We are in the midst of a golden age for #comics and #cartoons. Long overlooked as childish and simplistic, comics are finally getting the respect they deserve. From Hollywood Marvel blockbusters, to the haunting ferocity of Netflix’s Jessica Jones, to renowned literary graphic novels like The Watchmen, comics are taking center stage.
And with good reason. Yes, cartoons and comics are fun. But they also do a masterful job of combining dialogue and visuals to create a lasting impression.
Comics’ ability to convey critical ideas in an entertaining, resonant way is just one reason why they can be so effective in marketing. At Evolved Media we’ve often relied on comics and cartoons to capture powerful marketing messages, and along with them, the interest of clients and their customers.
Why use comics and cartoons for marketing?
If Stan Lee is the Spielberg of comics, Scott McCloud is surely the Pauline Kael. McCloud is the foremost philosopher of the art, and in numerous books, he demonstrates how and why cartoons work. He constantly points to the connection between story and visual to pull the reader in.
I recently attended a lecture McCloud gave at Middlebury College, and asked him about one of the consistent frustrations we’ve experienced using comics as an explanatory medium: namely, if you want to convey complex ideas and offer a lot of context, comics and cartoons get extremely long extremely quick.
For McCloud, this is a feature of the medium, not a drawback. He told me that with comics, you have to be true to the medium, and if a topic requires hundreds of pages or frames, then that’s how many it should get. Length should not be a barrier. If you’re telling a captivating story, readers will stay with you.
But there’s the rub – for marketers, it becomes cost prohibitive to create a comic with dozens of pages. Ours have generally been around eight panels, which seems an appealing length for both our clients and their customers.
The true differentiating power of comics is the integration of visual and words. We have found you truly need both visuals and text to get the best marketing content. But it’s a delicate balance – too many visuals and you have an infographic; too much text, and you’re just reading. You don’t want to rely too much on either.
Of course, the ultimate goal is to find that happy medium, where the message is being conveyed clearly, but the cartoon is also entertaining. Obviously, this is easier said than done. You have to find the right artist and we have done just that with Terry LaBan. Terry has written a short book about how to use comics for business communication.
A World of Possibilities
It’s clear that comics have marketing value when done well. But there’s also an array of other visually compelling formats such as infographics, eBooks that you can choose from for your message, and selecting the right one is important. For now let’s stick with understanding a little more about comics.
Comic Books: Comic books for Marketing look and feel just like a traditional comic book. What’s essential is that even in a relatively short space, there is a character and story to convey the marketing message. We accomplished this well with QlikView Unleashed: A Business Discovery Odyssey. The comic helped QlikView address its challenge of being embraced and adopted by business departments without any involvement from IT.
In the comic, we created an extraterrestrial world with the typical CEO, IT, and line of business figures. These characters, combined with a fantastical setting, helped propel the narrative forward, getting the message across in a compelling way. We also used one of QlikView’s thought leaders, Donald Farmer, and elevated him into a Yoda-like character, making the piece even funnier for its target audience.
Another example is a four-comic series we did for Intel, in which we created a super hero called Statman who helped us show the power of #big data in various industries. Again, what made this piece work was full character and story development – this wasn’t a marketing piece with pretty graphics. It was a seamless merging of story and message, and exemplifies how comics can make a marketing campaign more effective.
Cartoons and Comic Strips: Shorter form cartoons can be used to hone a marketing message. For instance, we created a presentation on open source that uses a variety of cartoon sequences to show the problems with open source when it is not fully productized. The cartoons are arrestingly simple images, used throughout the presentation. There obviously isn’t the same narrative and character development as in a comic book, but they catch the viewer in a way that few presentations achieve.
How to Create Comics that Work
Obviously, fashioning high-quality content comics is not easy. One needs to understand the subject matter and the intended message. It’s equally important to have a team with the talent to carry out the comic metaphor. We have just that at Evolved Media.
The biggest wins with comics come when you have deep respect for the message you’re sharing and the comic medium itelf. That means using the key elements of the comic form – character, story, compelling visuals – to produce something that customers actually want to read.
Become a content creation master.