The Stories Behind 5 Hilarious Marketoonist Cartoons

Tom Fishburne, Creator of The Marketoonist talks humor and single-frame storytelling on The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast

October 28, 2017

Editor's Note: This post originally appeared on the LinkedIn Marketing Solutions EMEA blog.

His work has featured in top-secret presentations by America’s National Security Agency (NSA), been quoted at Davos and retweeted by Tim Berners-Lee. Perhaps even more impressively, it’s been helping marketers to laugh at themselves for the last 15 years. Tom Fishburne, the creator of The Marketoonist cartoon series is a unique voice within Marketing – and it was a real treat when he stopped by the LinkedIn Lab during Festival of Marketing, and recorded a special episode of The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast.

Part of the reason The Marketoonist is so damn funny is that it’s drawn by a marketer, for marketers. Tom may have doodled and dreamed about being a cartoonist ever since he was a kid, but his work only really took off when he was working as a marketer at General Mills. His first cartoons were drawn for friends with the simple intention of making them laugh at how ridiculous their shared profession could sometimes be. More than a decade and a half later, Tom’s cartoons still have that empathy and intimacy. They manage to distil truths about marketing and the marketing landscape down to a single frame and a few well-chosen words. And they do it with a real sense of affection. The results are hilarious and insightful at the same time.

Tom is launching a new book, Your Ad Ignored Here, which pulls together the best Marketoonist cartoons from the past 15 years into a visual diary of how marketing has developed during that time. It’s on my Christmas list and it should certainly be on yours too. In the meantime, click on the link below to hear Tom on The Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast, and scroll down for the stories behind some of his favorite Marketoonist cartoons. They don’t just reveal the secret of a funny cartoon – they also show why it’s a secret any content marketer should try to learn from:

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The cartoon Tom Fishburne is most proud of:

It was January 2014 and Google’s parent company Alphabet had just completed the acquisition of the home automation business, Nest Labs. That set the mind of The Marketoonist thinking about what a marriage between the Internet of Things and search advertising might actually mean. The World Economic Forum at Davos was in full swing when this cartoon came out. Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the worldwide web, made several high-profile interventions from the floor of Davos about the use of data that year. This cartoon hit home with him – and when he tweeted it from the forum, it quickly went viral.

The success wasn’t all that surprising – because the collision between Technology and Marketing has been a rich source of humor for Tom. “There’s pretty much endless material there,” he says. “The realm of digital has so much to be excited about, but we’re in this awkward adolescent stage at the moment when bands are just jumping on the bandwagon without really thinking about their strategy.”

The most widely shared Marketoonist cartoon ever:

Within three days of being released, this knowing take on the real drivers of innovation had become the most shared cartoon that Tom has ever drawn. It revisits a recurring theme for The Marketoonist: the very human failings of the R&D process, and the tendency for businesses to crush innovation through the way they penalize failure. It’s perhaps a bad sign for business that so many marketers identify with it.

The cartoon that helps show why cartoons matter:

This cartoon really resonated with me the first time that I saw it – because it absolutely skewers the concept that any old brand content will do, providing you can package it as a story. As Tom put it during our Podcast interview: “We’re getting better at telling stories that aren’t just thinly disguised press releases, but there’s still far too much emphasis on quantity rather than the quality of a story. There’s a firehose approach that we have to watch.”

Exchanges like this remind you that Tom is, himself a content marketer – and a representative of a particular storytelling skill that marketing perhaps makes too little use of. “Obviously I have a bit of prejudice,” he says, “but there’s a lot inherent to cartoons that we can learn from and apply to any form of content marketing. You are using humor, making content participatory, having an ongoing cadence that builds up over time. It fits with a type of storytelling that people respond to.”

The cartoon that helps drive a content strategy:

Tom’s work with the workforce management software business, Kronos, is a great example of what a commitment to visual, humorous storytelling can achieve. “We’ve done a cartoon every week for seven years now,” he says. “It’s a great approach because you end up with an audience that’s looking forward to the next installment. It’s one of my favorite projects because it’s not just creating one thing and hoping that it goes viral; there’s continuity, a serial component, they’ve even created interactive experiences around it, and you have the time and space to explore things that are important to the audience rather than going for a hard-sell tactic.”

The cartoon that takes on the buzzwords:

A strong personal brand starts with an effective, influential and well-written LinkedIn profile – and that means declaring war on buzzwords. These are adjectives that are used so often in LinkedIn headlines and summaries that they become almost completely meaningless. They completely fail to differentiate you from any other professional. LinkedIn wanted to prompt people to think more carefully about how they write their profile, and inject authenticity into their personal brand. That’s where Tom came in. The series of cartoons that he created for our #nobuzzwords campaign brought to life just how nonsensical professional language can be when we let it get out of hand. It’s yet another example of how cartoons can turn a brand message into a series of stories – and distill an idea down to its simplest and most powerful form. That’s what The Marketoonist does so well – here’s to another 15 years of him doing so.

You can order your copy of Your Ad Ignored Here: Cartoons from 15 Years of Marketing, Business and Doodling in Meetings from Amazon.

If you’re just discovering us, you can catch up on all the previous episodes of the Sophisticated Marketer’s Podcast here.  

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