Juniper's Cartoonist Isn't Bitter

In fact, he's downright happy to have gotten five years of work out of that gig

Craig Matsumoto, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

February 27, 2009

4 Min Read
Juniper's Cartoonist Isn't Bitter

Somewhere in or near Bloomington, Ind., freelancer Kevin Pope is sitting down to a day of work without Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR).

He's the one who, for more than five years, drew the famous (or infamous) cartoon ads for Juniper. Now, Pope's contract has been cut as part of a marketing makeover Juniper announced this week. (See Juniper Kills the Cartoons! and Juniper's Same Old Look.)

And he's OK with that. A five-year gig isn't bad work for a freelance cartoonist.

"I was very surprised it went on as long as it did. Usually, people tire of things, in advertising. A year is about the norm," Pope tells Light Reading. "In illustrating or cartooning, unless it's a trademarked character -- Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Garfield the cat -- you don't see it happen that long."

Every year, the contract came up for review, and Pope and his Oklahoma-based ad agency would breathe signs of relief when the renewal came up. So when the ad agency finally got the bad news this time, it wasn't that stunning.

Not only was the campaign longer than expected, it was more voluminous -- which was great for Pope, who, while juggling "a half dozen to a dozen" other clients, found Juniper becoming nearly a full-time job. Product announcements, sales seminars, animations for a 10-year Nasdaq anniversary -- the requests poured in from different sectors of the company.

"They said, 'This will keep you busy.' I've heard that before, but it was true."

The cartoons started in 2003, championed by then-VP of marketing Christine Heckart. (See Juniper Appoints VP and VP Jumps From Juniper.) Of course, Juniper wasn't so lucky as to find an artist who already knew telecom IP networking. Pope met with salespeople, engineers, and executives to learn the lingo of quality-of-service, virtual LANs, and IOS-bashing.

Once he got that training done, the cartoon writing was in Pope's hands.

"They really left it up to me. They told me sort of a direction -- they wanted to talk about their products as opposed to another company's products out there, why Juniper's product was better, or why the other products fail more," Pope says.

Many didn't like the cartoons, and criticisms popped up here and there. Some thought them unprofessional, others unfunny. But, cutting Pope some slack, you have to ask: How funny is a router, anyway?

"You can only do so much. Even though Juniper was releasing new products, the products were very similar. It was difficult doing something fresh each time," he says.

The cartoons did lose their edge quickly. They started as a way of ragging on Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) -- plenty of examples here -- but according to Pope, then-CEO Scott Kriens started getting guilt pangs. Kriens and Cisco CEO John Chambers "were good friends, and so... it was Scott who said, 'You know, John thinks they're funny, but could we do less of that?'"

Queried about that, Juniper responds with, "Changes in cartoon content and usage are reflective of our marketing decision to focus on Juniper’s value propositions around high-performance networking, lower TCO [total cost of ownership], choice and flexibility." In other words, no comment.

Love them or hate them, the cartoons gave Juniper a look, and they adorned everything from PowerPoint presentations to cubicle name tags. Pope says Juniper's offices in Asia -- where cartoons are taken more seriously than they are in North America -- kept inquiring about doing more projects. Cartoon suggestions came in from engineers. (Let's just say they didn't find the next Scott Adams.)

And it lasted more than five years. For someone accustomed to short, one-off corporate projects, Pope was living the dream.

From 1983 to 1985, Pope drew a comic strip that was shopped around to the newspapers but gave it up to pursue business freelancing. He shakes his head a little about that decision, possibly thinking of the success that Calvin & Hobbes, Dilbert, and Foxtrot found in the '90s -- but he also admits syndicate life is no picnic. The syndicate took half his earnings, and its salespeople weren't interested in shopping a newcomer to comics editors, a situation that persists.

"The old guard of the newspaper cartoons, the comic strips like Beetle Bailey, were being handed down to the sons of the cartoonists. So there was no transition [to newer strips]," he says. "Syndicates can't let go of a strip that's making money for them."

With the Juniper job done, Pope goes back to his other corporate clients and occasional magazine freelancing. He's happy to have had the Juniper experience, though.

"Juniper treated me very well," Pope says. "If I was running Juniper, I would have changed it as well. It's probably run its course."

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

About the Author(s)

Craig Matsumoto

Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

Yes, THAT Craig Matsumoto – who used to be at Light Reading from 2002 until 2013 and then went away and did other stuff and now HE'S BACK! As Editor-in-Chief. Go Craig!!

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