The Truth About Marketing: So Funny, It Hurts

You know what they say... It isn't funny if it isn't true. Here are ten of the funniest cartoons about marketing and advertising that cut through the B.S. -- all the way down to the funny bone. Ouch!

If you’ve ever seen a cartoon about marketing, odds are that it was something Tom Fishburne sketched. He is the advertising world’s equivalent of Gary Larsen or Matt Groening. While his Marketoonist cartoons don’t necessarily have the same level of awareness as The Far Side or the Simpsons, Fishburne shares the same skill for satire and parody as other comedic legends who work in pen and ink. His talent for exposing the (often painful) truths about branding, advertising and marketing is second to none. He is deeply insightful and very funny, dissecting the industry with an insider’s perspective.

He knows what he’s talking about. Tom first started doodling cartoons as student at Harvard Business School. After getting his MBA, he held various marketing roles at major Fortune 500 companies like General Mills, Nestle and Method. Soon thereafter, Tom realized that cartoons were a remarkable form of shareable media — perfect for the digitally social world in which we now live — so he launched Marketoonist. His cartoons have been featured by the Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, Forbes, and the New York Times. Today, his cartoons reach 100,000 business executives every week.

1. Digital Channels


Ain’t it true? Financial institutions have heard the battle cry, “You must go digital — mobile, social, the whole works!” But many have rushed in blindly — with no real strategy to speak of.

Insight from Tom Fishburne on Marketing/Media Strategy: “Lately, it feels like the media tail is wagging the campaign dog. Many campaigns are built around a media platform. Sometimes marketers forget that media platforms are enablers to big ideas. They aren’t the big ideas themselves.”

2. Rebranding


You can’t pull the pull the wool over the consumer’s eyes. They aren’t dumb sheep who can be easily tricked, and it’s a mistake to treat them as such. As one of the ad industry’s most brilliant minds has said, “The customer is not a moron. She’s your wife.”

Many financial institutions fool themselves with a rebranding mirage. They want to believe that they can reshape consumer perceptions simply by changing their outward appearance — that no substantive changes will be required internally. To mix metaphors, “the clothes don’t make the man,” particularly when talking about a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

If you’re going to rebrand, you have to make sure there is alignment between the image you project and how you truly are. Many experts call this “brand authenticity,” which is one of Tom Fishburne’s hotbuttons.

Insight from Tom Fishburne on Brand Strategy: “Companies are quick to rebrand when they hit a rough patch. But they sometimes forget that a brand is more than a company name, logo, tagline, or ad creative. And that a shiny new brand identity won’t automatically solve all of the problems of the business. The marketing world is littered with failed rebranding initiatives (from the Gap to Tropicana) that illustrate one simple truth about branding: a company doesn’t own a brand. It’s consumers do. Giving a brand a new coat of paint — dressing it in sheep’s clothing — won’t change consumers feelings and expectations of a brand.”

3. Marketing Metrics


This is often what CEOs hear when they ask about the ROI of marketing. Snazzy charts with impressive numbers are presented. “Our campaign received 5,000 likes on Facebook, and the number of visits to our website increased 43%.” But the big, burning question haunting the CEO goes unaddressed: “What was the impact on our bottom line?”

Insight from Tom Fishburne on Marketing Metrics: “Marketing is increasingly data-driven. But the data we choose matters. It’s tempting to cherry-pick the data that makes us look or feel good. Or the easiest data to persuade an audience to buy into whatever we want them to believe.”

4. Target Market: Everyone


Everyone’s heard the expression, “You can’t be all things to all people.” Or as ad legend David Ogilvy put it, “Try to appeal to everyone, and you will end up appealing to no one.”

But ask a financial institution to define its target audience and you will often hear something like, “All people ages 18-55.” They might say it “skews slightly towards women.” This is essentially the same thing as saying, “We’re targeting everyone with money and a pulse.” That isn’t a targeted market segmentation strategy. When you define your target audience too broadly, you’ve committed a major error in branding.

Insight from Tom Fishburne on Target Marketing: “A target market is not the same as anyone who could conceivably buy you product. It’s not a catch-all classification. A target market is deliberately exclusive — that’s what gives it teeth. It is what compels consumers to identify with your brand. It is what gives you insight to speak to them so clearly.”

5. Marketing Attribution


In today’s omnichannel world, it surely feels like a herculean task trying to ascribe sales to one (or more) marketing channel in your mix. How much credit should be assigned to a TV ad vs. an email offer vs. a paid search campaign vs. an in-branch promotion?

Insight from Tom Fishburne on Marketing Attribution: “Early marketing analytics brought a ‘last click bias,’ where the final measurable touchpoint received disproportionate credit. That approach undervalues the impact of awareness channels that are more difficult to measure. Complicating analysis is the fact that marketing metrics often map to specific organizational silos.”

6. Lemmings


Most mission statements in the financial industry are full of trite, feel-good expressions. They are gutless and utterly useless — particularly from a branding perspective. “Our mission is to be the premier provider of superior financial solutions by delivering a truly exceptional experience and earning people’s trust with world-class customer service.”

Yawn… It is no one’s in particular. And yet it is everyone’s.

To cultivate an exceptional brand that cuts through the clutter, you have to differentiate. You need to have the courage to take a stand, and to stand apart from everyone else.

Insight from Tom Fishburne on Mission Statements: “I parody brands that stretch beyond believability, trying to make things like corn chips stand for world peace. I think there’s just as much to make fun here as there is with brands that don’t try to stand for anything at all.”

7. Bland vs. Brand


Many companies — not just banks and credit unions — lack the courage to truly differentiate. But in banking, it’s particularly difficult to build a brand that stands out because the financial industry is inherently (and understandably) risk averse. There is a clash of ideology when it comes to financial services vs. effective advertising and marketing. Financial institutions feel compelled to be boring, play it safe and project a conservative image — 180° the opposite of what work in advertising (edgy, raw, bold, passionate).

Insight from Tom Fishburne: “Businesses often avoid ideas that are polarizing, whether new products, ad campaigns, or promotions. It’s always easier to launch the next flavor of vanilla. But there’s power in polarization. Try to appeal to everyone and you won’t really appeal to anyone. In a world full of clutter, the last thing a brand can afford is indifference.”

8. Everyone’s a Disruptor


From the perspective of banking providers, it probably feels like everyone is trying to chisel in on the retail financial industry. While there has been much fretting about “disruptive forces from outside the industry,” the players who are most often cited — Google, Apple, PayPal, WalMart, etc. — have struggled. There are strict regulations that shag many potential disruptors out of contention. There are licensing issues. Not to mention the fiduciary responsibility — the level of trust consumers must place in a brand, because privacy and security are the bedrock of any financial relationship. For many who eye the financial industry, they decide that extending their brand into banking is too great a stretch. Can anyone with a strong and respected brand offer financial products? Like the Girl Scouts?

Insight from Tom Fishburne on Brand Extensions: “It’s an irresistible temptation for marketers to see how far their brands can stretch. In the endless search of brand growth, extending into new categories as a master brand can seem like a slam dunk.”

9. Millennial Marketing


Financial institutions are obsessed with Millennials — and rightfully so — but this is one area where they really seem to struggle. Banks and credit unions can sometimes start acting a little goofy when marketing to Millennials — like that embarrassing uncle in your family who wears hip-hop clothes and uses youth slang in a desperate attempt to be “cool.”

Insight from Tom Fishburne on Millennials: “I think brands risk coming across as ridiculous and inauthentic, despite the fact that many primers on marketing to Gen Y and Gen Z start with the importance of ‘being authentic.'”

10. The ROI of Branding


Nearly every branding consultant has some model that represents their philosophy, whether they call it a brand pyramid, brand architecture, brand keys, brand DNA or a “brand butterfly.”

Insight from Tom Fishburne on Brand Strategy: “Many brand architectures are full of insider marketing lingo that make them seem ridiculous. A brand model is most valuable when its easily understood by everyone on the team. It should pass the ‘Teller Test,’ meaning that frontline branch staff should be able to understand the brand from reading it.”

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