The Illustrated Brand: The Case for Custom Illustration

Academic Matters - Winter 2007

What does Academic Matters have in common with The New Yorker magazine, American Express and Porter Airlines? They all rely heavily on custom illustration as a key visual branding tool. With today’s proliferation of stock photography and desktop publishing, custom illustration is one way these organizations, like many others, are able to put plenty of branding distance between themselves and their competitors.

The illustrated brand has staying power

The New Yorker’s enviable stable of illustrators and cartoonists has included many generations of top American talent. At the mere mention of The New Yorker’s name, I dare you to not let an image of one of its covers or cartoons pop into your head. That’s because since 1925, without waver or compromise, The New Yorker has consistently featured clever and topical custom cover illustrations and editorial cartoons to sear its unique brand into the collective consciousness of our culture. The magazine is in the enviable position of practically owning its own brand category for decades. This is a small miracle considering the thousands of printed and online magazines and blogs vying for our attention with dozens more added every year.

The illustrated brand tells a story

American Express has recently figured out that illustration has the power to make an indelible impression by bringing its brand to life through visual story telling. It even helps an established brand like American Express show a warmer, more human side. With its friendly, colourful illustrations and clever script and motion graphics created by Ogilvy and Mather, the always entertaining “Realize the Potential” campaign brings the American Express philosophy to life. The illustrations and accompanying script literally makes each service come alive – turning communicating the mundane into a memorable and fun visual treat.

The illustrated brand gets noticed

Toronto’s Porter Airlines knew right from the start that to beat the big airlines, it shouldn’t act or look like one. With its charming illustrated raccoon mascot, Mr. Porter, created by the London-based Winkreative, full-page Porter ads are so appealing and easy on the eyes, you can frame and hang them in the nursery. Not that you would do that, but you’ll certainly notice a Porter ad that’s frame worthy when its competition is an indistinguishable sea of ho-hum. In fact, their brand is so unforgettable, you can cover the logo on any Porter ad and show it to a Torontonian. They would be able to identify the Porter brand in a New York minute (or the Toronto equivalent).

The illustrated brand doesn’t have to break the bank

The good news is that you don’t have to have the budget or resources of American Express or The New Yorker to make your brand come to life through illustration. With smart creative direction, some vision and planning, custom illustration can bring you the most ROI for your branding buck when compared to custom photography.

Illustration matters in Academic Matters

When the budget is tight but your visuals are your product, or a good part of your product, then custom illustration is your best friend. That’s what we were thinking when we created the visual brand look and feel for Academic Matters, The Journal of Higher Education, published by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA). Our solution was to go with custom illustration for the cover and lead story of the magazine, giving us ultimate control of the overall look as well as the flexibility to communicate a unique story for each separate edition’s cover without the restrictions that are inherent in photography. We also devised a way to “skin” the website to take on the look the each edition, thereby changing the entire mood of the site to reflect the current issue.

Each issue of Academic Matters centres on a theme. The current issue is about the war on knowledge, both on campus and off. Our job was to create a cover that would illustrate the stories within the issue that describe a wide variety of challenges facing academia and various government agencies that many regard, when taken together, as an attack on knowledge. Our task was to bring this concept to life on the cover of the printed magazine and on the web version.

The case for custom illustration

If you want to have staying power, tell a story, get noticed, and do this all on a modest budget, then custom illustration is worth the effort. In a world of endless stock images, a one-of-a-kind and creative approach can mean the difference between being invisible and unforgettable.

If you would like see our illustrations, view our portfolio or contact us for a free consultation or quote.

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