If you’ve walked into a J.Crew store in the past couple of years, you might have stumbled upon a few literary classics or large-scale art books nestled into a display of Oxfords or cashmere crews. Books are part of the branding message at Warby Parker as well. The socially conscious eyewear company has teamed up with publishers to offer a selection of titles on sale in their library-inspired flagship.
These references honor an otherwise marginalized world of literature and work to hook (knowingly or not) a population ever saturated in the digital age. Yet, the relationship between literary and commercial worlds is not necessarily new.
In 1934, an illustration of Mark Twain was featured in a Campbell’s soup ad, noting, “Even Mark Twain would have been stumped” (ostensibly, to describe the great taste). Ernest Hemingway appeared in a 1951 Ballantine Ale ad, and later inspired a line of classic furniture, which, like the stories of its namesake, “weave together exotic elements from around the world.”
And then, of course, there was the 2009 advertising spot by Widen + Kennedy which draws on Walt Whitman’s poem, “Go Forth”, even using what appears to be a wax cylinder recording his voice. Walt shows up later too—not in the tomatoes—but in Apple’s 90 second spot for the iPad in 2014. Through Robin Williams’ impassioned recitation of “O Me! O Life!” we learn that we, too, can contribute a verse to the powerful play of life.
In good company
A more recent iteration of branding’s literary bedfellow is the fast food chain Chipotle’s latest marketing campaign to adorn cups and bags with original text from writers including Toni Morrison, Malcolm Gladwell, Steven Pinker, and George Saunders. The author series, “Cultivating Thought,” is the brainchild of contemporary writer Jonathan Safran Foer who also curates the project, which aims to “create a moment of analog pause in an digital world.”
While Chipotle provides an in depth example, it adheres to common marketing principles. As consumers, we want to feel good. And even if we’re not well read or bookish, the use of literary references in branding makes us feel like we are in the proximity of greater writers.
So if tortoise shell frames, named Beckett or Huxley, Upton or Ames brings us closer to an evening that resembles a scene from Fitzgerald, who wouldn’t want to slip on a pair, for the chance that, even if we haven’t read a classic since high school, we might still join the ranks of greatness.