“Cartoonist at work” by Tamas Fekete via Flickr.

Marketing professionals and online content creators take note: Because the comics syndication industry is undergoing change, it’s ripe for experimentation.

Comic syndicates, which act as agents for the comic strip creators and place comics in newspapers, have well-established systems for licensing their assets. All you have to do is visit the licensing section of a particular comic syndicate’s website, search for a keyword, and POW! you’ll be shown numerous cartoons and comics that match.

Bleeker the Rechargeable Dog and the National Robotics Week. Image via National Robotics Week

A perfect match: Bleeker the Rechargeable Dog and the National Robotics Week. Image via National Robotics Week.

Finding the right cartoon character or comic to attach to your brand might seem daunting. But don’t be discouraged. Linking your brand to a comic in a symbiotic way or using a cartoon to tell your story might be just what your business is looking for, and it’s easier than you think.

For example, Jonathan Mahood, creator of an electronic cartoon canine, formed a mutually beneficial arrangement with National Robotics Week, a program for exposing kids to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

Bleeker the Rechargeable Dog (right) is a pet that’s also part smartphone, GPS, printer, and more. As National Robotics Week’s official mascot, he represents a superb synergy between two brands. It’s almost like they were made for each other.

While co-branding with time-tested and trusted comic characters sounds awesome, the price tag attached to iconic comics makes it a pipe dream for most bootstrapped content creators.

At SkilledUp, we faced exactly this challenge. We wanted the warm fuzzies and nostalgia that Charlie Brown delivers, but our coffers weren’t deep enough. So we decided to take a stab at it ourselves. In 2014, we hired an illustrator to bring six common SEO jokes to life. It was a lot of fun and only cost us $800.

Within a month, if someone Googled “SEO jokes,” our page was the third result. Eight months later, it was still holding strong in fourth place. Not bad.

We were so pleased that we created some more — about startups and office politics — and we’re hard at work with our illustrator dreaming up even more cartoons.

 Jokes for SEOs via SkilledUp’s website

SEOs need a laugh too! Image via SkilledUp’s website.

When I was kid, my comic strip heroes were the Lone Ranger, Superman, and Snoopy. Decades later, I dressed up for Halloween as a warped blend of all three.

I called myself Lonely Super Doggy. Mind you, I didn’t look like the heroic trinity I had intended. I looked more like a deranged dog wearing a cape, crossed with a pistol-toting Garth Brooks.

But I loved it. And in a poorly executed yet thrilling way, I had become the characters I idolized.

When advertisers use a comic strip character, they want you to project the character’s values onto their brand —  to project the individuality of the Lone Ranger onto Subway sandwiches, the integrity of the Man of Steel onto Duracell batteries, and the whimsical yet intelligent nature of Charlie Brown’s pet dog onto MetLife.

Some more examples of how to use comic strips for marketing come out of King Features Syndicate, one of the largest comic distributors in the world. The syndicate has been behind numerous successful mergers of art and commerce, including a social media campaign that saw Diapers.com use parenting comics and a Lancôme product launch featuring Betty Boop.

Betty Boop injects life into this Lancôme campaign.  Image via “The Perfect Match for Lancôme,” Bulls Press

Betty Boop injects life into this Lancôme campaign. Image via “The Perfect Match for Lancôme,” Bulls Press.

Comics have long been a staple of newspapers, but while digital circulation is soaring, print is stagnating and comic syndicates are in need of new revenue streams. This has caused a shift among syndicates, which are starting to find ways of connecting directly with fans. King Features, for instance, built a consumer-facing website, ComicsKingdom.com.

Indeed, comics are experiencing a renaissance online. Released from the limitations of newsprint — and from content restrictions of publishers and syndicates — web cartoonists are free to go their own way. They can be edgier and more imaginative. They can also monetize their content in ways that are much more creative than traditional website advertising by selling books, T-shirts, and so forth.

Take The Oatmeal, a webcomic that has 3.1 million Facebook likes, 488,000 Twitter followers, and earned creator Matthew Inman hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Admittedly, The Oatmeal is an outlier. As you might expect, there are relatively few webcomics that have millions of readers and turn a hefty profit. However, this shouldn’t deter you or your company from considering licensing a comic or creating your own cartoons. These are valuable forms of digital content. Maybe a few speech bubbles and a superhero or a talking animal is just what your brand needs.