In the days of modern advertising, savvy consumers have learned to skim over advertisements when they feel the advertiser is pandering to them. This can lead to an unsatisfactory ad campaign — which strays far from the intended result.
This is partially what led Mark Anderson, a cartoonist, to his profession of choice. After dabbling in the art form, contributing cartoons to his high school and college newspapers, he eventually picked up enough traction to quit his day job and become a cartoonist full time. His drawings don’t just show up in the funny pages of local papers, however. They appear in advertisements and in business newsletters, serving clients ranging from The Wall Street Journal to Good Housekeeping.
“Here’s the great thing about cartoons: they are sort of a Trojan horse as far as marketing goes. Basically no one can, or wants to, ignore a cartoon,” Anderson said. “It’s so benign and it’s so inviting, and it’s giving you a little something. It’s telling you a little joke that you can share, forward to a friend or hang up on your refrigerator. You’re being marketed to but you’re also being given something.”
It was the desire for a higher click-rate that led John Stellberger, president of EHS Pest Services, Norwood, Mass., to consider cartoons as an option. His company was looking for new hires, and he wanted a way to ensure people were engaging with the “help wanted” advertisements. He was discussing this with Brad Bartlett, president of Hire and Retain Good People, when Bartlett recommended hiring Anderson, as he was subscribed to the cartoonist’s newsletter.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be really cool to see if he would design humorous things on pest situations?’ Things we run into, and maybe make some of it from the pest’s perspective. I designed one, and I had him draw it up and that was the first one we did,” Stellberger said.
Aside from the initial “help wanted” cartoon, Stellberger wanted to include cartoons in his company newsletter. The first cartoon depicted a pair of rats in an alley, gnawing on scraps of food left there. One rat says to the other, “They give us shelter, water, plenty of food… If they don’t want us around they’re certainly sending mixed signals.” Stellberger said he wanted to incorporate a theme in his cartoons of recognizing that many pest situations are the direct result of human behavior. Stellberger used to lecture his clients on these issues, but realized that humor might be a more effective way of delivering the message.
“We want to have a smile on our face. Lightening up a situation, making it humorous, kind of tempering it a bit … helps the human condition I think,” Stellberger said.
It was these clear and thought-out ideas Stellberger brought to the table that made Anderson consider him a dream client. “John really had some good initial starts of ideas, and I know he had some employees come up with ideas too. So he’s like 95 percent of the way there, and I just have to offer a small tweak and then we’re good to go.”
Stellberger realized the potential for the cartoons when a fellow conference attendee told him that he had used one of the newsletter cartoons in a PowerPoint presentation. He eventually held contests in which his employees would come up with their own cartoon ideas, with the winner receiving a $100 prize to the charity of their choice and a finished product of their idea by Anderson.
Anderson said he is still sometimes surprised that he could make a viable career out of cartooning after deciding to enter the field 15 years ago. Although he will have the occasional client who is far too vague in their requests, he still enjoys his work and often spends time teaching cartooning to kids at local libraries and schools. He didn’t expect that he would be making comics about pest control, and was “surprised that there’s a market for that too.”
“I’ve drawn more mice than I’ve ever really intended to,” Anderson said. “But now I’m really good at drawing mice.” — Sean Wolfe