Why cartoons are powerful communication tools

I’ve been drawing comics and cartoons on serious topics for many years now. As a professional communicator I’ve come to the following unscientific conclusion on why cartoons work so well when you need to communicate difficult issues or need people to participate.

1.Cartoons make difficult (and boring) ideas more understandable

Have you ever tried to take a photo of a sales process? Or make a video about an employee pension scheme? If you can’t take a photo of it chances are you can still draw it – thanks to visual metaphors.

2. They cut through the clutter

They really stand out in a stream of text, photos and videos.

3. They encourage people to participate

A slick, professionally produced video can kill engagement. Slickness signals that things have already been decided as somebody has had the time to produce an expensive piece of shiny content. The wobbly hand drawn line sends a signal that things are not set in stone, that it is still possible to influence things.

4. They make scary topics less threatening

A cartoon has the power to make something big and powerful into something small and manageable. This is important if you are trying to communicate something that people find scary or unpleasant. Before employees are ready to support a corporate change effort their negative feelings have to be acknowledged. A negative character, or even just a skeptical frown on a character, can do a lot to make people feel heard.

5. They are fast and flexible to make

Cartoons and comics are usually much faster to produce than video or other more production heavy visuals – this means they can become part of an extended, constantly changing communication effort. Cartoons are also flexible: you can add real people from the company as characters without scheduling a video or photography session with people.

6. They make you look more human

Cartoons, or simple illustrations in general, are the opposite of bombastic, corporate and polished. If you want to come across as approachable and friendly and a bit more human then a cartoon is definitely something to think about.


By | 2017-08-09T13:49:00+00:00 November 12th, 2016|Communication tips|5 Comments

About the Author:

Professional visual simplifier. Former digital campaigner.


  1. Niall Reynolds November 16, 2016 at 11:21 - Reply

    what do you think about products like PowToon ?

    • Virpi November 16, 2016 at 12:04 - Reply

      I’m in favour! Whatever makes it easier to tell a story is a good thing. However, animation tools like PowToon don’t remove the core work of storytelling/visual communication. The real work is not in producing the visuals (not for me anyway) – it’s in the thinking. How can I turn a report that bores me to tears into a compelling story? What elements are there that could form a story? What do I need to leave out? What concepts are difficult to explain with normal pictures? (By the way: this is where you can tell when a non- visual person has been using PowToon type of tools: it consists of people talking. No visual metaphors, just people talking talking talking..)

      • Niall Reynolds November 21, 2016 at 09:12 - Reply

        Thanks very much for your speedy response.

        I love the line ” The real work is not in producing the visuals (not for me anyway) – it’s in the thinking.” so I guess you’d agree that CONTEXT and who the chosen audience is to be paramount.

        I am consumed with the concept of the tsunami of data that is about to be unleashed upon us as a society in general. However, when I look at my own domain experience (of 40 years). We spent so much time trying to gather information – like Hunter/Gathers then we evolved to Taming/Domesticating some of the big data generation applications. However the data was (not quite controlled) let’s say, constrained by supply/demand of various functional silos within organisations but now we are on the brink of overabundance of data. Obesity beckons, Clogged communication channels will be the order of the day.

        People who have data and have managed to turn it into meaningful information just want to show it, and here’s the rub, show it all. Management want one page executive summaries. This leads to the landing page on the project website having 12 different visualizations telling them stuff. “Because We Can” is the IT / Middle Management mantra.

        But are they getting the message?

        • Virpi November 28, 2016 at 17:42 - Reply

          Context – surprisingly few people care about context. Many communication projects are just tick box exercises. Unfortunately!

          When you have a lot of information the key skill is to know when and what to leave out (i.e. act as an editor). If you can’t do editing it often means you haven’t understood what you are trying to communicate. So if a senior manager gives me 12 equally important points to communicate to staff I know they probably don’t know what they are talking about. If you know what you want to achieve, you can prioritise and choose. If you don’t know your stuff, you dump everything on your audience.
          (You cannot dump information on people unless they specifically want to dig into the data themselves).

          Oh well.

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