Monday, February 14, 2011

Facing up to cartoon comms

According to an article at which I glanced last week, people are more likely to notice a billboard poster when it contains a human face. Question for you as a marketer; are you better using a photo-real image of a face or a cartoon?  Cartoon...are you kidding?!  Well, no.

This was in part the subject of Scott McCloud's brilliant book Understanding Comics. In his dissertation on how and why we process visual information, McCloud hypothesized that when people interact with others, they perceive in detail that person's face. However, when it comes to our own face, we are aware of only the key features - nose, mouth, eyes - because we can feel that they are doing something even though we cannot see them.  The book is written as a comic, so in it McCloud writes/draws...

We perceive ourselves as basic shapes
And in fact, this deconstruction to basic elements is in large part why we enjoy cartoons...and dare I say Emoticons?

Internal perspective is more abstract

For posters, this suggests that a photo-real face will attract us based on our understanding of our external world - what we are used to seeing in others.  But might a message aimed at internalising a message be more easily processed if it were portrayed in cartoon form?

McCloud goes on to suggest that the more abstracted from reality a picture becomes (ie a comic rather than a photo), the greater the level of perception required to process the image.  We have to move away from the literal and realistic, using our other sensory and right-brain cues to make sense of the message.
Shifting away from realism broadens the communication
What does this mean for marketers?  I think the concepts explored by McCloud throw up some really interesting considerations for visual (static) communication like brochures and App design.
  • Mobile Apps - mobile phone Apps are constrained by the small space through which they must communicate a lot of information about the brand, product or service- get inspired by how cartoonists convey a week's worth of news in a single panel.  Infusing your App and icon with cartoonish images might just be the hook that will capture download activity.
  • Rethink stock photo images - if you are trying to cut through in your direct marketing/brochure pieces, why not wean yourself off stock photos and incorporate cartoons?  If your message is meant to be internalised and understood at a conceptual level, cartoons might be a stronger communication mechanism.
  • Presentations - where better than to use cartoons to represent a concept than a presentation? Add some life, some energy, some fun to your next Powerpoint by grabbing a Sharpie and having a go!
  • Not just for kids - as Toy Story, Shrek, The Simpsons, and the manga and gaming industries have proven, cartoons are not just for kids. I think it's time marketers across all industries applied the same concepts to grown-up, "serious" products.
PS Is it a stretch to suggest that some of the appeal of the clean and simple Apple logo is that it is cartoonish?

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