Self-Marketing Geniuses: The Wisdom Of Albert Einstein And Stephen Hawking

Charlie Chaplin once said to Albert Einstein: They cheer me because they all understand me, and they cheer you, because no one understands you.”


Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking were both brilliant physicists, and they were also self-marketing geniuses. In today’s world, via the media and internet, people are bombarded with more information than ever before. No matter the field, anyone who wants to be successful needs to draw attention to themselves—to build a personal brand. It’s not enough to be great at something and simply hope that people will hear about it. It takes hard work.

The Man Who Stuck His Tongue Out At The World

Albert Einstein became a pop icon of science thanks to his genius at self- marketing. His professional approach to marketing himself to the press, radio and film established him as an unmistakable brand. Einstein himself wrote in a letter: “Just as everything he touched turned into gold for the man in the fairy tale—so for me everything turns into a fuss in the newspapers.” But this did not happen without his initiative and certainly not against his will. For example, one of the most iconic images of Einstein is the famous photo of him sticking out his tongue. It was taken on his nd birthday. Einstein himself had the photo cropped, printed and sent to friends, acquaintances and colleagues. The picture became his ultimate trademark and a pop motif for posters, buttons and T-shirts.

Einstein deliberately cultivated the image of a scientist who couldn’t care less about clothing, hated collars and ties, did not comb his long, fuzzy hair, did not wear socks and left his shirts unbuttoned. Asked about his profession, he once replied with his own self-irony: “fashion model.” Rumor has it that as soon as photographers approached, Einstein tousled his hair with both hands to restore his quintessential image as an eccentric professor.

Einstein gave lectures all over the world, including appearances in France, Japan, Great Britain and the United States. Unlike other scientists, however, most of his lectures were not to professional audiences, but in front of large crowds of laypeople. Americans in particular embraced Einstein with boundless enthusiasm. There were incredible scenes in New York, where people reached out to touch him as he walked by. “Einstein’s personality, for no clear reason, triggers outbursts of a kind of mass hysteria,” the German consul reported to Berlin. Everywhere he went, he was greeted by cheering, just like a sports idol or movie star. His visits to America sparked scenes similar to the Beatlemania that would take the continent by storm in the s. Young women screamed “Einstein… Einstein!” as if they wanted to tear the professor’s clothes off.

It is remarkable that he became world-famous for a theory that hardly anyone could grasp. “Why is it that no one understands me and everyone likes me?” he asked during an interview with the New York Times in . Charlie Chaplin, who often appeared together with Einstein and thereby employed one of the tools of self-marketing, offered the following explanation: “They cheer me because they all understand me, and they cheer you, because no one understands you.”

Einstein agreed: “You ask whether it makes a ludicrous impression on me to observe the excitement of the crowd for my teaching and my theory, of which it, after all, understands nothing? I find it funny and at the same time interesting to observe this game.” His peers were envious. After all, no one was celebrating them to anywhere near the same extent.

Stephen Hawking 

Stephen Hawking, the world-renowned astrophysicist who died in , was at least Einstein’s equal in the art of self-marketing. In his book, My Brief History, Hawking wrote that, “For my colleagues, I am only one physicist among many, but perhaps I have become the most famous scientist in the world for the public.”

Unlike most scientists, Hawking was not content with writing articles that would only be interesting and accessible to insiders, or with giving lectures to conferences full of other scientists. He wrote works of popular science: “If I were going to take the time and effort to write a book, I wanted it to get to as many people as possible.” That alone was a very unusual attitude for a theoretical physicist. In fact, his book, A Brief History of Time, spent weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and, in his home country, a record weeks on the Sunday Times bestseller list. It has been translated into forty languages and has sold more than ten million copies worldwide. How many readers have even partially understood the book is another question. Hawking explained: “Undoubtedly, the human interest story of how I have managed to be a theoretical physicist despite my disability has helped.” Hawking knew that he could turn the disadvantages of his disability into advantages, “partly because  I fit the stereotype of a disabled genius. I can’t disguise myself with a wig and dark glasses—the wheelchair gives me away.” He appreciated the pluses of being so “easily recognizable.” As a marketing genius, Hawking built himself into a brand and transformed the drawbacks of his disability into distinctive brand characteristics.

Steve Jobs, Richard Branson And Warren Buffett

Just like Einstein and Hawking, many successful entrepreneurs, CEOs, athletes and artists employ the same self-marketing strategies. Madonna’s success can largely be accredited to her skills as an ingenious self-marketer. And the same can be said of Arnold Schwarzenegger, entrepreneurs such as Steve Jobs Apple and Richard Branson Virgin, and CEOs such as Jack Welch General Electric. Even someone as successful as Warren Buffett apparently does not believe that the figures of his company Berkshire Hathaway on their own make a strong enough statement. Every year at the company’s Annual General Meeting—which is also known as the Capitalist Woodstock—he demonstrates his talent for self-marketing. People like Buffett, Welch or Jobs could have been forgiven for thinking that their products and services were so good they would succeed without any marketing. But that’s not what they thought. Just like Einstein and Hawking, they realized just how important it is today to turn oneself into an unmistakable and distinctive brand.

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