Pop like Andy Warhol

Businesspeople should get themselves to a gallery

We all need to know a little about appearance, reputation and branding. Okay, so we’re not Marilyn Monroe. But we still need to figure out what to wear to a work meeting, a date, or a party. When we step out in public, we want to appear as the best version of ourselves.

If people used to talk about “making an impression” or “gaining a following”, they now talk about cultivating a personal brand. And that’s why serious businesspeople should head to a modern art gallery for inspiration. There, they can see the work Andy Warhol – the ultimate influencer.

Andy Warhol once listed his fascinations

The list included comics, picnic tables, men’s trousers, celebrities, shower curtains, refrigerators, and Coke bottles.

They weren’t the subject of great paintings. Or I should say they weren’t the subject of great paintings… yet. Warhol would change that.

Warhol made images about fame, brands and advertising. And he struck a nerve. His themes resonated with 1960s America – and they’re relevant today.

What makes a brand stand out?

For Warhol, the best brands were those that “anybody walking down Broadway could recognize in a split second”.

We can be more scientific. The brands that call attention to themselves – that seem to leap out of urban environments, waving and shouting – are those with ‘distinctive brand assets’.

That concept came from the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, so let’s use their definition: distinctive brand assets are triggers that prompt consumers to think of a particular brand name without explicitly stating it.

Assets can be verbal, visual or auditory. We all know Coca-Cola is red, has curved bottles, and exists in a soundscape of hissing air, fizzing bubbles, clinking ice cubes. It’s a complex idea that rolls around your senses.

So is the idea of Andy Warhol.

Warhol turned himself into a brand

There’s a reason why Andy Warhol is still famous. He made it happen. He deliberately changed parts of himself to strengthen his personal brand.

“Nothing is missing. It’s all there. The affectless gaze. The diffracted grace… The bored languor, the wasted pallor… the chic freakiness, the basically passive astonishment… The glamour rooted in despair, the self-admiring carelessness, the perfected otherness, the shadowy, voyeuristic, vaguely sinister aura… Nothing is missing. I’m everything my scrapbook says I am.”

Here are just a few of Andy’s brand assets:

  1. The hair
    Warhol dyed his hair platinum blond and later wore white or silver wigs.
  2. The wardrobe
    There were many outfits, but he was most often seen in a black turtleneck with black jeans and white Reeboks.
  3. The voice
    He did everything public speaking coaches advise against. He’d lapse into silence, um and ah, put his fingers over his mouth. His delivery was unconventional – and unique.
  4. The work
    Warhol’s screen prints are so fresh, so brash, so colourful that they instantly seize your attention. They stood out against the sea of abstract paintings that filled galleries at the time.
  5. The crowd
    Warhol’s fame rubbed onto the rabble that roused in his studio. Debbie Harry. Jean-Michel Basquiat. Truman Capote. Liza Minnelli. He formed The Velvet Underground and founded Interview magazine.

Is the hard work of self-curation worth it?

Well, brand assets bring in megabucks for companies. A study by Kantar Millward Brown found brands with the strongest assets are 52% more ‘salient’ than their rivals. In other words, they’re much more likely to spring to mind.

For individuals, the stakes are different. You’re not moving products; you’re promoting yourself. But research shows that personal branding can enhance your social standing. And that, in turn, leads to job offers and more money in your account.

Put yourself out there

The pop artist once predicted “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”.

He was always making mysterious, semi-serious statements of that nature. But it’s hard to deny he was on to something.

Viral fame is within reach for you, me, and any other schmuck with a smartphone. We just have to follow Andy’s example.

So, pour yourself a Coke. Heat a bowl of Campbell Soup. And embrace your quirks. They’re your greatest assets.

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