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Photo of Turning Lemons to Lemonade

Turning Lemons to Lemonade

January 25, 2013


On January 9th, Dr. Dan Formosa gave me and each of my classmates a lemon. He instructed us to photograph the lemon, post it on our personal Facebook accounts, and whoever received the most ‘likes’ would win. The only caveat was that we weren’t allowed to tell people on Facebook about the competition. 


I started to brainstorm possible executions that would get the maximum number of likes. I thought about what types of posts on Facebook get the most responses: engagements, marriages, graduations, and personal accomplishments. For a couple days I was dead-set on the idea of faking an engagement picture, a scene filled with lemons, and a story to back it up. 


But the likelihood of getting an upset call from my grandma persuaded me to keep thinking. I looked into some of the biggest albums coming out in 2013, and when I scrolled the page down to Vampire Weekend, I knew my search was over. I first started listening to the band towards the end of 2007, during their initial buzz. They grew from a small indie band into one of the most well-known musical acts of my generation. I’ve flipped through photographs of friends going to Vampire Weekend’s concerts, been to parties where their music comes on and people try to pretend they don’t still love it, and seen friends listen to them on Spotify. I knew most of my Facebook friends had heard of the band, and many of them are big fans. It was perfect match. 


I photographed the lemon and went straight to the computer to start creating album art concepts. Aside from their popularity, one of the main reasons why I chose Vampire Weekend was because they have such a formulaic system for their album art: a thick border, spaced out Futura typeface, and a culturally relevant instagram aesthetic. After I was satisfied with one of the designs, I decided to create a teaser website,, to pair with the big album art announcement. I created a full track (fake) listing of their songs, sprinkled with a couple confirmed single titles to make it more believable. I also made a fictitious 15 second teaser video for the album. By January 14th, I was confident I could convince most of my friends, so I clicked ‘post.’  


The Facebook post included a picture of the album art, accompanied by my story: “I'm excited to share the artwork I did for Vampire Weekend's album coming out later this year. I was told I wasn't able to talk about the project until it launched, and this morning I was sent their teaser website! I did a lot of variations and was happy to see they picked the more out there design. Thank you, thank you Victoire St for modeling/putting up with the shoot. I can't wait to see the full album package in stores!”


Right away, it began to attract lot of likes and positive, encouraging comments. I started to feel a bit guilty when friends started to share the post to other people on their own Facebook pages,  but the guilt faded quickly, because to be honest I was very competitive. By the first day I had over 65 ‘likes’, and excited texts from family, who I hadn’t told the truth yet because they were Facebook friends of mine as well. 


Everything was looking good until the 23rd, a day away from the end of the competition. I received an email from Simone Scott Warren, an editor from a London-based music blog, The subject line of the email was “Strange Vampire Weekend Question.” She asked if I was the person who faked the album cover, and if it was, if I would talk to her. I quickly googled “Vampire Weekend ‘Lemon Sounds’” and noticed it was on every indie music blog. I immediately started to panic. I began to think that I should not have just put in my two week’s notice at work a few days prior, and how I should have taken out more money for a lawyer. I sent a worried response back to Simone, confirming that, I created the cover, but asked that she not mention my name because I did not want to get in trouble. She responded almost instantly to reassure me, and told me she had contacts at Vampire Weekend’s record label, XL Recordings. She volunteered to speak on my behalf and explain my side of the story, and told me they would probably find the whole story funny. I really hoped she was right. Simone then asked if she could write a piece on my whole story, as a cautionary tale for other editors online, to make sure they do more fact checking before blindly posting. 


Then I received a phone call about a fruit basket being delivered to my apartment. The man on the phone told me the basket came from XL Recordings. I couldn’t believe it. Later on, I stumbled upon this tweet from an XL Recordings employee:


David Emery @DavidEmery

OH: "How much does 500 lemons cost?"


I was very relieved that the record company was not upset. The fruit basket turned out to be a basket full of lemons, with a card saying “We’re not bitter. -XL Recordings.”


The next day Simone posted the article, “A-Punked: How One Student Accidentally Hoaxed The Blogosphere,” which told my story. It was then picked by many other music sites as a cautionary tale for bloggers and future posts. Lemon Sounds was covered by: Pitchfork, NME, The Atlantic, Spin, Vice, Yahoo Music, Pigeons & Planes, COS, and many others. #lemonsounds started appearing on twitter, with almost all positive responses, and a lot of comments like, “I hope the student get’s an A!”


What started off as a class competition quickly turned into something larger than I could have foreseen. The question of “will my Facebook friends find this cover believable?” was answered for me by the internet a week later. What a surreal few days!

 Tom Calabrese graduates from The Masters in Branding Program in July of 2013

The curriculum for The Masters in Branding Program allows students to create frameworks to guide brand, design and business development, critically evaluate brand, business, marketing and design strategies and Master the intellectual link between leadership and creativity. Learn more...


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