readable rules

Illustrations Can Be Hard-to-Ignore Eye Candy

Sometimes the way to impress people is through the light-hearted charm of illustrated characters who can make a rule readable or a message memorable.

Sometimes the way to impress people is through the light-hearted charm of illustrated characters who can make a rule readable or a message memorable.

The success of animated movies such as Despicable Me and The Secret Life of Pets prove cartoons have show power. They also have show-me power.

Spokane Transit developed an award-winning rider education campaign based on a cast of characters shaped like eggs. Called The Ridealongs, the cast ranged in age from young to old, male and female and even included a service dog – all representative of bus riders in Spokane and almost anywhere.

The assignment for this quirky band of riders was to illustrate, quite literally, rules of road that passengers could easily overlook or never notice. The colorful cartoon characters were harder to ignore.

Before the Ridealongs came along, Spokane Transit posted informational placards on buses and in transit plazas. One said, “Do not impede the safe operation of the bus.” That was replaced by a bright, playful cartoon with an out-of-control Bob yacking in the ear of bus driver Roger and included a catchy, rhyming headline:

“Please Leave the Driver Alone,
So We All Make It Safely Home!"

Hard to miss. Hard to ignore.

Illustration has eye appeal. When cleverly done and combined with equally clever text, illustrations can deliver a message that connects.

The roadblock is usually how to get started. Where do you get the ideas?” Who draws the cast of characters? Who can understand and execute your creative brief? Who can write your creative brief? What is a creative brief? Fair questions. But the challenge may not be as daunting as you think.

Here is where to start. Look at your business, product or service and ask if there is something important that customers fail to see routinely such as your website link, your value proposition or your brand personality. Ask yourself why. Do you talk in paragraphs?  Are you using dull photography? Is everything in black and white?

Spokane Transit wanted to remind riders of rules they probably know, but don't think about – leaving priority seats for older or physically challenged riders; avoiding loud music on their smartphones; not walking in front of the bus when picking up your bicycle. Transit officials listed some of the rules they wanted to reinforce. Then they hired college students to come up with some characters and concepts. That’s how the charming, egg-shaped Ridealongs were born. The rhyming headlines were a smile-inducing added benefit.

Cartoons may not be the answer to every marketing moment. But they can be just the eye candy that stops roving eyeballs long enough to make an impression and deliver your message, perhaps as no other form of content can.

When the occasion or opportunity is right, include illustration – quirky or otherwise – in your quiver of options. You might be surprised how possible and powerful it could turn out for your campaign. 

Gary Conkling is president and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.