The Legacy Of 'Brand Marilyn'
Marilyn Monroe died 50 years at age 36, but during her life, she redefined sexy in a way that is still influential today -- voluptuous and vulnerable.
Part of what makes her so enduring -- even in this digital age of instant celebrities -- is her membership in a club of supremely talented people who died too young, including Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, among others. Marilyn was not the only “innocent” who became a superstar, but she shines brightly because of our ongoing fascination with her and her value as a brand.
In 2010, Authentic Brands LLC and media company NECA Inc., bought Marilyn Monroe LLC for $20-$30M with the intention of launching Monroe-branded luxury items. The acquisition included deals with the portfolios of many prominent photographers, consolidating most of the Monroe estate's assets for the first time since her death.
The company can continue to perpetuate the mythology of Marilyn Monroe by understanding the best (and worst) of who she was -- and connecting that with what resonates with people today and in the future. These truths of "sexy" and "innocence" can be nurtured and grown for generations to come through savvy marketing and digital media.
Any group that manages a celebrity brand must focus on the authenticity and aspirational aspects that connect with their audience. Violate that, and the brand and the brand’s value can be significantly devalued.
Marilyn’s spirit seems larger than the media itself, even as photographs of her and the lack of control over her image both perpetuated and made her likeness widely available. Her spirit and connection with the human heart, her unworldly beauty and perceived innocence keeps her alive.
Marilyn was never considered the most gifted of actors, but she more than made up for that with a tremendous knack for offscreen drama; her marriages to and relationships with very accomplished and revered men -- Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller and the Kennedys -- as well as some staged and candid photography of her. The unusual circumstances of her passing also continue to fascinate and entertain us today.
Marilyn’s look is one of the most copied by others who seek to obtain a piece of her fame for themselves. Perhaps it is still the highest form of flattery -- and that flattery is amplified in this world of integrated and connected media.
There is no better demonstration of her kind of sexy than in the delivery of the most famous version of “Happy Birthday” in history -- to then-president John F. Kennedy. Fifty years ago and 15 million YouTube video views later, many can understand President Kennedy’s response that “I can now retire from politics after having had ‘Happy Birthday’ sung to me in such a sweet, wholesome way.”
Social and digital media continue her legacy and expand her brand power -- but not without thoughtful consideration of those who now own the rights to her image and name.
Audrey Hepburn’s estate knows the value of maintaining the image of the whole woman from ingénue to world ambassador. Audrey’s brand value -- in the western and eastern cultures --- lies more in keeping alive the image and memory of the bright sprite who grew into a lovely woman who was grounded and mature in her character forged by meeting all of life’s challenges gracefully.
Actions and products that cheapen and distort Marilyn’s value as the innocent who became a superstar -- the voluptuous and vulnerable woman who was larger than the world and then swallowed up by it -- will not succeed.
Our fascination with Marilyn will likely endure for another 50 years or more, and her brand value will continue to increase, if her own star power is allowed to shine and fill our hearts with the wonder and sympathy for the woman who lived.