Campbell pops Warhol style into soup sales

A new limited edition Campbell's tomato soup can

A new limited edition Campbell's tomato soup can with art and sayings by the late artist Andy Warhol will go on sale at Target Sept. 2, 2012. This can with a quote about fame from Warhol is displayed in front of an original Warhol Pop Art painting from the 1960s. (Aug. 24, 2012) (Credit: AP)

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CAMDEN, N.J. -- Campbell Soup is tapping Andy Warhol for another 15 minutes of fame.

The world's biggest soup maker plans to introduce at Target stores Sunday special-edition cans of its condensed tomato soup bearing labels reminiscent of the pop artist's paintings. 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 in 1962, when the company considered taking legal action.

"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 and sent him a couple of cases of tomato soup.

Later that year, Campbell commissioned Warhol to do a painting of a can of Campbell's tomato soup as a gift for 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., though Thorn said there's no indication a visit 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 two years later.

Campbell has sold Warhol-inspired cans before: 75,000 four-packs in 2004 at Giant Eagle, a Pittsburgh-based supermarket operator, and 12,000 units at Barney's in New York in 2006's holiday season.

The latest promotion comes as Campbell looks to turn around its struggling soup business after years of declining sales.

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