Andy Warhol: Ad Man

Posted by Owen Matson, Ph.D. on December 15
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Andy Warhol fashioned himself as an eccentric, ever-unapproachable and yet ever-present star, and he promoted this image at every public appearance he made and in every interview he gave.

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In this way, he turned his own name into a brand, thus increasing the demand for and value of any product associated with this name, including paintings, films, sculptures, photographs, music LPs, or books. In his later years, he even worked as a model and testimonial for various advertisements. Companies were able to book him through an agency, and he thus became the face of Levi’s jeans, TDK video-tapes, l.a. Eyeworks sunglasses, Amiga computers, and Vidal Sassoon hair care. Warhol artfully fabricated his brand and his star persona. He then used this stardom to generate additional income and public exposure.

In fashioning his own brand, Andy Warhol challenged the traditional image of the artist: Warhol rejected the presumed tension between high art and mass entertainment, authentic creative innovation and commercial viability. Warhol’s success lie largely in his ability to reconcile two putatively contrary roles: The individual, original, artistic creator and the entrepreneurial figurehead of business. And Warhol’s revamping of the artist’s role correlates closely with his self-fashioning as a celebrity.

Tapping into the mechanisms of the film star/celebrity culture that had developed in Hollywood in the early 20th century, Warhol created and maintained a very particular artist persona. He gave ambiguous statements in interviews, which never made clear whether he was being serious or scathingly ironic. Warhol also presented himself in a very androgynous manner, dying his hair platinum blonde and later replacing it with white or silver wigs. In general, he cultivated a very specific persona that he himself described in detail, attesting to the high degree of consciousness involved in this production:

“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.”

 

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In turning his name into a brand, Warhol ensured that his work could be continued independently from his actual creative or productive participation—much like brands and businesses in fashion or technology, where the name of the original founder remains a sign of quality and style, even without his or her ongoing involvement. Self-consciously aware of his “wasted pallor,” his “freakiness,” his “shadowy… vaguely sinister aura,” Warhol emerged as the ultimate “insider” by embracing precisely those elements of his personality and presence that threatened to make him an outsider. I love that—in my mind, Warhol's courage to embrace who he was exemplifies the best kind of brand heroism.

 Creating truly original content takes more than creativity—it takes courage. Warhol's style made him vulnerable to criticism, misunderstanding, and all manner of rejection. Andy Warhol was brilliantly creative. More importantly, however, are the ways in which he modeled the courage required to openly express and explore challenging ideas.

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Topics: Creative, Brand

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