2011-09-30_1132In adver­tis­ing, it’s not so much what infor­ma­tion your words com­mu­ni­cate to the prospect, but what expe­ri­ences they call forth from the prospect. What images and asso­ci­a­tions do your words bring to life in the imag­i­na­tion?  And how many words does it take to cre­ate these images?

Per­haps the most famous exam­ple of breath­tak­ing brevity cou­pled with bril­liant imagery is Hemingway’s short, 6-word story:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

And while many peo­ple have admired that 6-word story since it’s cre­ation, few have gone on to emu­late it — until recently! It seems there’s now a series of books fea­tur­ing 6-word mem­oirs, start­ing with mem­oirs of “Writ­ers Famous and Obscure.”  Here are a few of the mem­oirs I man­aged to pick out from reviews (haven’t ordered mine yet):

  • Woman Seeks Men–High Pain Threshold.
  • Study math­e­mat­ics, marry slut. Sum bad
  • Found true love. Mar­ried some­one else.
  • My first con­cert: Zappa. Explains everything.
  • Aging late bloomer yearns for do-over.
  • Girl­friend is preg­nant, my hus­band said.
  • Just in: boyfriend’s gay. Merry Christmas.
  • Let’s just be friends, she said.
  • Afraid of every­thing. Did it anyway.
  • Still lost on road less traveled.
  • Can’t read all the time. Bummer.
  • I love my lady … and bacon.
  • I wrote it all down somewhere.
  • Athe­ist alco­holic gets sober through God.
  • Father: ‘Any­thing but jour­nal­ism.’ I rebelled. —Mal­colm Gladwell
  • The mis­er­able child­hood leads to roy­al­ties. —Frank McCourt

Even the teen’s get in on the action:

  • Hair’s pink to piss you off.
  • Met online; love before first sight.
  • Accord­ing to Face­book, we broke up.

So… how do you apply that to your advertising?

Well, you could:

1) Write a 6-Word Story that encap­su­lates your prospect’s mindset

Think about the kind of pre­cip­i­tat­ing events that cause peo­ple to need your prod­uct or ser­vice. What kind of emo­tions sur­round those events?  How would you sum­ma­rize the bridge from event, to con­scious desire for your prod­uct, if you had to do it in only 6 words.  (or heck, cheat a lit­tle and use 8 words : )

2) write a 6-Word Story describ­ing your adver­tis­ing challenge

What’s the prob­lem you need to over­come to really bring your audi­ence to action?  Can you sum­ma­rize it in an evoka­tive 6-word story?

3) Write a 6-word story that con­veys your core message.

Can you con­dense your mes­sage into what Chip and Dan Heath would call your “core” mes­sage, encap­su­lated in a power-packed six words?  Does the story merely “tell” the truth, or does it cause the lis­tener to real­ize the truth?

4) For­get 6-word sto­ries; evoke images and emo­tion with your copy

As one sales pro has described it to me, sell­ing is noth­ing more than get­ting your prospect imag­i­na­tively engaged with a vision of future ben­e­fit, and emo­tion­ally com­mit­ted to tak­ing action to make that vision a reality.

Now that’s a long way off from “con­vey­ing infor­ma­tion,” isn’t it?  So why do so many ads merely try to inform?  Or brag?  Or do any­thing other than imag­i­na­tively engage and emo­tion­ally com­mit the audience?

And the key to doing that is to make your mes­sage par­tic­i­pa­tive and inter­ac­tive, even if you’re using a so-called “push medium” of radio, tele­vi­sion, or print.  You don’t have to limit your­self to 6 words, but you do have to engage the imag­i­na­tion and emo­tions of your listener.

Want to get bet­ter at doing that?  Write your­self some 6-word sto­ries.  Oh, and feel free to post them in the com­ments, too :)

P.S. You can also take a gan­der at Post Secret for more, truly evoka­tive “short sto­ries” pre­sented in a multi-media format


  1. Jan Schumacher on 10.02.2011

    I wrote a few six-word sto­ries to use in the newslet­ters for our faith-based nurs­ing homes. Here’s one: “Arrived uncer­tain. Encoun­tered com­pas­sion. Found peace.”

  2. Phil Wrzesinski on 10.04.2011

    We’re here to make you smile.” — Toy House and Baby Too, down­town Jack­son, MI

  3. Mike Slover on 10.13.2011

    Jeff, brevity is a beau­ti­ful thing. Six word sto­ries remind me of Indian speak, or at least how I per­ceive how Indi­ans use to speak. I teach a videog­ra­phy school and I teach the stu­dents to tell a story with­out say­ing a word, this is usu­ally done with sym­bolic ref­er­ence, exam­ple; place an object in the fore­ground that rein­forces an object in the back­ground. In a way, six word sto­ries use words or com­bi­na­tions of words sym­bol­i­cally to rein­force the next word or words, kind of like Indian speak.

  4. Jeff on 10.13.2011


    Absolutely! In a word­less short film, the images and objects have to rep­re­sent and sug­gest mean­ings beyond them­selves. Only through mean­ing­ful jux­ta­po­si­tion­ing and sequenc­ing of those images can you get your film to “say” some­thing. Same thing with the 6 word sto­ries. The words and their com­bi­na­tions have to carry a lot more asso­ci­a­tional and sym­bolic bag­gage, and the real story often gets told by the reader’s mind as it fills in the gaps between the words.

    We are not told WHY the baby shoes were never worn, but our minds have no trou­ble com­ing up with an expla­na­tion — and the images asso­ci­ated with that expla­na­tion are what make the story.

  5. Because poetry | A Fine Balance on 03.29.2014

    […] to use here Some great exam­ples are here and here. More exam­ples (as more is always […]

  6. Jade on 03.13.2015

    I don’t need to have friends

  7. Jeff on 03.13.2015

    Nicely done. And slightly horrifying : )

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