Whenever I suggest the use of cartoons to power a client's campaign, it feels a bit silly at first. But when you take a closer look at the nature of humor and the role it plays in our lives, and the results from past campaigns, it becomes clear that cartoons are powerful devices for marketing.
When magazines and newspapers conduct editorial readership surveys, they find cartoons are almost always the best read and remembered part of the publications. That's an amazing statement, because magazines and newspapers are collective works; everything in them is intended to get the attention of the reader, make an impact and be memorable.
So you can see why cartoons can be useful in the e-mail realm, because we have similar objectives. We want list members to open our e-mails, engage with our message and respond in some way. I believe cartoons are the ultimate engagement device, based in part of the effect we see them have on open rates, which tend to double when a cartoon is included in the e-mail.
Still, using humor is tricky business. It can easily backfire if you don't know what you're doing, so here are a set of seven tips to get you started:
1. Make sure the audience knows the cartoon is there: When I use cartoons in e-mail, they are almost always personalized with each recipient's name. That drives them crazy with excitement, and causes recipients to forward the mail, print it out and more. But before any of that can happen, you have to tell your audience members in the subject line there's a cartoon about them in your e-mail.
2. Always use the best talent possible: This one is tricky, because even if you used some of the cartoonists from The New Yorker or The Wall Street Journal, they won't have the necessary test experience to steer the use of the cartoon. Still, even though they're not direct marketers, an experienced, professional cartoonist will at least know what's funny and how it should be conveyed. In my clients' campaigns, I use either my own cartoons or others by some of my colleagues from the two publications. Then again, I have the benefit of an unmatched body of test history in the use of cartoons in various advertising forms, which is a priceless advantage.
3. Never inject your brand or offer into the cartoon: This is probably the most common mistake marketers make with cartoons in their campaigns. It's also the first conversation I have with new clients -- leave your brand and offer out of the cartoon. Otherwise, you'll kill the campaign. Imagine receiving a poster from Miller Beer that said in big, bold letters, "It's Miller Time, ((insert your name here))." What would you do with it? Even though it has your name in it, it has nothing to do with you. The answer's obvious; you'd throw it away. In contrast, consider what we did for Outdoor Life magazine. In their subscription campaign, we used a cartoon showing two fishermen on the dock, one holding an enormous fish in his arms, the other saying, "That looks like the one <insert name> threw back." Notice there was no mention of the magazine, subscribing or saving 70% off the newsstand price. Instead, we focused solely on the recipient and what we knew they loved to do -- catch fish. The result was a campaign that out-performed their previous control by 78% on paid orders.
4. Steer based on the truth revealed in the cartoon: Humor is about truth revealed with a twist. Think about it. How many times have you laughed about something, then found yourself saying, "That's so true," or "I know someone like that," or "I've been through something like that?" So here's what's especially enticing about cartoons as a marketing device -- not only do they generate overwhelming attention, they also plant an immediate point of agreement that you can amplify in your sales copy. Just by laughing or saying, "I get it," what recipients are actually saying is, "I agree with that." So rather than sending a cartoon about your brand or offer, your real mission is to steer the use of the cartoon based on the truth, or point of agreement it reveals. It should express something the audience identifies with, to highlight the need your product or service will fulfill in their lives. Looking back at the Outdoor Life example above, the cartoon simply expressed what each recipient already believes about themselves, that they are great fishermen (or ladies). That's all it took. Part of our offer was to furnish a suitable for framing print of the cartoon with their paid subscription order, and because the cartoon so cleverly captured their feelings, it worked extremely well.
5. Use the "Refrigerator Door" test: Referring to the Outdoor Life example once more, recipients loved their cartoons so much, the mailing ended up on a lot of refrigerator doors. The mailing became a keepsake. And in your own campaign, you'll want to make sure your audience has the same reaction. When they do, the cartoon probably won't end up on their refrigerators, but in the e-mail arena, people forward content they find particularly intriguing to their friends and colleagues. And that's just as useful for your campaign. So always ask yourself, "If I got this cartoon from another advertiser, would I keep it on my fridge door?" Be brutally honest, and if the answer is no, go back to the drawing board. If your cartoons continually pass the refrigerator door test, your campaign will build a following, constantly leaving your list members anxiously awaiting your next e-mail.
6. Take advantage of the viral nature of cartoons: Have you noticed how many people have cartoons stuck to the walls of their cubicles, office walls and yes, refrigerator doors? Cartoons can lend a special dimension of virality to your campaign, which can multiply your results. In our own e-mail cartoon features, we include links in the header to encourage recipients to pass the cartoon along to a friend. The link then activates the "forward" function within the e-mail delivery platform, so the new recipient gets the same cartoon personalized in their name, but most importantly, they're also getting the entire e-mail passed along as well. Giving the audience a chance to send the cartoons to friends makes them look clever, but it also helps expand the reach of your campaign and invite new people to sign up for your list.
7. Be consistent, develop a fan following: Have you ever noticed the following "Dilbert" has? If that is also what you want for your e-mail campaign, cartoons are a smart way to do it. My clients use us to deliver personalized cartoons once a month or more and it definitely has an effect. Clients often report that, when they meet the people on their e-lists at trade shows, there is instant recognition that they're the ones sending the cartoons. It attaches to the sender's brand in a very positive way. The trick, then, is to make a commitment to sending a regular series of cartoons to your audience over time. When customers become fans, they never consider doing business with any of your competitors, and that's just smart marketing.
So as you can see, using cartoons to boost your open rates and engagement is not such a silly idea after all. In fact, adding a regular cartoon feature could be one of the most effective changes you could make to improve your campaign results. And, wasn't that one of your New Year's resolutions any way?
About Stu Heinecke
Stu Heinecke is a DMA Hall of Fame-nominated marketer, one of The Wall Street Journal cartoonists, the author of Drawing Attention, and Founder and President of CartoonLink, a marketing service dedicated to using the magic of cartoons to supercharge client results. Would you like to double your open rates immediately? Constant Contact members and resellers are welcome to put CartoonLink's "cartoon device" to the test in their campaigns for Free.