Top 5 Reasons to Use Cartoons in Your Communications

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Cartoons sell.  We know they do.  We’ve seen cartoon characters sell breakfast cereal, life insurance, even insulation.  But why are they so successful?  Here’s why, condensed into our  Top 5 Reasons to use cartoons in your communications:

#1 Cartoons are a fun way to deliver important – and often boring or complex – messages.

Looking for an interesting way to explain a new medical plan or a health savings account? Or maybe you’re trying to enhance your company’s wellness initiative or help employees understand how excellent customer service ties to your organization’s success.

Or maybe you need to convince the residents of your town to plant thousands of shade trees. That’s the goal of the city of Lakewood, Ohio. This suburb of Cleveland wants to increase its tree canopy by 10% by 2035. That means 9,000 trees must be planted in the next 20 years. It’s not necessarily an exciting message, but it’s an important one.

A whiteboard video starring a cartoon dog really helps a city deliver messages to residents. This video encourages residents to plant shade trees.

A whiteboard video starring a cartoon dog really helps a city deliver messages to residents. This video encourages residents to plant shade trees.

Here’s a fun whiteboard video that we created for Lakewood’s community outreach campaign: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uim6Yo6gC_0

The video – with its quick, eye-catching drawings and easy-to-understand narration – appeals to all ages. As a result, the city’s urban forester and tree task force include the video during presentations to civic groups, business owners, and schools.

#2 Cartoons improve engagement; increase understanding and participation

At First Solar Inc., cartoons were introduced to help spur employee participation in company-sponsored community events. The company proudly supports a variety of local and national non-profit organizations and they’d like employees to actively participate in events that take place throughout the year.

The cartoon series features a cast of characters that fit the solar panel manufacturer: an engineer, an associate at the solar panel plant, a sun (based on the company’s logo) and a Canada goose. (The goose serves up comic relief as employees are greeted daily by a gaggle of geese that make the First Solar campus their year-round home.) The cartoons are delivered to employees via email and on flat screens.

The series debuted with a cartoon promoting a canned food drive benefitting the local food bank. Participation in previous years was very low, so First Solar wanted to emphasize the importance of helping neighbors in need by donating non-perishable foods and other items. The human resources manager reported that employees printed out the cartoon panel – hanging it up in their cubicles as reminders of the items needed and the deadline for donations.

When the week-long drive wrapped up, more than 40,000 pounds of canned food and other items were donated by about 1,000 First Solar employees. That was exactly the enthusiastic participation the company wanted to see.

#3 Cartoons can improve morale and collaboration

Work doesn’t seem like work when you’re able to share ideas, successfully complete tasks, and laugh a bit with your colleagues. Recent research (“A meta-analysis of positive humor in the workplace” by J. Mesmer-Magnus, D. Glew and C. Viswesvaran; www.emeraldinsight.com/0268-3946.htm) shows that positive employee humor is linked to improved performance, collaboration, health, coping effectiveness, as well as decreased burnout and less stress.

When management uses and encourages positive humor, the study indicates employees are more productive, satisfied with their jobs, and have an improved perception of their supervisor’s performance. Being able to share positive laughter can ease tension and build trust in teams.

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) uses a monthly cartoon to reach bus drivers and rail operators. For managers who rarely get to spend time with their employees who are out on the road, the cartoons are a fun way to deliver messages about safety, benefits and wellness.

Cartoons reach Cleveland RTA employees every month -- reminding them of safety policies, benefit programs and wellness initiatives.

Cartoons reach Cleveland RTA employees every month — reminding them of safety policies, benefit programs and wellness initiatives.

#4 Cartoons entertain, amuse and create anticipation of a message

Comic strips, cartoons and animation are appreciated by all generations and all cultures. Enhancing your communications with cartoons allows you to share your sense of humor and disarm your audience.

At Rural/Metro Ambulance, the company used a series of cartoons to train employees about the new core values. In addition to being eye-catching, the cartoons quickly deliver a key message. Putting a bit of humor with the message makes the message more memorable.

The online training was set up in a series of four sessions that featured a cartoon panel about a core value and an accompanying training video. The initial session had a typical participation rate – about 450 on the first day of training. By the second session, though, more than one-third of the company’s 9,000 employees had logged in on the first day and completed the unit. The expectation was set that this training would be a bit more fun than usual.

While the reader or viewer is being entertained by the cartoon, they’re also absorbing a key message. Many of our cartoons rely on visual humor, puns, witty remarks and wry comments. The success of the cartoon depends on your audience’s sense of humor. One of the keys is to keep the message brief and clever. If a reader has to pause too long – or re-read the captions – the cartoon isn’t successful.

A training program that featured cartoons helped employees at Rural/Metro understand the company's new core values.

An online training program that featured cartoons helped employees at Rural/Metro understand the company’s new core values.

#5 Cartoon characters give your department or organization a friendly, recognizable face.

Tony the Tiger, the Keebler Elf, Smokey the Bear and the Poppin’ Fresh Doughboy. Even the Pink Panther – who doesn’t speak in any commercials – are appealing icons that are consistently effective in delivering a message.

You know those famous cartoon faces and the products they sell!

It’s really no different for the cartoons developed for your internal or marketing communications. The characters and their messages become recognizable to your employees. And when you combine the friendly face with light-hearted humor, your message will stick.

It’s critical to create a mascot that’s appropriate for your department or organization. The best character may be based on a product, a slogan, or attributes of the company, and it should have a “personality” and “traits” that connect with your audience.

A 1950's police car is the mascot for the Greater Cleveland Peace Officers Memorial Society.

A 1950’s police car is the mascot for the Greater Cleveland Peace Officers Memorial Society.

Curious about how cartoon characters can be put to work at your organization? Contact us! Call Denise at 216-407-4676216-407-4676 or send an email to denise@otlcreativegroup.com.

Denise Reynolds is the president of Outside the Lines Creative Group LLC.

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