CAMDEN, N.J.: Campbell Soup is tapping Andy Warhol for another 15 minutes of fame.
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.
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.
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 the 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 grocery chain Giant Eagle.