By David Lidsky
Boiardi (boy-ar-dee), a Cleveland chef, sold take-home meal kits of his dishes due to customer
demand. During World War II, he canned his pasta
meals for servicemen, popularizing Italian food.
The impact: That’s Boiardi’s face in the Chef
Boyardee logo, making him godfather to celebrity
chefs like Wolfgang Puck and Rachael Ray.
Branson, who owned a record label, attempted
the fastest nautical crossing of the Atlantic Ocean,
the first of many stunts that made him famous.
The impact: His swashbuckling style doubled as
good marketing for his Virgin brand. Jeff Bezos
and Elon Musk mimic Branson’s playbook, including following him into space exploration.
The painter turned Campbell’s Soup into art and
brand-ified celebrities with silk-screen portraits
of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and others.
The impact: Warhol’s 1968 observation that “in
the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15
minutes” has become the rallying cry for aspiring
social media influencers and reality-TV stars.
Winfrey’s mix of charisma and vulnerability as a
national daytime-TV host inspired viewers to buy
anything she endorsed.
The impact: Winfrey’s advisers—including Drs.
Phil and Oz—became personal brands in their own
right. Her hard-core fans now hope she’ll use her
pulpit to run for president in 2020.
The outspoken heavyweight boxing champion
conscientiously objected to being drafted to
fight in Vietnam—at great personal cost.
The impact: Ali helped turn public sentiment
against the war. Today’s star athletes, from
LeBron James to Colin Kaepernick, risk their
broad appeal to speak out about racial injustice.
The business author and consultant posited—in
Fast Company—that employees needed to think
of themselves as brands, “creating their own
microequivalent of the Nike swoosh.”
The impact: Spend a few minutes among
thought leaders on LinkedIn to see how white-collar workers have embraced Peters’s vision.
Shortly after becoming First Lady, Ford was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy.
She bravely shared her story, removing the
stigma around the disease and treatment.
The impact: Ford’s candor helped save countless
women’s lives. She would go on to do the same
for alcoholism after she admitted her addiction.
The pop superstar reaped the power she’d accrued
in her career to break the old model for album
releases, dropping Beyoncé on i Tunes at midnight
with only an Instagram post publicizing it.
The impact: Beyoncé set sales records and a new
standard for how stars launch new work, inspiring
Drake and Taylor Swift to follow suit.
The stockbroker turned caterer published her
first cookbook, and its success led to dozens
more, a magazine, TV shows, and housewares
that still gross hundreds of millions in revenue.
The impact: Stewart’s embrace of multimedia
paved the way for every lifestyle doyenne since,
including Gwyneth Paltrow and Brit Morin.
In February, the reality-TV star and cosmetics
entrepreneur tweeted that she no longer opened
Snapchat, adding, “ugh this is so sad.”
The impact: The tweet catalyzed concerns about
Snap, and its stock lost $1.3 billion in value, reinforcing that personal brands can be even more
powerful than the platforms that build them.
Illustration by Peter Oumanski
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