The world's biggest soup maker plans to introduce special-edition cans of its condensed tomato soup bearing labels reminiscent of the pop artist's paintings at Target stores starting Sunday. The 1.2 million cans will cost 75 cents each.
The Campbell Soup Co.'s embrace of Warhol's iconic imagery is a switch from its initial reaction, when the company considered taking legal action before deciding to see how the paintings were received by the public.
"There's some evidence to show there was a little bit of concern," said Jonathon Thorn, an archivist for Campbell Soup. "But they decided to take a wait-and-see approach."
By 1964, however, the company realized the paintings were becoming a phenomenon and embraced the depictions. Campbell's marketing manager even sent Warhol a letter expressing admiration for his work.
"I have since learned that you like Tomato Soup," William MacFarland wrote in the letter. "I am taking the liberty of having a couple cases of our Tomato Soup delivered to you."
Later that same year, Campbell commissioned Warhol to do a painting of a can of Campbell's tomato soup as a gift for its retiring board chairman, Oliver G. Willits; Warhol was paid $2,000 for the work. Campbell also invited the artist to visit its headquarters in Camden, N.J., although Thorn said there's no indication a visit ever took place.
There was no contact after that until 1985, when the company commissioned Warhol to paint packages of its new dry soup mixes for advertisements. Warhol died about two years later.
In 1993, the company bought a Warhol painting of one of its tomato soup cans to hang in its boardroom of its headquarters. The company also has a licensing agreement with the Warhol estate to sell clothing, magnets and other gear, mostly overseas, bearing the artist's renditions.
Campbell has sold Warhol-inspired cans on two other occasions, although on much smaller scales. In 2004, the company sold 75,000 four-packs of Warhol-inspired cans at Giant Eagle, a Pittsburgh-based supermarket operator. During the holiday season in 2006, the company sold 12,000 units at Barney's in New York.
The latest promotion comes as Campbell looks to turn around its struggling soup business after years of declining sales; the company plans to introduce dozens of new products this year.
The cans to be sold at Target will come in four color schemes, with famed Warhol quote such as "In the future everybody will be world famous for 15 minutes."
The red-and-white Campbell label made its debut in 1898. Significant changes to the front of the can have been made only a handful of times since then.