How to Build a Brand? 5 Branding Tips from Warhol and Dali

Andy Warhol's portrait of Marylin Monroe

It’s a beautiful, sunny May weekday in Wrocław. I love my morning commute to work. Maybe that’s an unusual thing to say, but it’s true. Today, however, I’m both relaxed and excited at the same time. I’m looking forward to watching the day unfold.

It’s the last day of a hackathon at Droplr, plus we’re planning to see an unusual exhibition at a nearby museum called Dali & Warhol. The Versatile Genius.

I love art, but to be honest I’ve never been that much into museums or exhibitions. I appreciate their cultural importance but I’ve always been more into performance art than painting. I love music, dance, theatre. I’m sensitive to design and beautiful color patterns but watching classical paintings hardly ever stirred deep emotions in me. Standing there in front of the museum, little do I know that this day will completely change my way of thinking.

We (Droplr) are entering the hall. The whole scene is shot through with theatricality that begins in the doorway. There’s a stark contrast between the bright, soft light of the sunny day and the darkness of the hall. The dominant black is broken by the lightness of white and the vivaciousness of red. At the end of a narrow passage in the distance, we see a bright pink hue that oddly compels us to come closer.

With hindsight, I think the exhibition left such a lasting impression on me because of the simple fact that it immerses you in the story you’re told, causing the experience to stick with you.

Unexpected lessons in branding

Surprisingly, there’s a lot of marketers can learn about marketing and branding from the way the exhibition was done, and from the artist themselves. It’s no wonder: the art of Dali and Warhol has undoubtedly permeated our culture to a great extent. You don’t have to be a culture vulture to be able to name at least one piece of their art.

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve most likely been closer to Salvador Dali’s art than you imagine 😉 I bet you’ve consumed it with great pleasure, indulging in its sweetness.

a glass container with chupa chups

Wondering what art I’m talking about? Not many people know that Chupa Chups’  logo is designed by Salvador Dali. What’s makes the story even more interesting is that the logo didn’t come from a formal business transaction.

As the story goes, Dali was inspired to design the wrapper after a friendly talk over coffee. His friend Enric Bernat, the founder of Chupa Chups, complained that his product wasn’t gaining popularity. Seeing him worried–, Dali immediately got down to sketching his ideas on a newspaper and, supposedly, didn’t stop for hours.

The change of the packaging was a turning point for the brand, which doesn’t come as a surprise – for both Warhol and Dali communicating through images was like breathing. 

Deep understanding of symbolism and subversive playfulness helped the artists built strong personal brands for themselves in times when the idea wasn’t so popular. Not only did they shape the course the art took, but they also had a profound impact on mass culture in general.

So, what lessons can brands learn from these grand figures? I see at least a couple of them:

Salvador Dali's prominent nose

1. Follow your nose when telling a story

Storytelling divides people into two categories: the ardent advocates and the skeptical. If you’re the latter, you might ask yourself why you like books or a good movie that engages your emotions and perhaps influences your choices. This is because our brains are wired to interpret reality through stories.

All stories have heroes, but good stories have heroes you can relate to – they are fallible like you, and they have their quirks and weaknesses. They also have grand dreams and ambitions they’re striving to reach. Does this description ring a bell? 😉

So, make your brand tell a good story. Start with your “why” and write it in bold. Make it grand and do not despair over the weaknesses of the hero. A fallible hero is a loveable hero. Trust your instincts and keep your eyes on the “why”, so you tell a coherent, compelling story your audience wants to be part of.

Also, use the senses when telling it. You don’t have to paint it in Ultra Violet 😉 But do be aware of the color psychology – make the colors reflect your values and align the whole communication with what the message the colors covey. Lastly, tap into other senses like taste and smell in your messaging. The more senses you activate, the stronger image you’ll build.

2. Create unforgettable branded experiences

The visit to the exhibition left a lasting impression on me. I was taken on a journey during which I could smell, touch, hear, see, and get to know two intriguing personas. As a brand, you should strive to do the same for your customers. And I don’t mean organizing extravagant trade fair stalls or throwing lavish promotional events.

Think of the touchpoints your customers have with your brand. What can you do to make their journey memorable, what senses will you appeal to with your messaging? What emotions do you want to evoke? What memories do you seek to create?

Design a fascinating story – send your customers on an engaging journey. And while this might feel counterintuitive, you don’t want to remove all the obstacles from your customer’s path.  

Why? Think about your own past experiences. Out of all the journeys you’ve made, don’t you remember most those that involved some trouble? By requiring some effort from your customers, you make them invest emotionally in the interaction with you. It leads to a bond. You’re part of the same story in the end, and there’s an emotional exchange between you.

a museum wall with Andy Warhol's pictures

3. Make unexpected connections

The Campbell’s soup picture is one of Andy Warhol’s most popular paintings. In 2018, we’ve probably seen it all, and a soup label as a form of art doesn’t impress us anymore. But in 1962, when the painting was created, it stirred controversy and shook the public opinion.

I’m not trying to encourage you to strive to seek out controversy at all costs. That’s a daunting task. What you can do as a marketer or an entrepreneur setting expectations for your marketing team is promote playfulness and not be afraid of going against the flow.

4. Be playful when creating a brand

Look around, see what’s going on and what’s important for people, what they talk about. Be curious, go to events, go to the places your customers visit. And, comment on them in your messaging. Make witty allusions. Give your audience a wink and a nod. Engage in a conversation with them and show that you care. 

Following Vadim Grigorian’s advice, make unexpected connections. Your audience lives in a certain context, and your role is to know that context and address it in a surprising way. Make them smile and feel understood. If you succeed, they’ll: A – feel surprised and bemused, B – develop a sense of connection and of being on the same wavelength. Is it easy? No, but open your mind and be playful! 🙂

The picture of Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea by Dali and Warhol's black and white portrait

5. Steal Mona Lisa

There was a time when the Mona Lisa vanished without a trace for 2 years. The man who sneaked the painting out of the Louvre was Vincenzo Peruggia, an art lover, and a patriot. Whether he was simply in awe of Mona’s mysterious smile or he wanted justice to be done by bringing her back to Italy remains unclear. The fact is that the transgression served her well (!) Once found, da Vinci’s painting acquired the status of a legend and went on a tour, which only boosted her fame and value.

So, lesson number five is: Be a thief! 😉 Elevate the works of others by referring to them, making allusions, commenting, gently mocking. Just like art is a conversation, so is marketing. So, start the conversation and don’t be afraid of referring to other people’s ideas. If you do this wisely, you’ll avoid falling into the trap of being a dull, unoriginal copycat. Chances are you’ll produce a message that’s witty and rich with meaning because it exists in context. Messaging that wows.

Let’s leave the easel to dry

Promoting theft is a sure sign it’s time to stop talking. 😉 Let me put my brush down and leave the easel to dry.

I hope my story has inspired you to be playful with your brands and to explore the artistic side of you. In a worst-case scenario, you’ve learned some fun facts you haven’t heard about. Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this text. 

I’m curious what you think. Where do you stand on branding? What brands, do you think, do it right? Are there any that inspire you? Is there anything you’ve done in the realm of branding that you’re proud of? Tell us in the comments section! We’d love to know!

I'm a service designer and a digital marketer, passionate about human-centered design and storytelling. To my own surprise, I frequently find myself writing about motivation and organizational culture. Why? This could be the human factor at play...

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