Four Lessons Brands Should Learn From Political Cartoons

Because social media increasingly depends on visual storytelling, brands must create content that is not only effective, but tempting to share.

To do this, brands need look no further than to the past: political cartoons have been telling complex and powerful stories visually for hundreds of years.

Here are four lessons from political cartoons that any brand can adopt to strengthen its content.

Lesson 1) Keep it simple.

join or die


This cartoon was created by Benjamin Franklin in 1754 to urge New England colonists to support what would become the American Revolution. The image has remained an American icon for over 200 years. Franklin took a difficult, complicated and emotional political decision and broke it down into three words and a snake. The image, originally seen in newspapers, soon adorned battle flags and helped define the narrative of that conflict.

Lesson 2) Tap into emotion – it’s more powerful than a complex message.   

1965 cut


This classic cartoon was created by Herb Block of the Washington Post just days after the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The cartoon illustrates a profound moment in American history where legislation and a social movement overturned generations of disenfranchisement. The image is striking and resonant. With minimal text, the reader truly feels the success of the Civil Rights Movement, the strength and perseverance of African-Americans, and the power of democracy. In mere moments, the reader can absorb the message the author is sending.

Lesson 3) Topical content reaches a broader audience – connect with current events, trends and issues.



This cartoon, published a little over a week after the 2014 General Election, hits on a topical theme – voter disapproval of Congress. The statement could have been made at almost any time in recent memory, but coming so soon after the mid-term election had proven such mass disapproval, as well as comically tying voter disapproval with recent automotive recalls, the cartoon ensures that its message will strike a chord with readers. Any opportunity to put your message into a broader context only improves the chance your audience will connect with your brand.

Lesson 4) Be relevant … and appropriate. 

pearl harbor


This cartoon was created by Dave Granlund to reverently mark the anniversary of the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. The image is of a wreath of stars, similar to the wreaths and flowers that survivors and others annually throw into the waters of Pearl Harbor. As with the other examples, its text is short, its image is powerful, it comes at the correct time and it is relevant to its American audience.

Contrast the image above with a somewhat similar image in dubious taste tweeted by SpaghettiOs on December 7, 2013. While the food company’s intention may have been the same as Granlund’s, its irreverent image was inappropriate to a fault.

Telling your story visually is a great way to get noticed in the crowded Internet marketplace. And while new social platforms and trends continually change how we communicate online, it’s worth looking back at cartooning to see how a simple image, delivered in just the right way, can be a powerful communication tool.




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