The Book On Warhol and Wal-Mart

Mar 23, 2004
George Anderson

By George Anderson

In Cool News About Retail: From Warhol to Wal-Mart, the author Tim Manners shares 92 stories
that speak to the power of the retail environment to connect with consumers and build brand equity and sales.

Mr. Manners, editor and publisher of Reveries magazine, recently sat down to offer some additional perspective on his work.

RW: What was the most important story covered in the book?

Manners: Hate to be predictable on this one, but Wal-Mart would have to be considered the most important story in the book.

However, while importance can be ascribed to Wal-Mart for a number of reasons, I would peg it to one thing above all others: More than 100 million people shop at Wal-Mart each week. By comparison, just 78 million Americans watched the final episode of ‘Seinfeld’ — and that was back in 1998. Television audiences have become only more fragmented since then.

Point is, the number of consumers shopping at Wal-Mart each week makes Wal-Mart at least as important as is television in America today. The implications of this should not be lost on any marketer because it leads directly to the proposition that, in effect, Wal-Mart is “marketing’s new television.”

The marketing opportunity is not exclusive to Wal-Mart, of course. In fact, Wal-Mart does not do the best job of using retail as a medium. Huge opportunities exist in nearly every category of product and service to use retail to build their brands.

RW: What retail innovators do you think everyone should be watching?

Manners: The most impressive innovators are using retail to build their brands as much as to generate sales. So far, these innovators tend to not to be traditional retailers
at all, but rather product and service providers who are using retail as a medium for marketing.

Two of the best examples are Apple, which is using retail to build tighter relationships with its consumers (among other things) and Song Airways, which is using retail to give prospective passengers a sense of what it is like to fly on their airline.

It will be interesting to see how retail concepts now being pioneered by marketers like Apple and Song eventually are applied in more traditional retail venues, such as supermarket, drug and mass merchandise.

RW: Talk more about your belief that retail is the coolest platform for building brands.

Manners: We’ve already talked about Wal-Mart being important, but honestly, Wal-Mart is not exactly “cool!” That’s where the “Warhol” half of the book title comes in.

Andy Warhol was not a retailer exactly, but he was a merchandiser who really understood the confluence of art and commerce (e.g., Campbell Soup cans).

Marketers need to understand the “art” side of the retail equation if they are to pay off retail’s potential to build brands as “the new television.”

There are many examples of the nexus of art and commerce in the book, primarily in the collection of stories called “Atmospherics.”

We have Absolut Vodka sponsoring a Stockholm bar that’s carved entirely out of Ice. There’s a Mercedes-Benz dealership housed in a building designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. One of my favorites is a museum display of 20th century fashions, sponsored by Gucci, in which the branded apparel is draped over classic Greek sculptures.

But the coolest thing of all is that these retail concepts not only project an image, but also make the cash register ring. Retail is so supremely cool because it is so inherently accountable for sales results. It is arguably the only medium where sales and marketing can happen simultaneously.

RW: What retailers do the best (worst) job of building their own brand identity?

Manners: Oh, trying to get me into trouble are you?

As a category, I’d say that banks rank among the worst — and therefore have the greatest opportunity to gain a competitive edge by developing the possibilities. Actually, Washington Mutual has made some inroads in terms of creating a better banking experience, although I understand their success is not entirely certain at this point.

Major appliances — you know, the old sea of white — is also notorious for bad retail. However Whirlpool is making a gutsy move with its Inspirience stores, where prospective customers can actually come in and do a load of laundry or compact their trash to get a real hands-on feel for the quality of Whirlpool’s products.

Airlines, which I would define as retail, are still horrendous by and large, although JetBlue and Song are both proving that it is possible to brand the in-flight experience.

Finally, food stores are mostly disappointing as retailers. There are some interesting exceptions, such as Stew Leonard’s and Trader Joe’s, for example. But most supermarkets would do well to take a closer look at retailers such as Zingerman’s Deli and Cowgirl Creamery for ideas on how to build a brand image at retail, and not just move product.

Moderator’s Comment: Do you share Tim Manners’ view of the retail environment as being a largely untapped marketing

Cool News About Retail: From Warhol to Wal-Mart is an easy and informative read for retail sales and marketing wonks like us, as well as for those
who can actually lay claim to having a life. You can pick up a copy at Amazon or Barnes & Noble online.

We also highly recommend you check out the Reveries Magazine Web site,
We’ve found it a valuable resource for in our continuing search for marketing innovators.
Anderson – Moderator

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