The Use of Dead Celebrity Images in Advertising and Marketing-Review, Ethical Recommendations and Cautions for Practitioners

Article excerpt

Abstract

A practice that is increasing in frequency and scope is the use of images of dead celebrities in advertising and marketing. In this paper, we examine this practice and do the following. First, we examine the size and growth-rate of this market. Next, we look at the key role that two key technologies have played in this market, namely digital morphing and text-to-speech. These two technologies have allowed Dead Celebrities to be 'resurrected' and have a post-mortem life as product endorsers, paying rich dividends to their heirs and estates. Predictably, this practice has raised some ethical issues (e.g., the post-mortem exploitation of a Deleb's image) for Marketers and Advertisers, which we examine. Because dead Celebrities offer some key advantages over living celebrities (e.g., the absence of risk from scandal after death), we look at some of the major similarities and differences between living and dead celebrities in terms of what they practically can and cannot do for Advertisers and Marketers. Based on these practical similarities and differences, we offer marketing practitioners a set of ethical recommendations and cautions to follow (e.g., avoid 'Disingenuous Fakery'), in using Delebs as product endorsers.

Keywords: celebrities, dead celebrities, Delebs, necro-marketing, posthumous marketing, retro-marketing

1. Introduction

A practice that has increased in frequency and scope, especially recently, is that of the use of dead celebrities in various aspects of marketing. This interest in dead celebrities, is part of a larger trend that is taking place in America, namely an increasing interest by an ageing baby-boom generation in imagery and experiences from yesteryear (Lee and Kunz 2005). Many of these ageing baby-boomers drive the demand for Deleb imagery through their continuing emotional connection to the celebrity as fans, even long after the celebrity has passed away. But, for most ageing baby-boomers, their demand for Deleb imagery is generated by a different type of emotional connection to the celebrity, namely by being part of an adoring public that grew up with the Celebrity and who now crave the imagery and work of that Celebrity (now dead and gone), to remind themselves of a bygone, romanticized era, when they were young. According to one report (on the advertising industry), "Dead celebrities allow advertisers to tap into feelings of nostalgia about times spent gathered around the television watching classic shows - an emotion that reverberates with baby boomers in particular" (Gellene 1997, p. D4).

As a result, dead celebrities are increasingly finding their way into everything, ranging from advertisements, such as Marilyn Monroe in Ads for Mercedes Benz (Pomerantz 2010), to merchandise licensing, such as "low-end tchotchkes like trash cans and handbags" to high-end items such as furniture (Falcone 2002) and limited edition automobiles (Priddle 2007), to grave-site tourism (Bonisteel 2006). Perhaps the best example is Elvis, whose estate has spawned to date, "more than 5000 Elvis-related products" (Kroft, Devine and MacDonald 2009).

According to one recent estimate, the size of the market for dead celebrities is about $800 million annually (Kroft, Devine and MacDonald 2009). Further, this market is growing rapidly, thanks to the efforts of the heirs/estates of dead celebrities, aided by creative and aggressive licensing agents (Sanders 2007). The primary reason that this is being done by both parties, is the significant royalty revenues and other profit-sharing deals that both parties reap (Cook 2005). In fact, this practice is so profitable (because of the higher margins agents charge for dead versus live celebrities), that some agents represent only dead celebrities, rather than live celebrities. For example, in the case of industry-leader Corbis, it has been reported that it,

"will receive more than 20% of the profits from any endorsement, while the celebrity's estate gets the rest. …

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