits me more. For like many a creative soul, I am by nature a show off. And this is the way I can do it. I know I am not alone. Most copywriters get off on writing manifestos. At least they’d better. Writing such documents is at the heart of what we do, and can do, for our clients.
Most of you know what I’m talking about. For those unawares, a manifesto or mantra or anthem is the bringing to life in words the highest and most noble aspirations of its subject matter, aka the brand.
Yes, it is advertising copy but in the best sense of the word. Recall Apple’s great script to the modern world: Think Different. Consider the lines that first and forever defined Nike to a generation: Just Do It. We know these iconic tags because we fell in love with the manifestos. Frankly, neither line would have lasted this long, or even gotten out the door, if not for their beloved manifestos.
The power and glory of a brilliant manifesto cannot be overstated. They raise the hairs on the back of your neck. They make CMO’s smile. They win pitches. Most of all they change things: attitudes, behaviors, even lives.
At least the good ones do.
Alas, we’ve all heard or, God forbid, written our share of shitty ones. They can be purple or redundant or both. They get long pretty damn fast. They turn into cheesy rip-o-matics. Yet, in a weird way, even the bad ones sound pretty good. They are like pizza that way.
Because we slave over them. Into these haloed paragraphs we put everything we know or think we know about writing, about persuading, about life. Here you won’t find speeds and feeds, racks and stacks or friends and family. None of that. These are the best neighborhoods in Adland. No trespassing!
Author’s note: Because I have been busy writing a manifesto I had to refurbish this blog entry from a previous post.
January 27, 2016
Bruce Lee. Nobody did it better…
Growing up in the Lake View neighborhood of Chicago, there was a grindhouse on Clark street called the Parkway Cinema. It showed nothing but Z-grade movies, usually three at a time, for a couple bucks. Go in at noon and stumble out at 7PM. Ingest gobs of bad popcorn, horror and Kung Fu. And, God willing, a smattering of naked ladies. Heaven for a 15-year old boy.
My fascination with horror began here but martial arts flicks also have a place in my heart. Obviously Bruce Lee was the penultimate star of this genre. Yet, he made only a few movies before his untimely and controversial death. Jackie Chan appeared in a great many more. Seeing him, super young, lithe and kicking ass, was sweet. Mostly, however, you got knock-offs like Bruce Le and Bruce Li. Nobody was fooled but for two dollars who cared? A flying kick is a flying kick.
Kung Fu movies were a catharsis. Same as “Death Wish” or “Dirty Harry.” But in almost every martial arts movie you never, ever saw a gun. Every slight, every indignity and humiliation, is met with fists, feet and the occasional “silver spear of death.”
A broom, a kitchen knife and a big bamboo!
Stranger walks into a bar and forgets to bow to the local don. Massive brawl. Drifter asks for directions. Massive brawl. The best was when the star pupil or “dragon” saves (or more likely avenges) the village idiot, blind child or helpless waitress unfairly brutalized by local thugs. One after another, in a predictable pecking order, the bad guys are dispatched until only the most skilled and evil perpetrator is left standing. Cue the dramatic 70’s era horns. Snap zoom to the eyes. Begin the bloody, fantastic finale. Like Rocky, the hero nearly dies from punishment before inflicting the Iron Fist or some other unique technique that Master had taught him for just such an occasion.
Now that’s a headline…
Despite (or because of) terrible acting, ridiculously dubbed voices and myriad directorial issues, these pictures are freaking awesome. They hit a primordial nerve. They got the right part right. Evil is obvious. It does bad things. Good is noble and righteous. It also does bad things. Very bad things. Can you say “Iron Fist?”
As a kid, the ceaseless torments I had endured in the schoolyards the previous week would suddenly evaporate in the red mist of a dragon defending my honor.
I’m a father now. A husband. I’m a worker among workers. But I still get off on that fantasy. To protect, avenge and fight like a dragon.
Imprisoned, King set forth to writing…
When I was in college, I took a course on rhetoric and debate in 20th century America. In it, we looked at numerous famous speeches made by famous people: Lincoln, Jefferson, King, etc. Learning from great persuaders how to fashion a rational and emotional argument would later become useful as a copywriter and presenter. During that semester, no document we studied was more powerful than Martin Luther King’s Letter From a Birmingham Jail.
I am not being glib when I say Letter from a Birmingham Jail is one of the finest pieces of long copy ever written. No question Equal Rights was and is a big idea. I like LFABJ better than King’s more famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Not because of content (both are awesome) but because of circumstances. King was alone in a jail cell when he wrote it.
On this, the anniversary of what would have been MLK’s 86th birthday; I think it a fine thing to reexamine this seminal document. An excerpt follows. The full text is linked below it.
“We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”