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Business Lessons from New Yorker Cartoons: What's Your Universal Caption?

June 10, 2011
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For years the New Yorker has been running a caption contest on its back page, where readers submit captions to go with a punchline-less cartoon. Winners receive a signed print of the final cartoon. It’s a brilliant, sticky content gimmick, especially for a print magazine – it’s interactive and addictive and keeps people coming back for more. (How many people subscribe to the magazine but only read the cartoons?)

In May, the magazine put out a call for a universal caption that could fit any New Yorker cartoon, and this week they rounded up some of their favorite submissions. You may remember that last year, Charles Lavoie proposed “Christ, what an asshole” as the universal caption for all New Yorker cartoons, and frankly, most of the new submissions don’t quite measure up to that brilliant all-purpose phrase.

Here are a few of the favorites chosen by the New Yorker’s staff:

  • “It’s like we’re in a New Yorker cartoon.”
  • “You gonna finish that?”
  • “I wish I’d never been drawn.”
  • “It’s been a year and I still don’t understand LOST.”

My favorite of the listed options is definitely “Well, this is awkward” – it seems to really get at the meat of what’s driving almost every New Yorker cartoon, an awkward situation (say, realizing your wife is a horse). See how well it works with these cartoons, semi-randomly chosen from a Google image search?

New Yorker Cartoon

Universal Caption

New Yorker Cartoon Contest

I came up with a little universal caption of my own, too:

New Yorker Cartoon

Universal Caption

New Yorker Universal Caption Contest

Works like a charm.

What’s both fun and instructive about this is that it forces you to look for a common thread among all New Yorker cartoons – what is it about New Yorker cartoons that makes them New Yorker cartoons and not Garfield or Far Side or XKCD cartoons? What is their personality? Their defining characteristic? Their value proposition?

You know I was going to bring this back to Internet marketing, didn’t you? Why not try this exercise with your business offerings – is there a single “caption” that would work for all your products and services? Can you describe everything you do in a single phrase or statement that wraps up why you’re special? For a creative toy company it might be something like “Making learning fun.” For a software company it might be “Empowering entrepreneurs.”

Large, successful companies tend to have these kinds of catchphrases integrated into their marketing and consumers may even be quite familiar with them. For SMBs or startups it may be a little harder to nail down exactly what you’re about – after all, your business is still growing and evolving. But it’s worth formulating anyway – think of it as a more advanced, customer-facing version of the elevator pitch you need when you’re starting a business. Your universal caption is your hook. Do you know what it is?

Internet Marketing Highlights of the Week

SEOMoz has released the latest version of its ranking factors survey, "comparing the aggregated opinions of 132 SEOs around the world with correlation data from over 10,000 results in Google." Always worth checking out.

Is the Groupon model sustainable? Jose at the Knewton blog thinks it's a "straight-up Ponzi scheme."

Alex Cohen at Search Engine Watch serves up 43 paid search signals you need to understand, from bids to social to "quality fit" considerations.

At Search Engine Land, Paras Chopra recommends three low-hanging-fruit A/B tests for improving conversion rates, including using a more concrete headline and a big, fat button.

Wondering how to get tons of clicks on your Facebook ads? According to Tony Thor at All Facebook, images are the key.

Still not convinced of the value of user-generated reviews? Econsultancy lists five SEO benefits of having user reviews on your site.

What is Google Scribe? This product got breezed over in favor of Schema.org and +1 button stories recently, but AJ Kohn thinks it might be more important, from an SEO perspective, than both.

You know what search marketing really needs? More inside lingo! Accordingly Ian Lurie has invented a new SEO factor: QualityRank.

Have a great weekend, y'all.

Comments

rick s. (not verified)
Jun 10, 2011

Ooh! Ooh! I got a universal New Yorker cartoon caption: "I paid for this?"

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