Humor in Marketing: Marketoonist Tom Fishburne on Marketing Smarts [Podcast]

“If marketing kept a diary, this would be it.” —Ann Handley, foreword to Your Ad Ignored Here: Cartoons From 15 Years of Marketing, Business, and Doodling in Meetings.

With the yearend holidays fast approaching, you might be looking for a gift for that special marketer in your life. Your Ad Ignored Here: Cartoons from 15 Years of Marketing, Business, and Doodling in Meetings, might be the perfect solution. Pithy, fun, and—at times—painful in its accurate depiction of the common struggles marketers share, Tom Fishburne’s book will make you laugh and groan (possibly at the same time).

Tom has drawn cartoons throughout his 20-year marketing career working at companies like Method, HotelTonight, General Mills, and Nestlé. Some managers loved his keen insight and sense of humor; others, not so much. He kept his pencil at the ready either way, ultimately starting his own agency, Marketoonist—a cartoon studio focused on content marketing.

Good for more than just a chuckle, cartoons can form a valuable part of your content marketing plan. Companies like The Wall Street Journal, Method, and Kronos have used Tom’s cartoons for internal and external communications, because simplicity and humor help brands make key points in a fun, memorable way.

But how does a veteran marketer become a career cartoonist, and how can marketers incorporate cartoons and other creative assets into their content mix? That’s what I invited Tom to Marketing Smarts to discuss.


Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

Humor breaks through the noise but don’t make jokes at the expense of your audience (05:04): “One of the things I love about cartoons is you can say things that are hard to say another way. I think there’s something disarming about humor and seeing yourself in the cartoon that allows you to have fun with it. It gives you a little bit of permission. But it’s also true that people can see anything they want to see in a cartoon, as well. Sometimes people read things into cartoons I don’t intend….

“Occasionally I get a response back…on social media that just says ‘ouch.’ I never intend to get that kind of reaction…. I’m just trying to provoke a sense that we’re all in this shared experience together. If I’m making fun of anything, I’m making fun of myself and my experiences and trying to grapple with a particular situation.”

Don’t be afraid to own your creative-side projects; they can lead to advancement at your day job (09:40): “In my noncartooning career, so many things happened because I stuck my neck out and did the cartoons. It’s funny, actually. I was an intern at General Mills before I was asked to come full-time, and during that internship I did not draw cartoons. And at the end of the summer, they had a review for the interns and they gave me a job offer, but they were going through my strengths and weaknesses and one of the big weaknesses in my review was that I wasn’t very creative. I realized I had been playing it safe and…I’d been afraid to raise my hand and say what I thought at times.

“When I came back full-time and started doing the cartoons, suddenly I was perceived as this very creative person, and I ended up on a lot of the innovation projects and things where they needed creativity… and I love that. It worked out well. The more I took risks with my cartoons, the better I was able to get noticed.”

Expressing yourself creativity and honestly can help you to find your dream job (11:01): “I ended up working at Method for five years, which was a dream company for me, and I met the founders entirely because I was drawing this weekly cartoon. I realized that one of the founders had signed up to get the weekly cartoon, so I drew a cartoon about Method and sent it to him and that’s the whole reason why we met and I ended up working there.”

Cartoons aren’t just about the humor: They’re a great way to tell complex stories in an easily digestible way (19:58): “One of the things I love about cartoons is this art of simplicity, finding the simplest way to possibly say something. Then the fact that there’s a punchline embedded in there—it’s this really fragile, interesting art form…. We live in a world of clutter, and brands trying to tell stories. What better way to tell stories then through cartoons? You use this incredibly powerful art form to convey ideas.

“Early on…I experimented with companies that had a specific need in mind: ‘We need to make this particular presentation much more fun,’ or, ‘We want to communicate this very complex chart in a way that’s engaging and we love your cartoons….’ When I got to the point of launching this full-time, I started to think, ‘Wow, brands really are becoming more like publishers and the traditional publishing markets are in a state of decline…. The old world is that they would buy advertising in a paper that ran cartoons, and the cartoons were used to get attention and the brands were able to benefit from that attention. Maybe there’s a way for brands to bypass that and actually have cartoons that directly communicate to audiences they want to reach.”

To learn more, visit Marketoonist.com or follow Tom on Twitter: @tomfishburne. And be sure to pick up your copy of the book Your Ad Ignored Here: Cartoons from 15 Years of Marketing, Business, and Doodling in Meetings.

Tom and I talked about much more, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

This episode brought to you by CrowdCompass by Cvent:

CrowdCompass by Cvent creates awesome mobile event apps that increase attendee engagement and produce a strong ROI. As the premier app developer for all of your event needs, CrowdCompass supports events of all sizes and is an integrated component of Cvent’s event management platform—the most comprehensive in the industry.

Music credit: Noam Weinstein.

This marketing podcast was created and published by MarketingProfs.

Kerry O’Shea Gorgone is director of product strategy, training, at MarketingProfs. She’s also a speaker, writer, attorney, and educator. She hosts and produces the weekly Marketing Smarts podcast. To contact Kerry about being a guest on Marketing Smarts, send her an email. You can also find her on Twitter (@KerryGorgone) and her personal blog.

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