Robert Sawatzky
Jun 2, 2023

A marketoonist’s hard truths about the industry

From shiny new distractions to fallacious funnels, cartoonist Tom Fishburne points out the obvious ridiculousness in our industry that most are blind to.

A marketoonist’s hard truths about the industry

Note: All cartoons here reprinted with permission of the Marketoonist. To reproduce any cartoons in this article, please license the at

What makes marketing ripe for satire?

“Oh my gosh, an endless supply of material,” says Tom Fishburne, the runaway crowd-pleaser at a packed Campaign360 event in Singapore earlier this month.

He should know. After business school, Fishburne went to work as a marketer for consumer goods companies like General Mills and Nestle while also dabbling in the tech sector as an interim CMO for a startup called HotelTonight, eventually bought by Airbnb.  

Yet for the past 12 years, the self-described ‘'marketoonist' has made a full-time career of scribbling cartoons, something he began as a hobby two decades ago but hasn’t run out of material yet. 

Tom Fishburne presenting at Campaign360 in Singapore

Shiny and new

It helps, of course, when the industry you’re targeting has a frenetic obsession with change and chasing the latest and greatest shiny new objects.  

"What we do as marketers is constantly about change. It's hard to keep pace with all of that," Fishburne says.  

Ultimately, if we want to talk about digital transformation, we have to think about organisational transformation, we have to think about the cultural bear.”

“That friction,” Fishburne continues, “is creating what I like to think of as an awkward adolescence. “As our organisations are on a path to digital maturity, it feels like we're in the middle of this adolescent zone where we have incredible access to technology to do all these great things, but occasionally it falls down.” 


Just like news satirists like Trevor Noah can at times more clearly convey certain truths by scrapping broadcast reporting conventions, so too can a humourist like Fishburne more easily take a step back from the industry hype of the moment and lay bare the hard realities where there’s a disconnect from how marketers perceive consumer markets and how everyday people do.  

A classic example of this is what Fishburne calls ‘funnel vision’. “When we think of needs in the moment, oftentimes the temptation is to look at the world through glasses with marketing funnels,” Fishburne says.  

“The path of least resistance is to think about our consumers that way, on a transactional path to purchase,” he continues. “One of the problems with this approach is that people are often in very different places. People are complex and not always on the path to purchase, or even thinking about your brand, they're doing other things, and sometimes this can create myopia when we look at our consumers through this sort of filter."


Marketers aren’t fully blind to this. To get a better sense of where consumers’ heads are at, marketers have latched onto another framework to take into account that people are experiencing their brands, products and services at different stages and with different mindsets. We’re talking, of course, about the infinitely-referenced ‘customer journey’, where billions of dollars have been spent on technology to map out and personalise brand experiences for people no matter where they are in that journey.

Except that what a marketing program detects and what consumers experience are often very different realities.  


“Oftentimes, if we try to optimise based on where we're trained in marketing, it can lead to experiences that are really awful,” Fishburne says.  

One way to remedy the situation, Fishburne suggests, is for marketers to leave their ivory towers from time to time and actually experience what their consumers are going through, noting how certain VPs at Apple used to take weekend shifts at Apple stores just to see what people were grappling with, when they entered the stores.  

It’s then that they can really ditch their funnel glasses and start to move experiences in a customer-centric direction. 

Just like Fishburne’s cartoons can break the ice and get marketers to admit some raw truths and flaws in their direction.

I realised that there's something really interesting about using humour at the workplace because it lets us talk about the things that are sometimes difficult to talk about,” he says.  

Campaign Asia

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