I See Dead (Rich) People

Headshot of Robert Klara

In case you haven’t noticed, something interesting is afoot in the world of celebrity endorsements. More and more of the stars involved aren’t just pushing brands—they’re pushing daisies. Yes, dead celebrities are bigger than ever. Licensing deals with actors, singers and other notables who’ve shuffled off this mortal coil generated $2.17 billion last year—quite a paycheck for doing nothing.
Marketing with departed stars is not, of course, a new idea. Gap’s famous khakis campaign from 1993, for instance, resurrected everyone from Steve McQueen to Andy Warhol. But there are a few good reasons why it’s so popular right now. First, a dead celeb will often sign—well, the equivalent thereof—for less money than a live one. Second, “advances in digital technology have allowed brands to resurrect celebrities [in increasingly naturalistic ways], like the British ad for Volkswagen that used Gene Kelly dancing,” says Gabriela Salinas, author of The International Brand Valuation Manual. But most attractive of all: A dead celeb won’t pull a Tiger Woods on you. “You know what you’re getting,” says David Reeder, whose L.A. firm GreenLight Rights handles the licensing for departed stars like Mae West and Johnny Cash. “Any negativity [about their lives] has long been digested by the popular culture—and they’ve withstood the test of time.”
They sure have. Below, a look at some of the famous faces who are branding from the great beyond.

@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.