Ode to Andy: Campbell’s Repays the Warhol Favor After 50 Years

Like most Americans in the heady, mixed-up days of the early 60’s, Campbell’s Soup executives didn’t quite know what to make of Andy Warhol. The pop artist’s ongoing love letter to the chowders, bisques and broths that flavored his Pittsburgh childhood–rendered in hundreds of colorful variations via his signature screenprinting method–may have been the greatest free PR boost in American history, but Campbell’s wasn’t quite sure whether to embrace the art world ringleader, view him as a one-off oddity or sue him for copyright infringement (a course their legal team wisely chose to avoid).

In a sign of how closely Warhol remains tied to the Campbell’s brand, the company announced this week that it will release a series of limited-edition cans designed to pay homage to the artist, whose followers called him “Drella” in tribute to his dual personae: Dracula and Cinderella.

The cans will run in a limited edition of 1.2 million available exclusively at Target stores and cost 75 cents each, providing an opportunity for Campbell’s to both regain a bit of media attention and boost flagging sales numbers by honoring its most famous fan.

Despite the initial uncertainty, Campbell’s quickly realized that they had a good thing on their hands. The company’s marketing manager William MacFarland wrote a praise-filled letter to the artist in 1964, two years after his first soupy screenprint exhibit sent him rocketing into the cultural stratosphere–MacFarland even shipped two full cases of Campbell’s famed tomato variety to the Lexington Avenue townhouse that Warhol shared with his mother and their cats. Campbell’s commissioned Warhol to design ads before his death in 1985 and maintains a licensing agreement with his estate to sell related products, but the company never embraced his legacy so openly in the past.

Anyone interested in owning a piece of the Andy brand on a real-world budget should pick up a few of these cans before they disappear: His most expensive soup piece, titled “Big Campbell’s Soup Can with Can Opener (Vegetable)”, sold at auction in 2010 for almost $24 million.

So what do you think? Will this promo campaign help boost Campbell’s numbers, or is the company’s 15 minutes drawing to a close?

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