showing what you mean

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 garyc@cfmpdx.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.

New Ad Campaign Example of Showmanship

Excedrin’s latest ad campaign uses virtual reality to show how painful and debilitating migraine headaches can be and why those who suffer them aren’t faking it.

Excedrin’s latest ad campaign uses virtual reality to show how painful and debilitating migraine headaches can be and why those who suffer them aren’t faking it.

A new Excedrin ad campaign addresses the common view that people exaggerate the pain from migraine headaches by replicating the experience through virtual reality. It is a great example of communication showmanship. 

Stung by criticism that a previous ad campaign trivialized migraine headache pain, Excedrin created the "Migraine Experience" which replicates the auras, disorientation, bright lights, floating spots and tunnel vision suffered by people with migraine headaches.

The pain killer company plans to make the migraine simulator available as a downloadable app, which can be experienced using Google Cardboard.

A scene from the new Excedrin ad shows a glimpse of how the world might look through the eyes of someone in the midst of a migraine. 

A scene from the new Excedrin ad shows a glimpse of how the world might look through the eyes of someone in the midst of a migraine. 

In one new TV ad, the mother of a young woman afflicted by migraines dons a virtual reality headset and is able to “see” her contorted world. She reacts emotionally, hugging her daughter with newfound empathy for the pain her daughter suffers from migraines.

The ad campaign is less about selling Excedrin than persuading people the anguish of migraines is real, excruciating and debilitating, often going beyond severe headaches to include nausea, dizziness and heightened sensitivity to sound. The ads serve effectively as an advocate for the 40 million people who are afflicted with migraines, Excedrin’s target audience.

This is a far cry from a few years ago when a previous Excedrin ad campaign drew fire by suggesting two-thirds of women who suffer from migraines would give up shopping to get rid of them. A website called thedailyheadache.com criticized Excedrin’s campaign for “minimizing migraines and treating women as superficial.”

The new campaign is very different. The simulator shows the severity of migraine headache pain and it tells heart-tugging stories that are relatable and shareable. Excedrin has created a strong web presence for the campaign, with more back stories, useful information about migraine symptoms and behind-the-scenes looks at how the Migraine Experience was created

“The reaction of loved ones to the experience spoke volumes,” Excedrin said of the ads. “Once the non-suffered experience what their friend or relative goes through during a migraine, their increased understanding led to a reaction full of empathy and love, which until now was harder to identify.”

The Excedrin ad campaign is further validation of the power of visual explanations that show what you mean.