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.

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  6. Jade on 03.13.2015

    I don’t need to have friends

  7. Jeff on 03.13.2015

    Nicely done. And slightly horrifying : )