These 10 personal branding giants created our influencer-happy world

Before everyone became a brand, these chefs, artists, athletes, entertainers, and entrepreneurs developed the innovative techniques that paved the way.

These 10 personal branding giants created our influencer-happy world
[Illustration: Peter Oumanski]

1. Hector Boiardi, 1929

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.

2. Andy Warhol, 1962

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.

3. Muhammad Ali, 1966

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.

4. Betty Ford, 1974

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.

5. Martha Stewart, 1980

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.

6. Richard Branson, 1985

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.

7. Oprah Winfrey, 1986

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 hardcore fans now hope she’ll use her pulpit to run for president in 2020.

8. Tom Peters, 1997

The business author and consultant posited in Fast Company that employees needed to think of themselves as brands, “creating their own micro-equivalent 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.

9. Beyoncé, 2013

The pop superstar reaped the power she’d accrued in her career to break the old model for album releases, dropping Beyoncé on iTunes 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.

10. Kylie Jenner, 2018

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.