The Wisdom of Andy Warhol, Interruption, and Advertising
"If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be?" Most people say Jesus or Gandhi. If I could consult anyone about popular market culture, it would be Andy Warhol.
I was neither an art major nor could I ever pretend to call myself a patron of the arts, but I, like many others, have some knowledge of his prints. Many of his pieces were of celebrities including Marylin Monroe and Elvis Presley. His others featured images from the corporate world, brands, such as Coca Cola and Campbell’s Soup. This type of free advertising and buzz is near impossible to create. Companies pay millions to reach their customers. Whether I'm trying to catch the end of the game or leafing through to a magazine article, companies pay to interject their message. Warhol created advertising value quite differently. People turned off their TV's and left their magazines at home to go and see his replications of corporate images. His services would be valuable given the shifting marketing landscape.
For the past several decades, marketing relied on the TV Industrial Complex. In this dynamic, people watch television programming that is interrupted by commercials. Companies pay to interrupt our viewing with the purpose of selling products or services. Then, we go out and buy their goods. With the profits, the companies buy more ad time. Rinse and repeat as necessary.
However, this type of interruption based method is becoming less and less effective. With the exception of the Super Bowl, the majority of watchers try to avoid commercials. To satisfy my need for unbroken entertainment satiation, I select two programs and use the “Last Channel” button liberally. The worn patterns on my remote tell the sad story of advertisers dwindling ability to reach their target audience. Now I almost never watch television; instead, Youtube.
-With permission based marketing, Elvis would still have a TV-
Seth Godin, a modern marketing expert, says that now, with the death of the TV Industrial Complex, a company should adopt permission based marketing. Permission based marketing asks for your time and requires your consent for interruption. This makes sense in thinking about email marketing, twitter followings, rss feeds and Facebook updates. They can then offer purchasing opportunities, deals, feature new products, or ensure a constant presence in the customer’s mind.
However, this system does have its limitations. I recently started unsubscribing from marketing emails en masse. Instead of changing the channel, I am utilizing google's massive storage capabilities to compile hundreds of unopened emails that were lucky enough to slip past my computer's, but not my personal spam filter. So what is being sought out instead of ignored or marked "delete" without opening? The goal here is not to interrupt the consumer. The goal is to get the consumer to interrupt themselves.
So what are people interrupting themselves with? Of the 15 most viewed videos Youtube Videos of All Time, 14 are music videos. Half of Warhol’s subject matter has received serious attention via Youtube. Artists can and are reaching their fans quite successfully. So the equivalent of Marilyn and Elvis’s screenprints are being produced. Good. What of Coca-Cola and Campbell’s? Have these reached screenprint status on Youtube as their musical counterparts did? Not yet, at least according to the Youtube Top 15. The Soup Can has yet to capture serious attention in the social media world. Instead, the non-musical video breaking the Top 15 is “Charlie bit my finger”. This video, if you’re not familiar, features two babies in the back of a family car. Charlie bites his older brother’s finger and, in response, he cries out “charlie bit my finger” over and over in a adolescent British accent.
The content people are interrupting themselves with is either music videos or America's Funniest Home videos. An encouraging note for marketers is that other brands haven't found a way to capture this audience. Youtube, Google, and Facebook provide the platform or the gallery. Most companies pay to place their advertisements next to the content that actually has the person's attention. But a company hasn't become the centerpiece. This is why Andy Warhol's wisdom would be in high demand.
In 1968, Warhol said, “in the future everyone in the world will be famous for 15 minutes”. Now, everyone will be famous for 15 seconds. Or in Charlie’s case, 56 seconds. 56 seconds and 300 million views. To put this number in perspective, 111 million people tuned in to watch the Super Bowl this year. Ad time sold in 30 second blocks for US $2.6 million. “Charlie bit my finger” has an approximate market value of US $15 million. If only he had bit my bank account.