Feature Sidebar: 10 Tips for Using Cartoons in Direct-Mail Fundraising
Editor’s Note: The October issue of FundRaising Success features a story by cartoonist and direct-mail consultant Stu Heinecke on using customized cartoons in direct-mail fundraising efforts. This is a sidebar to that story, “Drawing Attention to Your Cause.”
1. Focus on the recipient’s identity, not yours. Or your client’s.
One of the biggest mistakes I see marketers making with personalized cartoons is that they forget who’s important: the recipient. The cartoon’s job is not to sell the product (or cause), but to reveal the truth — the reason why your product is needed or your cause is important. Sell them in the letter copy. Explain features and benefits in the brochure. But start by giving recipients a cartoon that relates to their lives.
2. Never use cartoons as just another form of teaser copy.
Teasing and humor do not mix. If there’s no gag to your cartoon, you’ve just disappointed hundreds of thousands of people. Worse yet, if you’ve employed a tease in your humor, you’ve just insulted your entire audience. People read cartoons to laugh. Disappoint them, and they’ll surely disappoint you.
3. Focus on affinities.
I think of an affinity as anything you would tell me about yourself after having met over a cool beer. I have two kids. I love to fish. I’m an accountant. Great. I could make you howl for hours drawing cartoons about you fishing, interacting with your kids or dealing with the trials and balances of being an accountant.
But the moment I start focusing outside the things of prime personal importance to you, I become a self-involved annoyance and a bore. Make sure that never happens with your campaign.
4. Psychographics, not demographics.
Often when an assignment begins, clients start by describing their audiences’ family sizes and education and income levels. But I want to get into their heads, not their pockets. I need to know what turns them on, what opinions they might share, etc. Well-intended, demographic data only serves to obscure the real target.
5. Make sure the recipient comes out on top.
Personalized cartoons only work when they stroke recipients’ egos. If your cartoon isn’t paying a compliment, beware. It might instead be making your entire file — and you — the butt of a very bad joke.
6. Use comic tension.
I’m always amazed at how often clients equate smiling faces in drawings with humor — and probably security. But a bunch of smiling faces sitting around a board table is not funny. Bewildered faces, tense faces — and conflict — are the synthesis of humor. Remember, this is a cartoon. It’s supposed to be funny.
7. Never attempt to represent the recipient in the cartoon.
You’ll never depict each recipient accurately. Do you draw a man? A woman? Is the person bald? Tall and thin? Short and stout? You have no way of knowing. Better to refer to recipients out-of-frame than risk alienating them with misrepresentations.
8. Never use gender-specific references.
I have never encountered a foolproof genderization program. There always will be Leslies, Carrolls and Jans in your file. Worse yet are the first initial-only entries found in every database. And none of them enjoy being pegged as a member of the opposite sex in a cartoon.
9. Take a reality check.
If you have done everything right so far, ask yourself one final question: Is this cartoon something recipients would want framed and mounted on their walls? Regardless of whether you’re actually offering an art print, if it doesn’t pass this test, it won’t pass the real test.
10. The Automatic Failure Rule.
Direct-marketing cartooning requires an entirely different set of highly specialized skills than the ones taught in direct-marketing courses. If anything, personalized cartoon mail will automatically fail unless it’s done just right. Always use the best talent available. This is not for beginners.
Stu Heinecke is president of Seattle-based Stu Heinecke Inc. and CartoonLink.