Building a beautiful brand with no budget: Accidentally Wes Anderson

One of my favourite weekend activities of this year was visiting “Accidentally Wes Anderson: The Exhibition” (1) with Mrs Taylor, my daughter and her boyfriend Charlie. Do try and see if it you live in or are visiting London! The multicoloured visual extravaganza takes you on a journey through 200 of the most beautiful, idiosyncratic, and interesting places on Earth – all seemingly plucked from the whimsical world of Wes Anderson*. Seven themed rooms provide a personal passport to visual inspiration and adventure, with amazing photography and immersive moments throughout.

The exhibition is a live experience created by the online community Accidentally Wes Anderson. What began as a simple Instagram account has grown into a global brand, with 1.9million followers, a book, other products including games/jigsaws and the exhibition that tours the world. Members of the community share and discover locations, buildings and scenes from everyday life that seem as if they could be settings or backdrops in a Wes Anderson film.

In this post we use this offbeat example to show how founders Wally Koval and his team have built a brilliant little (or not so little) brand with little or zero marketing budget.

[*In case any readers don’t know Wes Anderson, his is an American filmmaker loved (or not!) for his distinctive visual and narrative style, characterized by symmetrical compositions, a meticulous use of color, and often whimsical themes. Some of my favourite movies include “The Grand Budapest Hotel”, “The Darjeeling Limited”, “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou” and “The French Dispatch”]

1. Be the consumer

Like many great brands, Accidentally Wes Anderson (AWA) started out by the founders creating a product that solved a personal problem. “The Brooklyn-based husband and wife team of Wally & Amanda conceived of the AWA platform as a way to develop a personal travel bucket list,” explains the AWA wesbite (2). I have posted several time on how this form of immersive, personal insight can be the catalyst for brand creation, including another travel-related brand Mr & Mrs Smith and the online dating site Bumble.

The personal project started was founded in the Summer of 2017 from a small apartment in Brooklyn, New York. It started with a simple Instagram page. It quickly developed into a wide-reaching resource, providing inspiration for travellers and creatives from around the world.

2. Clear brand positioning

There are hundreds of Instagram pages sharing beautiful photographs and travel tips. At the heart of the success of AWA is a clear brand purpose and positioning.

The purpose neatly and concisely captures “the why” of AWA: To provide a daily dose of delight and inspire a sense of adventure and curiosity for all that wish to participate. There are several things I like about this purpose. It’s short and sweet. It cues the need for regular content, key for a sticky online brand, with the idea of “a daily dose of delight” (nice bit of alliteration too). And it has the higher order benefit of “inspire a sense of adventure and curiosity“. Finally, it also captures the idea of a community, with “for all that wish to participate.

The positioning then summarises “the what”, key to inspire and guide all marketing activities: Together, we seek and share the most beautiful, idiosyncratic, and interesting places on earth while uncovering unique and unexpected stories behind the façades. This has a real sense of distinctiveness: AWA is not about any beautiful places, it’s about “the most beautiful, idiosyncratic, and interesting places on earth.” It also summarises AWA’s fusion of stunning visual imagery and travel inspiration, with the idea of “uncovering unique and unexpected stories behind the façades.”

3. Tap into “borrowed memory structure”

An obvious driver of appeal is the use of the name Wes Anderson in the brand. This allowed AWA to tap into what we call “borrowed memory structure”. In other words, the brand “piggybacks” on the Wes Anderson brand, benefitting from its awareness and imagery.

It was quote a a bold move to name the brand in this way, given that Mr. Anderson is not involved in any way. “We hope that he loves what is shared here,” say the team on the AWA website (2). Wes does indeed see to like what he sees, giving an enthusiastic endorsement in his foreword to the book (below) (3). It is of course mutually beneficial for both parties, as AWA is driving awareness of the director and his movies.

The photographs in this book were taken by people I have never met, of places and things I have, almost without exception, never seen – but I must say: I intend to. Wally Koval and his collaborators have put together both a very entertaining collection of images and also an especially alluring travel guide (at least in the opinion of this actual Wes Anderson).

Wes Anderson foreword to Accidentally Wes Anderson, the book

4. Distinctive visual identity

The AWA team have also done a smart job with the visual identity. First, they have created the AWA shorthand for what is a rather long name! This creates a simple and striking name mark they can use on different media. Second, they consistently use the striking red colour to stand out. And Wes Anderson film fans will recognise the beanie hat visual device from the movie The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The red AWA beanie work well in small spaces, such as on the Instagram page

5. Curating a community

Curating and growing the online community remains at the core of AWA. “Our growing community is composed of travelers, architects, professional creatives, history buffs, artists, editors, teachers, students, photographers, and those intrigued by the wonders of the world and civilization,” as the AWA team explain. “Each of us is an Adventurer at heart, and all are welcome here.” What makes the AWA community especially vibrant its open nature and the encouragement of participation. “If you see a structure, a storefront, a symmetrical scene that moves the imagination, take a photo,” as Wally and team say on the website. A nice touch in the exhibition is that each photo has the name of the photographer along with the date it was taken plus the camera used.

6. Stretch from the core

AWA has smartly stretched from this core, to drive reach and also create sources of revenue:

  • Book: The “Accidentally Wes Anderson” book (4) is a visually striking compilation that extends the ethos of the popular online community
  • Exhibition: the exhibition creates a live, visual experience in London and several other major cities
  • Gifts: the lovely collection of gifts further extends the reach of AWA, creating furtether “in-home” point of sale

In conclusion, Accidentally Wes Anderson is a beautiful brand created not with big budgets, but rather with a clear purpose & positioning, a distinctive visual identity and smart stretching from the core. That and a generous dollop of love and care.


1. Accidentally Wes Anderson exhibition

2. Accidentally Wes Anderson site

3. Wes quote in book

4. AWA book