How & Why Illustration is Good for Your Business.

Illustration is often thought of as a niche art form reserved for kid’s books and heavy metal posters while the commercial applications are so often overlooked or underutilized. The truth is in this media driven world, illustration is likely to be something that will draw much wanted attention to your business and set it apart from it’s competitors if used correctly.

Take social media for instance. When you think of Instagram the first thing that comes to mind for most people is to post a photo because it’s easy and anyone with a smart phone can do it. But does that make it good? Or more to the point does that make it noticeable or noteworthy? Well, it depends but it’s common to find yourself scrolling faster and faster through your feed, ignoring the captions and just hoping something will catch the interest of your eye. When you post an illustration rather than a photo you’re already more unique than 99% of the other posts in the average feed, giving you an extra edge and a greater chance of drawing the attention of a potential customer or client.

As an example, in February 2016 to launch their new Chicken Legend range, McDonald’s (UK) asked customers to send stories about their “legendary mate” for a chance to have their “legendary story” illustrated. 3 winners had their stories handpicked & illustrated by Matt Johnstone and posted on the McDonald’s UK Twitter page. This was a great way to engage customers and humanize the fast food giant by using their extensive promotional reach to push stories about everyday people in a fun and visually interesting way.

Matt Johnstone illustration for the McDonalds MyLegend competition winner.

Another example is Starbucks who in 2015 rolled out a global social media campaign to promote their blended Frappuccinos, using animated illustrations by Jo Bird. Jo created chalkboard illustrations, whilst being filmed in time-lapse. These chalkboard drawings then became the final animated videos using stop-motion to bring the fun & summer-themed illustrations to life for Starbucks’ popular social media channels. Now I wouldn’t call this ground breaking advertising as stop motion is nothing new but for a social media application, it’s still miles ahead than having what looks a like a stock photo of someone ‘enjoying’ a cup of coffee. And that’s because this chalkboard animation associates the brand with more than just the coffee, it associates it to creativity and to something hand made. The subject of the images themselves associate to happy memories of childhood and festivities, the coffee is just hanging out with this other cool stuff to try and become cool by association. And guess what? It works.


In 2014 Chanel also hired Jo Bird for a live drawing event on Mother’s Day where she illustrated complimentary gift cards in the Covent Garden store. These hand made cards featured a drawing or painting of 3 chosen designs and was an ingenious way to make sure the Chanel experience stayed in the customers mind with fond regard. This kind of marketing works in a few different ways. Firstly the event of having an artist creating art right there in the store is noteworthy and will get talked about and word of mouth is the best form of advertising there is. Secondly they are giving the art away for free, so people feel special, as if they are being looked after which gains the customers trust which means they are far more likely to shop with Chanel again. Thirdly there’s a rule that says ‘good packaging doesn’t get thrown away’ and even though this isn’t exactly packaging (but it does come with the product and each image is branded), these hand made cards are more than likely going to find their way onto someone’s mantle because of their beauty value and effectively become advertising within that customers home. One of the great things about this kind of advertisement is that even though it might not get as much traffic as a billboard on a main road, it has more influence on the people who see it because it becomes a referral from the person who displays it. It’s a win-win situation and if this doesn’t create raving fan customers then nothing will.

Illustration of a flower by Jo Bird for Chanel.
Jo Bird Illustration of a bottle of Chanel No. 5 for Chanel.
A photo of UK illustrator Jo Bird hand making illustrated gift cards in-store for Chanel customers.

There are so many other ways illustration can be used to successfully promote your business and they don’t have to be as elaborate as the examples I’ve made here to work. Infographics for one have surged in popularity and have become the go to online method to convey a great deal of information to a lot of people in a short amount of time. They can be used to simply explain all the whos, whats, whens, wheres, whys and hows of your business while keeping people visually stimulated with shape and colour.

Of course pamphlets, posters, business cards and the like can all benefit from the energy boost that Illustration brings but as I mentioned earlier it’s a broader spectrum than most people really care to recognize. Everything from drawing a comic strip to designing a logo falls into the illustration category in my eyes because it all starts with an idea, then becomes a sketch and then whether by hand or computer, all the lines and shapes are refined to craft the final image. The process is the same and the best thing about this process is that it’s so editable. Everything from colour choice to layout to stroke thickness contributes to a feeling the illustration projects. A feeling that is then attributed to your products or company so it’s advantageous to work with such a medium where you have complete control of all the elements and can ensure you’re always sending the right message for your brand.

7Do you remember the first time you saw the Obama ‘Hope’ poster? Well I don’t remember exactly but I do remember thinking ‘wow’ and felt that it became an instant classic. The style, the colours, the shading, the message, everything about it was perfect and I honestly think it went a long way to helping him win the youth vote if not the majority vote overall.

I also believe that due to the rise of technology, throwaway photography and automated design, Illustration by it’s very nature, regardless of style, evokes a feeling of humanness that is increasing in value. It is the hand made quality that people are beginning to miss and just knowing that ‘someone had to draw that’ makes it bespoke or artisanal or any other number of hipster catchwords that make you feel that it’s not cheap, disposable or easily replicated for that matter. It’s personal, relatable and cool and unless our entire computer networks crash and we are all forced back to pencil and paper, then I believe man made illustrated design is going to be a sign of luxury and quality for a long time to come. So hire an illustrator, breathe a breath of fresh air into your branding and raise the profile of your business today.

Peace (& Hope). Eddie.