As art lovers snap up tickets for the major Andy Warhol exhibition that’s just opened at the Whitney Museum of American Art, we’re reminded just how significantly our lives have been touched by this seminal artist, whose huge influence floods the creative industry to this day.
Through the 1960s and 70s, Warhol’s Factory was the heartbeat of creativity in Manhattan, the US, possibly the world. On one level it was a hangout for Manhattan’s creatives where singers like Bob Dylan and Mick Jagger rubbed shoulders with writers such as Truman Capote and Allen Ginsberg. On another level it was a place where real stuff got made, where a free-flowing, ever-shifting group of artists delivered the headline-grabbing prints and films we know as Pop Art.
As John Cale, of The Velvet Underground, a Factory regular, said: "It wasn't called The Factory for nothing. It was where the assembly line for the silkscreens happened. While one person was making a silkscreen, somebody else would be filming a screen test. Every day something new."
The spirit of The Factory lives on. Of course, no one would ever dream of claiming to be the next Warhol’s Factory, but its legacy leaves a stream of influences that is forming a new wave of agency model – the Factory model.
Atmosphere of permission
Agencies who tap into an array of creative and artistic talent, and encourage them to try new approaches, take risks, make mistakes and discover the unexpected, can help brands they work with engage with consumers on a whole new level. It’s how they did it in The Factory: there were the people who turned up day in, day out, then there were those who drifted in and out, or who blazed through in an arc of dazzling brilliance, collaborating with the core team, teaching and inspiring them.
"He created an atmosphere of permission, and that is not nothing," wrote Steven Watson, in his ‘Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties’. For a creative agency in 2018, competing against global agency groups for ever-diminishing corporate budgets, that delivers next-level brand experiences – and something beyond that.
It’s an approach offering creative solutions that help brands get noticed and chosen. It’s reimagining drinks icon Baileys for a new generation with limited editions such as Almande and Strawberries & Cream. It’s an approach that promotes Raid insecticide by creating artwork from 60,000 dead roaches.
The recent Pepsi campaign – "LOVE IT. LIVE IT. FOOTBALL" – is another great example of this approach in action: a collaboration between some of the world’s best-known soccer players, such as Lionel Messi, and up-and-coming artists Woodvine, DIYE and Kim Sielbeck, as well as world-renowned photographer Danny Clinch.
It was Warhol himself who said: "Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art". He understood that to create an environment where everything is permissible you have to get the numbers right.
Brand teams have had enough of the standard agency model. Their consumers are looking for a less manufactured, more authentic look and feel. So when those brand teams find a studio that’s not suits in offices and creatives moving CGIs across Mac screens, but a buzzing space where potters, dancers, ceramics experts, DJs, marbling experts, typographers, copywriters, strategists and design experts bounce ideas and energy off each other, they get as excited by it as we do.
A model to follow
This model is hard work. It means repeating the creative process over and over and over until you strike gold. But it has the potential to deliver the brand experience consumers crave.
Looking ahead, it’s possible we might see artists’ collectives, galleries or creative spaces adapting what they do to deliver for brand teams. Perhaps it’ll be photographers’ studios or musicians becoming audio branding spaces.
It may even be that corporates themselves evolve the notion of tapping into their own Warhol Factory. They’re already setting up self-funding spaces for creative teams to come in, use and develop innovations. How could that be taken on further using the Factory model?
The potential of this new model is exciting. That’s partly because of the process, the act of creation itself and the buzz of collaboration with talented people. But it’s also the output. Maybe it’s not changing the world of art in the way The Factory did, but it is positively transforming brands and the way consumers connect with them.
Jonathan Kenyon is the co-founder and executive creative director of Vault49.