Dead Man Branding


I was going to call this “Dead Men Don’t Wear Brands,” but the fact is they do.

If there’s anyone left who doesn’t believe we live in a brand-savvy age — with one major, glaring exception that this decade has not yet been named — Forbes’ annual list, “Top-Earning Dead Celebrities” shows the power of branded-but-dead celebrities. biz-media-deadcelebs07_cz_lg_1029celeb_land.html.

The 13 legends in our seventh annual list of the Top-Earning Dead Celebrities grossed a combined $232 million in the past 12 months. Many are instantly recognizable one-name wonders (Elvis, Marilyn, Warhol) who still command attention worldwide, making them marketers’ ideal pitchmen.”

What’s incredible is not the fact that these dead celebrities made much, much more than I did over the past year without working — while I put in thousands of billable and (like the writing of this blog) nonbillable hours. It’s how consistently the Forbes’ Top-Earning Dead Celebrities remain on top, year after year. Elvis, Charles Schultz and John Lennon were the top three when the list first came out, and continue to be the top three this year. (See the list, below.)

That’s not just remarkable. That’s the power of terrific branding.

Perhaps it’s different, perhaps it’s not branding for dead celebs like Elvis, Beatles John & George, Bob Marley, writers Schultz and Dr. Seuss (see, the value of a medical degree, even a phony one), or even the hardest-working men in the afterlife, Mr. James Brown and Tupac Shakur (who continues to issue new posthumous albums). For them, I understand the case could be made that it’s their music, books, or art that people keep buying. (Although one might have thought two decades after his death in 1987, Andy Warhol’s 15-minutes would certainly be over by now; yet he made $15 million last year.)

But what about Einstein ($18 million), Marilyn Monroe ($7 million), Steve McQueen ($6 million), or James Dean ($3.5 million)? No one’s buying new scientific discoveries by Einstein. There aren’t that many people trashing their VHS tapes and buying blu-ray versions of movies with Monroe, McQueen and Dean.

Writing about Dean, Forbes notes, “The ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ has a different moniker in the licensing business: Old Faithful. The iconic Dean image–squinty eyes, cigarette dangling from his lips–remains a staple of college dorm rooms everywhere. Dean’s image has cropped up in ads for Barneys, Chrysler and Lee Jeans.”

That is the power of branding.


Forbes Richest Deceased Celebrities

Rank Name 2000 Earnings
1 Elvis Presley $35 million
2 Charles Schulz $20 million plus
3 John Lennon $20 million
4 Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel $17 million
5 Jimi Hendrix $10 million plus
6 Bob Marley $10 million
7 Andy Warhol $8 million
8 J.R.R. Tolkien $7 million
9 Frank Sinatra $6 million
10 Jerry Garcia $5 million
11 Keith Haring $4 million plus
12 Marilyn Monroe $4 million
13 James Dean $3 million

The Lucky 13 in 2007

  1. Elvis Presley
  2. John Lennon
  3. Charles Schulz
  4. George Harrison
  5. Albert Einstein
  6. Andy Warhol
  7. Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel)
  8. Tupac Shakur
  9. Marilyn Monroe
  10. Steve McQueen
  11. James Brown
  12. Bob Marley
  13. James Dean
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