This is the second post in a two-part series. Part one covered advice for brands with a framework for evaluation. Part two outlines strategies for how to manage building equity for a dead celebrity brand.
In 2012, in a move to recapture those persnickety millenials, Macy’s added a Marilyn Monroe brand. The Marilyn products “reimagine the star in classic sportswear and screen tees.” Macy’s decision to use Marilyn Monroe was timely and clever, based on the fact that her popularity continues to grow among young people. In 2011, the deceased star’s Facebook page had 360,000 friends. By November 2013 that number had exceeded 7 million friends, and now in 2014, page likes hover around 11 million (and counting).
Companies like ABG (Authentic Brands Group) acquire rights to dead celebrities (or living ones, like Muhammad Ali) and license them out to brands. For example, they own Marilyn Monroe’s name and likeness, which are being licensed out to shoes, jewelry, hair care, vodka and even a café.
With a plethora of products, events and services ready to be branded, here is a checklist of principles to keep in mind in order to carefully and deliberately manage a dead celebrity brand’s meaning over time.
1. Know the brand’s belief and purpose. A starting point is to think about a philosophy that represents and unifies your brand. For example, the stewards for ABG’s Marilyn Monroe brand might have thought that the world is a more beautiful place when the glamour of old Hollywood is kept alive or when “glamour becomes the world” (much like Target’s brand belief, “design for all”). From there stems the purpose of the brand, i.e., why the brand exists and how it will make the world a better place. For companies managing a dead celebrity brand, reframing the question as “what is the effect the celebrity has in people’s lives” will help you think through what partnerships are best. In Marilyn Monroe’s case, one brand purpose could be to “share the feeling of iconic Hollywood glamour that Marilyn brought the world.” That would lead brand stewards down the path of café = yes, dish soap = maybe not.
2. Understand the role the brand plays in people’s lives. Archetypes are a beloved tool for branding efforts because they allow a brand to fulfill an iconic role in a consumer’s life. The 12 archetypal figures, as identified by Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung, represent universal symbols and patterns that act as shorthand toward accessing the collective unconscious. This means that people can relate to them quickly, which is useful in the creation of a strong bond. The archetypal figures include: the sage, the ruler, the explorer, the innocent, the caregiver, the magician, the maverick, the lover, the jester, the everyman/woman, the creator and the hero. A brand wants to relate to consumers as people—and fulfill a role in their lives. Perhaps there’s no better way to do this than to use a celebrity (who is a celebrity precisely because she relates to people). You could also characterize celebrities with one of the 12 archetypes. Marilyn Monroe is clearly “the lover” archetype. Each archetype has a reason for being, boasts strengths and weaknesses and should be well understood by the managing entity to better establish a bond with consumers.
3. Establish behaviors for the brand, and let them serve as a guide. Brands have personalities that are defined by how they are expressed visually and verbally as well as how they act. For example, Red Bull embodies “the explorer” archetype and exhibits it through events that range from extreme to quirky. When managing a celebrity brand, it’s helpful to think through what behaviors the celebrity should embody. The Marilyn Monroe brand exists to revive old Hollywood glamour and represents “the lover” archetype, so behaviors should be consistent with this (and take cues from her actual life). One behavioral choice then would be for the brand to epitomize and celebrate femininity, and anything that goes against that tenet should be avoided. Another behavior might be to “show the playful side of sexy.” Once you have the rules of behavior established, stick to them. Brand behaviors serve as guidelines for all kinds of choices the brand makes, from advertising messaging to product licensing and social media channels. They can help get and keep the brand stewards on the same page, and avoid diluting brand perception in the minds of consumers.
For brands managing celebrities, there is a built-in DNA to the brand. However, the principles of strategic branding still apply, and these brand owners would be well served in thinking through these considerations as they manage the brand over time.