/Mark Welker

A Call To Arms

The rise of the brand manifesto

In times of division and instability, consumers look for leadership, yearn for a sense of coalition and look for signs of confidence. Look no further than this year’s US Super Bowl ad lineup. As the US reeled from a deeply divisive political campaign and was polarised over immigration and globalisation, the global sports fixture turned up a mixture of politically charged and thought provoking examples of companies/brands seeking to align themselves around a set of broadly political/cultural tag lines.

After a year of criticism over claims of racial bias amongst its users, AirBnB proposed a message *#weaccept* alongside a simplistic but effective visual cascade of multicultural portraits that one assumes makes up its broad user base.

Budweiser, a brand whose image is synonymous with the American dream, surprising in its sympathetic depiction of the company’s immigrant roots. Or 84 Lumber (who cared or knew of a single lumber company pre-Super Bowl?) and its 5 minute immigrant fable complete with American flag knitted from roadside trash and tagline “The will to succeed is always welcome here”. 

This method of alignment of cause and campaign is often called a Manifesto

A manifesto is a call to arms that presents a brand’s proposition as a single minded guiding principle, intent or underlying motivation. In marketing, the strategy behind a manifesto is to appeal to and claim ownership of a particular set of cultural values or opinions.

For brands, a manifesto is a way of beginning a long term conversation on the right note.

A manifesto works by harnessing all the power and message complexity of a brand’s products and pushing it in one direction.

In 1984, Apple, then led by the late Steve Jobs, heralded the coming of the Macintosh with its homage to George Orwell’s novel 1984. It was a manifesto that, perhaps ambitiously, sought to save humanity from conformity through it’s (literal and metaphorical) shattering of the current computer market, which was mostly pointed at the market leader of the time IBM. 

The ambiguous launch commercial (subsequently been called a ‘watershed event’ and a masterpiece for Apple) was followed up just over 10 years later on Jobs’ return to the company with Apple’s Think Different campaign. This time clearly spelling out for consumers whom the brand spoke to and why, aligning an entire generation around a clear call to arms.

Apple, like many other companies, understands the potency and longevity of having a ‘why’ conversation behind a brand. Whether by introduction or re-alignment, a manifesto captures the imagination of consumers and provides a creative vehicle to claim part of an existing social or cultural conversation.

The hook for a manifesto lies in clever incorporation of its visual and audio elements. The mixture of perspective in the visuals, the way voiceover shapes and enhance each visuals meaning, and the ability for music to broaden or define the appeal to a particular audience.

Closer to home, when Tower Australia Limited (TAL), Australia’s oldest and largest life insurance underwriter, launched its first ever ad campaign in 2016, agency BMF encouraged the brand to lead with a message that celebrated aspects of Australian life worth insuring.

The tagline ‘This Australian Life’ leads a visual and VO driven manifesto that acts as tribute to a rich and modern Australian life and also as strong positioning for the TAL brand in a consumer market largely unaware of their presence. Potent visuals mark various stages of Australian life, with scenes that are distinctly Australian—the big prawn, the outback, the beach, cricket—and also inclusive, with its range of ethnicities, age groups and life moments depicted.  

As GM of brand marketing at TAL, Antony Wilson, put it “Through this campaign, we hope to remind Australians why they love their Australian life.” (Source: Mumbrella)

For TAL, a name largely unknown to most Australian consumers, the manifesto provides an emotive introduction to a new market, and draws a confident picture of a company with vast knowledge and familiarity with Australia.

Manifesto’s have particular potency amongst brands with service offerings, where product qualities and characteristics are a mixture of intangible benefits returned after the fact, such as a better education, a more immersive travel experience, more professional advice. 

Such is the case in the below example for Intrepid Travel's 2016 Collecting Moments campaign which uses a traveller’s monologue to uncover the spirit of small group travel. 

For brands, a manifesto is a way of beginning a long term conversation on the right note.

Whilst down the road the conversation may be devoted to more of a product focus, its beginnings are rooted in deep understanding of brand values, current market offerings and competitor positions.

Apple’s 1984 conversation began at a time of market dominance by one player, hence its manifesto positioned the brand against that. When it returned to the form in 2014 for the release of the iPad Air, it was the market leader.

Now the message evolved from it’s initial position of ‘alternative brand’ to one of leadership, a call to consumers to forge their path in a new world activated by technology and expression. An invitation to write your own verse at a time when technology has unprecedented power to democratise much of the social, cultural and political landscape.

With ’What will your verse be’ we see Apple return to its best, a celebration of human ingenuity and creativity that is both emotionally stirring and incredibly motivating as a product message.

A manifesto creates the momentum many brands need to develop a richer and more long term consumer conversation. A chance to clarify and celebrate those values that lie at the intersection of market positioning and company culture.

For creatives like us, a manifesto represents exciting territory, an opportunity to tell a story that carries both emotional and strategic weight. Something that will endure and adapt, and for both viewer and brand, a pathway to a new conversation.

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Check out our own manifesto here.

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