Wiid et al. (2015) No Joke


Unflattering representations of salesmanship in mass media exist in abundance. In order to gauge the depiction of selling in mass media, this article explores the nature and public perceptions of salesmanship using editorial cartoons. A theory of cartooning suggests that editorial cartoons reflect public sentiment toward events and issues and therefore provide a useful way of measuring and tracking such sentiment over time. The criteria of narrative, location, binary struggle, normative transference, and metaphor were used as a framework to analyze 286 cartoons over a 30-year period from 1983 to 2013. The results suggest that while representations of the characteristics and behaviors of salespeople shifted very little across time periods, changes in public perceptions of seller-buyer conflict, the role of the customer, and selling techniques were observed, thus indicating that cartoons are sensitive enough to measure the portrayal of selling.

Citation Ria Wiid, Philip S. Grant, Adam J. Mills, Leyland F. Pitt (2015). No Joke: Understanding Public Sentiment Toward Selling and Salespeople Through Cartoon Analysis. Marketing Theory, 1–23. URL

BibTex entry for this article:

BibTex entry for this article:

author = {Wiid, Ria and Grant, Philip S. and Mills, Adam J. and Pitt, Leyland F.},
doi = {10.1177/1470593115607940},
issn = {1470-5931},
journal = {Marketing Theory},
pages = {1--23},
title = {{No Joke: Understanding Public Sentiment Toward Selling and Salespeople Through Cartoon Analysis}},
url = {http://mtq.sagepub.com/cgi/doi/10.1177/1470593115607940},
year = {2015}

Key ideas



Perceptions of selling and salespeople

Editorial cartoons and theories of caricature

Cartoon analysis




Limitations and future research

Cartoons, both individually, and as a corpus, provide a source of data that is both insightful and enjoyable. They enable us to conduct a retrospective analysis of public sentiment toward a specific event or issue. p. 17

this research is obviously restricted in that it involves a study of a limited number of cartoons about selling. p. 17

A consequence of the sampling method is that we may have missed counts of other cartoons about salesmanship. The cartoons studied are also limited to those that we were able to access and to those that had a date stamp of when it was created. p. 17

Appendix 1 (p.18)

Greenberg (2002) provides a framework of four categories for coding a cartoon. To this we added a fifth category, namely, metaphor (Bounegru and Forceville, 2011, following Lakoff and Johnson, 1980). Using the cartoon in “You Sure They’re Absorbing All Of This?”:

We would code this cartoon as follows:

Cartoon categoryCartoon elements
Narrative: What is the essential story line of the cartoon?Two executives ponder on whether their salespeople are absorbing all the sales training they’re getting.
Domestication: How does the image bring distant events closer to home? What are the locations, signs, and symbols?Indistinct location; managers and salesperson wear ties; buttons on salesperson’s shirt about to pop; fire hydrant with hose in salesperson’s mouth.
Binary struggle: Which characters are portrayed in a binary struggle? Who is the protagonist, who is the victim?The struggle is between sales management and the salesperson, with the latter the victim as they are pressured to absorb more than they are able to.
Normative transference: Who is portrayed in the cartoon as the “loser”?The salesperson is the loser by trying to absorb more information than they are capable of.
Metaphor: How is an abstract idea conceptualized in terms of a concrete physical experience?A fire hydrant pumping water under high pressure into the salesperson’s mouth (concrete and physical) conceptualizes the notion of excessive information pressure.

Tables and figures

Table 1 - Cartoon narratives-The essential story line Table 1 ~ p.10

Table 2 - Domestication-Through locations and signs Table 2 ~ p.12

Table 3 - Binary struggle-Between which parties? Table 3 ~ p.12

Figure 1 - Example of pre-2000 cartoon Figure 1 ~ p.9

Figure 2 - Example of post-2000 cartoon Figure 2 ~ p.9

Figure 3 - Example of a metaphor Figure 3 ~ p.10

Figure 4 -  Example cartoon highlighting the four dimensions of Narrative, Domestication, Binary Struggle and Normative Transference Figure 4 ~ p.13


Cartoon analysis, Forceville, metaphor, sales manager, salesforce, salesmanship, selling, stereotypes