“cube grenades”: cartoons as the future of marketing

I’m currently accepting new private and corporate commissions a.k.a. “Cube Grenades”. Please read on for some selected case studies, or for more background theory, read the commission archives.  Thanks! gapingvoid@gmail.com.

Traditional advertising doesn’t work very well.

Sure, it tries, and tries hard, but most of the time, it fails.

It fails far worse now than it ever did during the golden era of TV or print. Those days are gone. We live in The Internet Era now.

Old, traditional advertising was all about creating messages for the media, not about creating social objects for the people using the media.

“Social Objects” is what makes the Internet work, what makes the Internet possible.

Without the social objects, there would simply be no World Wide Web.

Social objects are part of the Web’s very  DNA.

In The Internet Era, an ad that isn’t first and foremost a social object, is useless waste of money. Even if we’re not talking about the Internet, per se.

Which is why I invented Cube Grenades: social objects in cartoon form, designed to star real conversations between people.

To me, Cube Grenades aren’t just about cartoons. Cube Grenades are  about something far more important- they’re about doing something that creates real change between people, that creates something that actually matters to people.

Social Objects: I use cartoons. What do you use? Serious question.



The groovy cats over at Shit Creek Con­sul­ting com­mis­sio­ned me to design them their business card.  After loo­king at the half-dozen or so ideas I pre­sen­ted to them, they chose the one above.

Shit Creek are a Mic­ro­soft Gold Part­ner. It seems a big part of their busi­ness is coming in and clea­ning up the mess left behind by the large tech con­sul­tan­cies [I’m not naming any names]. So that’s the idea I ran with.

The name of their com­pany implies they have a lot of atti­tude. They wan­ted a car­toon that con­ve­yed this. Easy. It was a fan­tas­tic com­mis­sion and I’m very happy with the car­toon they chose.

[The commission archive is here…]


For the last five years I’ve designed the poster for the annual Techcrunch Party. This is the one I did for July, 2010.

[The commission archive is here…]


A “cube grenade” commission I just completed for Thoughtworks, the global IT consulting company.

Thoughtworks has this term, “Watermelon”, to describe a project that goes terribly wrong, that looks all well and good on the outside (green), but as the project comes to an end, turns out to be a huge ol’ expensive mess on the inside (red). I just took the idea and ran with it.

We’re going to turn this design into a 100 large framed prints, as Christmas presents for their clients. A fun little “conversation starter” to hang on their walls… which of course, is what the the whole cube grenade idea is all about. “Art With Purpose” etc.



“The processor is an expression of human potential”. Exactly.

“Silicon chip as metaphor for blank canvas.” Exactly.

So this was my idea for my client, Intel. You know, the big microprocessor company. “Silicon Chips” etc.

First I drew a wee doodle of a microprocessor, like the one above.

Then I added a tagline to the image. “The processor is an expression of human potential”.

This was my “blank canvas” to start with, as it were.

And then I started to fill said blank canvas with images. As demonstrated below:

The images themselves don’t matter per se. The fact they were drawn by me doesn’t matter, either. That’s not the point.

The point is, as always, human potential. And what Intel can do to help said human potential reveal itself.

“The processor is an expression of human potential”. Exactly.

“Silicon chip as metaphor for blank canvas.” Exactly.

Then I added the Intel logo and their tagline, “Visibly Smart”.

We printed these up as fine art prints. Then I hand-signed them at the Intel stand at the 2001 CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. You can seethe photos here on Flickr.

[The commission archive is here…]



Hewlett Packard is kicked off its cybersecurity conference, HP Protect 2011, and they kindly hired gapingvoid to design some posters for them.

Basically, I wanted to draw something kinda cool n’ fun, something that computer security people wouldn’t mind taking back home and hanging on their office walls.

To the uneducated, the cartoon might seem trivial, but actually, it’s not. Like Lennie Bruce famously said, “Humor is serious business”.

Fred Wilson is right, we are indeed in the middle of a major, long-term, global trasformation, and Obama (or anybody else who wants his job) is NOT, REPEAT NOT going to save us.

So what IS going to save us? The SAME DAMN THING that has ALWAYS saved us:

That’s right. The Play Ethic. Creativity. All that good stuff Sir Ken talks about. All that good stuff that gapingvoid hopefully represents.

All serious work begins with serious play first. AND NOT the night before, but FIRST thing in the morning.You think Jony Ives works for a living? Hell, no, he plays for a living. So do I. So do my friends, Charles HopeSeth Godin and others like us.

And YES, you can bring that sense of play anywhere- to a conference on cybersecurity, for example. Don’t get me wrong; cybersecurity is also serious business. Our collective safety and our livelihoods as citizens depend on it, and companies like HP work to help protect our culture’s critical infrastructure systems and generally keep us out of trouble.

It’s a nasty, dangerous world out there, after all…

That being said, security nerds are also people who like to play and get paid for it, more than most. They like to have FUN, at conferences and anywhere else, of course they do. Who says the good guys cannot be sweaty and unshaven? News to me. To PLAY means to HACK something. Hacking is INHERENTLY playful. Of course it frickin’ is.

[Note to non-Nerds: the reason that nerds don’t spend a lot of time on their personal appearance is because they’d rather spend their brief time here on Earth, working on something that actually matters to them, not spend it on something that matters to the usual crowd of clueless, superficial, hipster knuckleheads.]

Thanks to Hewlett Packard for giving gapingvoid the opportunity to live in a place it hasn’t yet i.e. the complex and mysterious world of cybersecurity i.e. the world where the hackers live and thrive happily. It’s good to know that some of them are on our side. So far, it’s been a blast. Rock on.

[The commission archive is here…]



Recently I completed one of my most ambitious pieces in a while- a private commission from Tara, for her boyfriend, Remi’s birthday.

Go here to check out all the photos and the complete backstory.

[Though I haven’t talked about it too much on the blog, yes, I do private commissions. Feel free to contact me at gapingvoid@gmail.com if you want to discuss further, Thanks.]

[The commission archive is here…]


February, 2010 I flew to St. Louis, to give a talk at Purina, the giant pet food company that’s owned by Nestle. It was their big, annual digital summit. All their top digital marketing folk (and their top ad agency digital folk) were there.

I talked about “Social Objects”, and how I believe they are the future of marketing.

Above is the print they commissioned me to draw for them. I like how it turned out. “All products are information” refers back to something I wrote a few years ago, “The Kinetic Quality”.

How often do large, well-known companies call you up and ask you to draw a cartoon for them? Exactly. I’ve worked in the tech world for big clients before- Sun, Dell, Microsoft etc- but this is my firstcommission with a large, FMCG brand (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods). Not to mention, I’ve always held Nestle and Purina in very high regard. So naturally, I was pretty excited. Rock on.

[The commission archive is here…]


I did this cube grenade for Fizz, the well-known Word-Of-Mouth marketing agency [They did all that ground-breaking stuff for Pabst Blue Ribbon etc.].

This idea is so simple… do I really have to explain it? Exactly.

[The commission archive is here…]


These are three from an ongoing series of cube grenades I was commissioned to do for Rackspace, the large hosting company in San Antonio. I was hired by Rob La Gesse [he’s the same guy who hired uber-blogger, Robert Scoble], to create new ideas/messages in order to shake things up internally. So far it’s working.

[You can see the Rackspace cartoon archive here.]

[The commission archive is here…]


Jerry Colonna used to be a Venture Capitalist. He was EXTREMELY successful as a partner with Fred Wilson at Flatiron Partners. Before that, he was an investment banker on Wall Street.

Then he decided he wanted out of the business. He had made his money, he now wanted to give back.  He wanted to teach.

After teaching business classes at CUNY in New York for a little while, he set himself up as a business coach. A damn good one.

“A bit like being a shrink,” he told me, “but more business-focused.”

A big part of his modus operandi is not telling people what to do with their businesses, but trying to get them over their fears of achieving that which they MUST do, if they want to become the people they one day hope to be.

“The issues my clients fear the most tend not to be the actual stuff out there- competition, cashflow, marketing,” he says, “but the worst-case imaginary scenarios. ‘The Monster Inside Their Heads’, as it were. So a central tenet to what I do is helping them to get over The Monster.”

So he commissioned me to draw a Monster-themed signed, fine-art print to give away as presents to his best customers and allies. Something to keep on the office wall as a cons­tant reminder.

I was glad to do it. I’ve always got my fair share of Monsters, myself. Rock on.

[The commission archive is here…]


A wee commission I did for crashcourse.ca, an education resource. Yes, I wrote the headline. Go see.

[The commission archive is here…]


My old advertising buddy, Vinny Warren, commissioned me to draw him a Cube Grenade for his Chicago-based ad agency, The Escape Pod.

“We are not in the advertising business, we are in the decommodification business” is a line of mine that Vinny has been borrowing from me for a while now. So it seemed appropriate to design something around that.

[The commission archive is here…]



Tim Porthouse over at Zealeap.com commissioned this design for his company. The copy at the bottom (which I wrote) reads:

“when a business stops creating, it dies. when a business stops creating culture, it dies. business cultures are not created, they are re-created. business cultures are not created, they are co-created. without collaboration, there is no creation. a business that does not understand its own culture. does not understand its own business. culture matters. the world has gotten too interesting and too competitive to think otherwise. reality is scary. reality is wonderful.”

Cultural Transformation, Baby. That’s where it’s at these days. Exactly.

[The commission archive is here…]

14. HNI

A cube grenade I did for HNI Insurance.

A lot of HNI’s trucking clients operate with profit margins of around 2%. Ouch.

I like the cartoon just because it’s brutally in-your-face and to the point. No messing around.

Of course, the easiest way for their clients to increase their margin, is to lower their risk. Which is where HNI comes in. Ker-chiing.

[More HNI cartoons here etc.]

[The commission archive is here…]



In early 2009 I was hired by a Brazilian ad agency, agenciaclick to create a privately commissioned edition of the Cube Grenade above.

As with my other clients, they didn’t want these prints just for themselves; they wanted to give these out to their clients, as conversation starters.

“All brands are open brands? Huh? What does that mean? Do you agree with it? Why? What does “open” actually mean? What does “brand” actually mean…?” You get the picture. The same idea that made The Blue Monster so successful. Again, it wasn’t about the message, the object. It was all about the social.

[The commission archive is here…]


The Blue Monster was a cartoon-based “Social Object” that me and my Microsoft buddy, Steve Clayton, unleashed on the good but unsuspecting folk at Microsoft back in 2007. For those unfamiliar with it, you can find the backstory here on Google. It’s probably my best-know idea to date.

[The commission archive is here…]


Very cool- Socialfresh have a new t-shirt out, based on the cartoon I drew for them recently.

No, sorry, I don’t have any, either to sell or to give away. I believe you have to attend one of their events to get one…

Re. The idea for the cartoon: Inspiration is not something you freebase or download or whatever. It’s something you DO, it’s something you MAKE, it’s something you CREATE.

i.e. Inspiration first requires work on your part. Lots of it.

And no, it’s NOT worth it. Not worth it AT ALL. Not one iota.

Until, of course, it is…

Rock on.

[The commission archive is here…]


There seems to be a conversation happening internally at my client, Rackspace. Spearheaded by people like Robert Scoble and the guy who hired him (and who also hired me), Rob La Gesse.

“Don’t be normal”.

Who wants a “normal” job, anyway?

Who wants a “normal” employer, anyway?

Who wants a “normal” life, anyway?


So why not say it, loud and proud?

So I drew some cartoons on the subject.

I’m thinking they’d make great recruiting posters…

[P.S. At the time of posting these on the blog, Rob hadn’t seen these cartoons yet. He lets me post my ideas “live”, without having to go through him first. THAT IS WHY I’m psyched to be working with Rob and Rackspace. Just so you know.]

[The commission archive is here…]


Jeff SandquistRobert Scoble’s old boss at Microsoft’s Channel Nine, commissioned me to design this business card for him.

He wanted a design that worked for both techies and non-techies alike. Something that made him appear both good at his job, but still a human being etc.

Fun! Thanks, Jeff!

[The commission archive is here…]

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