Interview: Tom Fishburne gets candid about the Marketoonist's journey

Saloni Surti
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Tom Fishburne

Have you ever thought of cartoons as a medium of marketing & communication? Well, someone did and hence - Marketoonist! A marketer and cartoonist, Marketoonist a.k.a Tom Fishburne started cartooning on the backs of business cases as a student at Harvard Business School.

From then to a full fledged marketing business, Tom is an inspiration to many. Social Samosa gets in conversation with Tom Fishburne, understanding the Marketoonist's journey.

Take us through the journey of building Marketoonist

It was a little serendipitous and accidental. As a child I loved making cartoons and the whole medium and then thinking there is no way I could make a living out of this I went into marketing I worked in brand management for packaged goods companies, then technology companies. I decided to channel my cartoonist through marketing, so once a week I started publishing my cartoons once a week initially for my friends and colleagues, while I was working for general Mills and then it just started to grow from there. Years later I started to think maybe I could do this as an actual job.

People started to contact me and ask if I could create content for them and their brand storytelling. The first one was actually published in Wall Street Journal, Asia; they asked me to create a cartoon on how people could make the most out of the journal. It was then that I thought I could put my marketing background and cartooning background together and marketing cartoons that brands could use for storytelling. 8 years ago I started doing that full time.

How do you manage to find situations that relate to relevant audiences?

A lot of the fun for me includes in finding the pain points experienced by clients which helps me create relatable content. One of our longest running campaigns is with Kronos, a software company and workforce management. Their HR professional struggle with managing complex teams; I observe them and find the pain-points they face and which of those elements can work as a cartoon. I put myself in their shoes and create cartoons using the pain points of that audience usually as the starting point of humour. Ultimately it depends on the brand’s brief as to who is their TG, their understanding of their audience and empathy – that naturally leads to content that can work well.

Also Read: Interview: An agency might be small & profitable; but small is risky: Sanjay Mehta, Mirum India

Please take us through one of your favourite campaigns...

I was once working with software bran;, they have many softwares and one of their software helps companies communicate better internally. So, we developed a campaign around the insight involving some of the pain points around changing communication in the workspace and made fun of some of the topics such as ‘standing desks’ for which we created a cartoon where people had trampoline desks where they had to jump and work at the same time and talking about how standing desks didn’t deliver much of a work force transformation. People who struggle with this really found it funny. One of the things that I like about this campaign is that we created a microsite where people could request their favourite cartoon as piece of collateral that they could place on their desk as a mouse-pad or a mug or something. It is a piece of marketing but people like it so much that they wish to have it on their desk; the best part is that people forget it is a piece of marketing and treat it as cartoons.

What is your Monetization Strategy?

First when I started off I had no expectations of monetizing it which allowed me to experiment without high expectations. It was 7 years from that point that I started monetizing but in that period I started experimenting with various ways of making money. Initially it was with licensing and syndication and then eventually I started working on projects in addition to my day job and by the time I left my job I had revenue from the cartoon business that was worth half the salary I got from my job. It was a slow experimentation and I left my job only when I was confident about the revenue.

Do you have a copyright / plagiarism policy in place to protect the content you have created over the years?

Global copyrights are scary and challenging. Fortunately, working with businesses that respect copyright, I found that I have less of an issue as compared to other cartoonists who create content for random audiences. My policy is that I wish to have ownership and attribution of anything that I create because creating a cartoon is a personal creative act. For my regular weekly series about marketing cartoons we license that and businesses are generally very respectful of that.

For custom work I like to give an unlimited license because I find that with marketing I don’t want that the client feels restricted that they can use only this cartoon or that cartoon. If they came up with an idea of how to use a particular cartoon differently, I want them to have that freedom. The more the cartoon is seen the better chances of brands hiring me.

For instance, we had a company that was doing a trade show in New York where a lot of their customers were going to be. They decided to use the cartoon as a billboard ad on Times Square which was very exciting. We could never have known this in advance, but since we created the campaign with an unlimited copyright it didn’t really create a problem. Sometimes brands haven’t thought of using cartoon as a marketing medium, so, a part of my job is to think about things they haven’t already been thinking about.

Have you ever worked with any B2C brands?

A USA based favoured water brand, Hint Water, which has no added sugar decided to work me. A part of the campaign was educating the consumer about how much sugar is present in some of the drinks they consume. While consumers while laughing on the cartoons, it helped educate the consumers about Hint beverages.

Also Read: What do I communicate with my consumer every time? Water is water after all: Anjana Ghosh, Bisleri

What are your thoughts on the Indian digital marketing ecosystem?

I’ve had a chance of meeting many Indian marketers at MELT and I realized that most of the issues faced here are similar to what we face. Digital marketing is in an awkward adolescence stage where the tools are available but our mindset hasn’t caught up to it. The other dynamic that I picked upon during conversations is that some of the challenges lie in trying to do risky things, especially with traditional brands that are risk averse. So, this is a challenge and opportunity in India where agencies have to work in a traditionally structured environment. I think India respects the power of creative ideas and the fact that ideas can come from anywhere. There is a great deal of entrepreneurial thinking embedded in the culture and that works well for any brands trying their hands on digital marketing.

How was your experience at Zee MELT?

Being at MELT 2018 has been tremendously exciting. I caught up with a lot of old friends and new people. The energy level of everybody here is incredibly exciting – everyone wants to learn, wants new things to happen and the perceptiveness is very exciting.

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