Yet the 51-year-old owner of ARNELL in New York also is known as the author of clunkers such as draping Celine Dion over the hood of a Chrysler and, of course, the expensive redesign of Tropicana packaging last year that PepsiCo abruptly jerked from the market because it didn’t want to wait for consumers to catch up with the new look and nomenclature. Fiat unceremoniously delayed Arnell’s pet green-car project, Peapod, after taking over Chrysler last year.
Along the way, Arnell has formed operating principles not only for his client work but also for the “personal branding” that has become one of his hallmarks, especially after he lost 256 pounds on a two-year diet several years ago. And he has rolled them up into his new book, Shift: How to Reinvent Your Business, Your Career, and Your Personal Brand.
You mention in the book that you love Italy. You have a “surrogate family” in Milan. What have you learned about branding from the Italians?
I learned a lot from the Milanese about how to have an integrated model of design. There, learning architecture is as common as getting a bachelor of arts in America, and it’s a great training ground for discipline, focus and comprehension. I also observed early on the value of their integrated model from a brand perspective.
Why did you write this book?
It was part fun, part truly believing that I could share some interesting dimensions of my life and work and experiences and how they affected me personally.
You had a start-stop situation with your first publisher, Harper Collins.
That was real simple: The publisher turned out not to have an appetite for the book. But working with Broadway Books has been a pleasure. I think it turned out all right.
Why did you focus on personal branding rather than “branding branding“?
With the economy being what it is, people are seeking individualism and identity. There have been more startups at home, and the job market is really hard. I wanted to enable people to provide more value to their own brands.
In Shift, you say that you “never have to blame yourself” when it comes to your personal brand. What do you mean?
You’re born with your DNA. The idea is to shape it and know it and evolve it. You don’t have to make excuses for it or hide it.
How is your own personal brand doing? You’ve had a rough time of it over the last couple of years, especially with the Tropicana packaging thing and Peapod.
Lots of other people had problems with Tropicana [packaging]; I didn’t. That’s a way to look at it. The subjects that we’re involved in are extremely controversial to some people. Things evolve constantly. You, as a brand, keep on learning and growing. What we did with Tropicana and the packaging was greatly affected by critical bloggers; some people who write them tend to hide behind them. They don’t come out front and have a dialogue about things; they just voice their opinions.
The project was ready for market and on schedule, and we had come a long way, with [California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger] promoting Peapod in Los Angeles. But it just wasn’t a priority for Fiat, I’m assuming. I don’t know. I don’t have a relationship with them.
On the other hand, PepsiCo seems to be picking up your new Pepsi logo quite nicely. By the way, how did a similar design end up being the logo of the Obama campaign in 2008?
That makes for fabulous stories, but anyone who understands the integrity of these things would realize that there could have been no identification between the two things at all. But never in my life have I seen more attention to a logo!
The project has been fabulous and really interesting and, I do believe, successful on many fronts for PepsiCo, and I don’t think that anyone was upset by the publicity [about the logos] on any front. It’s nice to see it slowly evolving throughout the whole world – Thailand, China, Italy. There’s a lot of adoption of that [Pepsi] logo.
What’s the most important takeaway from Shift for professionals in your business who want to do a better job with their own personal brands?
People who are great may not know they’re great. They don’t have an audience. So by networking with friends and family, you can get confirmation of your strength necessary to grow, and that’s really important. People who do stay focused on themselves with great motivation can move quickly to provide other people with lots of value. You just need to have friends everywhere who drive your dreams alongside you.
A lot of people become prisoners of their own dreams, so invite people into dreaming with you. I hope the book invites them to do that.