There was a time when nobody over the age of 25 had heard of Tony Piloseno.
He was a college student and Sherwin-Williams associate who loved to mix paint for his 1.2 million TikTok followers. Then Sherwin-Williams fired him for using company paint on company time—what they called “gross misconduct,” even though he bought his own paint. The action turned him into a bona fide internet media star.
Piloseno is now happily employed by Florida Paints, a paint manufacturer that wanted his passion inside their company. “What impressed me about Tony is that he wasn’t polished. He was a kid who mixed paints to make great colors in a dynamic way,” Florida Paints co-founder Don Strube says. “The hard part about paint is finding people who see paint as exciting—and Tony does. Color is what makes the world look great, and Tony was making paint amazing.”
Sherwin-Williams will feel the pain of losing Piloseno for decades. Here’s why:
1. Young people buy paint, too.
Piloseno’s immediate superiors loved his passion and told him to take his work to company headquarters. Sherwin-Williams’ marketing team told him to get lost—and a month later, they canned him.
The corporate office’s decision cost them a passionate, dedicated employee who wanted to help Sherwin-Williams attract young customers. Today’s college students are tomorrow’s renters and homeowners—and they will buy paint for at least the next half-century. Instead of cultivating Piloseno and his brand, Sherwin-Williams sent him, his brand—and his 1.2 million fans—to another company.
2. Dynamic brands recognize, incorporate, and promote opportunities when they arise.
Strube says he’s not a social media guru, but when his Gen Z/Millennial-aged daughters told him about Piloseno, he immediately looked him up. When Piloseno’s firing became public, Florida Paints made hiring him a priority. Today, Strube’s paint company has a dedicated employee who will make paint exciting, earn them increased brand value, and improve their bottom line.
By choosing the path of the stodgy, Sherwin-Williams made an unforced branding error. They lost the future brand value Piloseno would have brought and brought on days of terrible media coverage. (Their PR firm didn’t return my requests for comment for this story.)
3. Great leaders want other great people with them.
We may never know why Sherwin-Williams’ marketing team shooed Piloseno away. What we do know is that Strube, who is 61, saw passion and entrepreneurship in 22-year old TikTok star. You can teach skills and offer experience. You can’t teach passion. And now Florida Paints gets to be the young, hip paint brand, while Sherwin-Williams is the lackluster, “watch paint dry” company.
From bad press today to losing customers in the future, Sherwin-Williams may have cost itself hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Meanwhile, Florida Paints has secured a dynamic, entrepreneurial employee who has convinced over a million people that paint is exciting. The brand winner of this paint war is clear.
Dustin Siggins is CEO of Proven Media Solutions, a Virginia-based PR firm.