Marilyn Monroe’s name and likeness will soon appear on lingerie, curling irons and handbags.
On Thursday, the rights to the late film star’s image changed hands, with Authentic Brands Group, which manages the estate of reggae star Bob Marley, and NECA, an entertainment and merchandising company, acquiring the rights from Ms Monroe’s estate. Anna Strasberg, the administrator of the estate, will stay on as a minority partner.
Jamie Salter, chief executive of Authentic Brands Group, called Ms Monroe “the most iconic personality in the world”. “Everyone aspires to be Marilyn Monroe,” he said. “Madonna, Lady Gaga, Lindsay Lohan, they all do.”
Ms Monroe’s name did not appear on Forbes’ list of the top-earning dead celebrities last year, but sources close to the estate say it earned between $4m and $5m in the past year.
The terms of the sale were not disclosed. However, people close to the deal said the new owners paid roughly six times annual revenues, which they said was the industry average for intellectual property rights for deceased celebrities, suggesting the price was in the range of $30m.
“There’s a few brands that remain iconic and international and you’ve got to have both,” said Michael Sukin, a music industry lawyer who has worked with the estates of dead stars. “Marilyn is one, Bob Marley is another, and Elvis is probably the biggest of all.”
Mr Salter said he would be aggressive in marketing Ms Monroe’s image, saying he would focus on merchandise including handbags, shoes and home care products. He also said he was open to using computer animation to insert her image into new films. “On the media and entertainment side, I think she’s got a career in front of her, just based on technology,” said Mr Salter.
But Mr Sukin said handlers of celebrity estates had to be careful not to overuse the brand. “Conservators of these icons have to be very careful about how they distribute,” he said. “You can dilute it, you can ruin it.”
The most enduring celebrity brands remain stars from the mid 20th century.
“The whole process of contacting the public was much more homogenous. There were a few record companies, a few movie studios and a few radio and TV stations. Everyone saw the same thing.”
Mr Sukin said the opportunity to create such iconic, international brands was more limited in today’s fragmented media landscape.
“Today, it’s exactly the reverse. The channels of distribution have broadened enormously, so its much more difficult for a brand to become to be transcendent.”
Mr Salter said Ms Monroe retained an enormous international following, especially in Europe and Asia. “She’s got incredible brand awareness around the world,” he said. “She’s huge in Korea.”
Ms Monroe, born Norma Jeane Mortenson in 1926, rose to stardom as an American model, actress and singer. She died in 1962 from an overdose of barbiturates.