27 February 2019

Underachiever: The Art (Or Not) Of Crafting A Manifesto

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + Creative Strategist…

OK, let me get this straight: A sports fashion brand run by savvy marketing pros and brilliant designers creates a text-driven promo piece… then ruins it with bad typography?

I’m pondering this Under Armour brand manifesto ’cause, well, I’m a sucker for manifestos. Compare that to this classic from Under Armour’s arch rival:

Nike Barry Sanders Ad

click to enlarge

When I saw that Nike ad in a magazine over a decade ago, I had to clip it and scan it. Yes, it committed the cardinal sin of using reverse type, but the writing sang to me, as did the choice of idol (5′ 8″ NFL living legend Barry Sanders).

Now here’s Under Armour attempting to pull a Nike, but that dull block of all-caps gray text set against a featureless black background essentially screams, “YOU DON’T WANT TO READ THIS!”

But I wanted an inspiring manifesto. I needed one. In fact, I think the entire world needs one. So I forced myself to discern the words — only 100 of them, but they look like so much more.

Yet I read every single one. And the scream was right: I really didn’t want to.

This supposedly inspiring manifesto from an action brand drips with cliched abstractions written in passive voice:

  • “is fueled”
  • “are driven”
  • “being chased”

Not exactly “Just Do It.”

Now I’ve seen worse, far worse (see the aforementioned article on reverse type). But promo pieces like this prove that even advertising professionals should regularly review the fundamentals of design and writing (e.g., “always use active voice” and “always make copy legible”).

After all, if you’re pushing others to “overachieve,” shouldn’t you try harder?

P.S. Really want to write a manifesto for your brand? First read Kim Mok’s brilliant satire, “The Manifesto Manifesto”.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

2 Responses

  1. Yow! White type on black is bad enough, but GRAY type on black?? Not just a grievous design error, but a classic case of a brand assuming that people care about the brand as much as they do, and that they’ll read the message despite the pain and inconvenience. Wrong. A brand’s first priority has to be getting noticed in a way that makes folks WANT to consume its content. Your analysis is spot-on, Freddy– thanks for sharing.

    • retro

      Thanks for reading and the comment, Mark. Some marketers seem to be wearing mirrored sunglasses, with the mirrored side facing in.

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