The Hughtrain (2018 version)

[Please download the original 2004 PDF version here, Thanks]


[First published in 2004 on the Gapingvoid blog]

1. We are here to find meaning. We are here to help other people do the same. Everything else is secondary.

2. We humans want to believe in our own species. And we want people, companies and products in our lives that make it easier to do so. That is human nature.

3. Product benefit doesn’t excite us. Belief in humanity and human potential excites us.

Think less about what your product does, and think more about human potential.

What statement about humanity does your product make?

The bigger the statement, the bigger the idea, the bigger your brand will become.

4. It’s no longer just enough for people to believe that your product does what it says on the label.

They want to believe in you and what you do. And they’ll go elsewhere if they don’t.

It’s not enough for the customer to love your product. They have to love your process as well.

People are not just getting more demanding as consumers, they are getting more demanding as spiritual entities. Branding is a spiritual exercise.

These are The New Realities, this is the Spiritual Republic we now live in.

5. The soul cannot be outsourced. Either get with the program or hire a consultant in Extinction Management. No vision, no business. Your life from now on pivots squarely on your vision of human potential.

6. The primary job of an advertiser is not to communicate benefit, but to communicate conviction.
Benefit is secondary. Benefit is a product of conviction, not vice versa.

Whatever you manufacture, somebody can make it better, faster and cheaper than you.

You do not own the molecules. They are stardust. They belong to God. What you do own is your soul. Nobody can take that away from you. And it is your soul that informs the brand.

It is your soul, and the purpose and beliefs that embodies, that people will buy into.

Ergo, great branding is a spiritual exercise.

7. Why is your brand great? Why does your brand matter?

Seriously. If you don’t know, then nobody else can- no advertiser, no buyer, and certainly no customer.

It’s not about merit. It’s about faith. Belief. Conviction. Courage.

It’s about why you’re on this planet. To make a dent in the universe.

8. I don’t want to know why your brand is good, or very good, or even great. I want to know why your brand is totally frickin’ amazing.

Once you tell me, I can tell the world.

And then they will know.



This Manifesto (which was more of a short rant than anything else, to be honest) came in Summer, 2004 after I had drawn a series of what are now 7 seminal marketing cartoons, that I had created in my usual “back of business card” format. Here they are (PS None of the original seven are for sale, by the way):

At the time, social media was just starting to take off, and I was predicting that it would have a massive effect on the advertising business (I turned out to be right about that, although I had no way of predicting Facebook, Google et al). My own career as an advertising copywriter was floundering at the time, I knew social media was my future but my future had not arrived yet.

But in the meantime, I was asking myself, what’s the point of it all, anyway? Why do people care about ads? Why do they care about brands? What is it that my clients are really selling?

A few years later in 2008, my good friend, Seth Godin answered this question in an email interview I did for him:

“You can’t drink any more bottled water than you already do. Or buy more wine. Or more tea. You can’t wear more than one pair of shoes at a time. You can’t get two massages at once…

“So, what grows? What do marketers sell that scales?

“I’ll tell you what: Belief. Belonging. Mattering. Making a difference. Tribes. We have an unlimited need for this.”

And this was precisely what these earlier 2004 cartoons were aiming at. I guess great minds think alike etc.

Though it sounds a rather cheesy thing to say, there is a direct link between our spiritual selves and our marketing selves, just as there’s a link between our spiritual selves and every other realm that our consciousness inhabits.

And I thought if I could bring that link to light, I could create a lot of value there, and that would be a interesting and rewarding way to spend one’s career.

But where to begin?

It turns out I was wrong in the end. The future of advertising WASN’T the Hughtrain, wasn’t all that touchy-feely, marketing-as-soul-food stuff.

The future turned out to be in fact the exact opposite, something far more cold and dead (See ‘sweatshop’ cartoon above). It turned out to be all about algorithms and bots and Facebook and Google and… a lot of stuff very few people actually care about. You can read all about the great, fraudulent dumpster fire that it became over on Bob Hoffman’s blog.

So what’s left?

The same thing that’s always left, the stuff that never goes away. Quoting Seth one more time: “Belief. Belonging. Mattering. Making a difference. Tribes. We have an unlimited need for this.”

So instead of asking yourself what the next big trend is, the next big thing coming down the ‘pike, ask yourself instead, what DOESN’T change? What will ALWAYS matter to people? And how do I get my product or service to be a part of that equation?

Think about it.