Even the richest of men die poor- except for high-profile icons. From JFK to Marilyn, these dead icons continue to generate billions of dollars each year. With an estimated 2.25 billion in North America alone, multiple branding companies vie for the rights to some of the most profitable names, while other well-known philanthropists manage to squeeze out profits by securing the rights to these well-known celebrities. These dead icons may be resting in peace, but they’re also resting in riches.
What does it cost to own the exclusive image and name rights? Who can own them? Who rates among the most profitable? Most importantly, why do millions go to protecting the name and memory of an icon?
Licensing These Names
There is money to be made securing the rights to these dead icons. When attempting to purchase exclusive rights, a marketing company will typically approach the estate owners. The company and owners then come to terms, often allowing the branding firm to be the sole owner to the image and name of the deceased icon for a set period. In turn, the branding company will provide the surviving estate owners with an annual percentage of the profits.
Most estate owners entrust their multi-million dollar enterprises to companies with known reputations for branding and selling the image of deceased celebrities. Companies from Authentic Branding Group, owners of Marilyn Monroe’s estate, to Experience Hendrix, LLC, owners of Jimmie Hendrix’s estate, all make millions of dollars from music records, movies, and merchandize because of their marketing acumen.
If you’re trying to own the rights to these estates, all it’ll take is a few million dollars in capital, a reputable portfolio, and a myriad list of noteworthy contacts. Despite the innumerable challenges required in owning the rights to dead icon, other, more well-known philanthropists, have made large profits by buying up some estate names. While most know Bill Gates as a billionaire philanthropist and co-founder of Microsoft, arguably the largest computer company in the world, Mr. Gates is too an estate owner for some very profitable icons, including Einstein, Steve McQueen and Mae West.
Fight for Exclusive Rights
Locking up the exclusive rights ensures the highest profits. Just think, for Einstein’s face alone, a marketing company can expect to see hundreds of millions of dollars, making exclusive rights a valuable opportunity. Once the rights are secured, these companies have the ability to charge—and sue—anyone using the name of their icon. Branding firms stem to make money from the sale of merchandize to the use of an icon’s name or image in a song or film, profitable avenues that can generate millions a year.
It’s A Number’s Game
Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe and John Lennon, each individual experienced an early death, and each loss sent throngs of fans to memorial services. Today, these deceased icons remain eulogized and commemorated with memorabilia, songs and movies. But the premature death of a celebrity leaves an untapped market of revenue, allowing branding firms to generate millions and the estate owners to heal their sorrows. So who are the most profitable of these icons? Here’s a quick round up of the top five-
- Michael Jackson. He died in a freak accident, but his image and musical influence remains immortalized in society. Michael Jackson raked in 170 million in 2011. From songs to videos games, his estate will continue to earn money well into the future.
- Elvis Presley. Walk down Las Vegas Blvd. and you are bound to spot an Elvis impersonator. Elvis died in 1977, but years later his estate continues to earn millions. In 2011, his estate produced 55 million in sales—thanks to album sales, memorabilia items and Graceland attendance.
- Marilyn Monroe. Hundreds of present-day celebrities continue to draw inspiration from this former sex symbol. Posters, movies, even novels helped keep Marilyn’s estate among the top earners. In 2011, her estate managed to generate over 27 million dollars in profit. Sex really does sell—even after death.
- Charles Schulz. Known for his famous cartoon character, Charlie Brown, Schulz’s cartoon continues as a brand image for the likes of Met-Life, Hallmark and ABC. These huge corporations shell out millions each year just to use the image of Snoopy or Charlie. In 2011, Schulz’s estate earned roughly 25 million.
- John Lennon. Known for his boyish good looks and alluring voice, Lennon captivated the hearts of America and Britain’s youth as the lead singer of The Beatles. Credited with creating some of the most iconic songs, Lennon was murdered in 1980, but after his death, his music and image continue to sell, helping his estate owners to rake in 12 million dollars in 2011.
Most average Americans will never own the rights to big celebrities or political figures, but it’s nice to know that corporate America can find many methods of making money off of a person—even after his or her death. Death, in all its grief and melancholy emotions, will remain an invariable profit machine.