I recently came across an article that talked about how Marilyn Monroe, who died 50 years ago, still continues to be influential even today. One of the obvious reasons is her membership to a club of supremely talented artists that died young. Some of the superstars who instantly jump to my mind are Amy Winehouse, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Whitney Houston, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. But not all of these artists enjoy equal popularity. So why this disparity? The answer is simple. It all comes down to the management of their personal brands.
Now while it is quite well known how celebrity brands are managed posthumously in the Western world, India doesn’t have much to show in this regard. For instance, Authentic Brands LLC and media company NECA Inc. bough Marilyn Monroe LLC for $20-$30 million in 2010 with the intention of launching Monroe-branded luxury items. This is a clear example of how lucrative personal brands can be even after the death of the celebrity. As a sterling example of this, Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley continue to pull in millions of dollars every year even though they are long gone. But closer home, the concept of creating an enduring personal brand has never really been explored.
When I think of celebrities who were snatched away too young, the two names that instantly jump to my mind are Meena Kumari and Divya Bharti. But both have only remained as fleeting memories in the public conscious today. There is no denying that both these personalities were extremely talented. They both enjoyed immense popularity as well. And the enigma that surrounded their lives was always fodder for ample gossip. So could it be that Indian fans are fickle? I think not. After all, we do have shrines dedicated to some of our celebrities down south. But the fact remains that these alluring celebrities have faded away from the scene.
So could anything have been done differently? This is a difficult question to answer since it does depend upon the wishes of the celebrities and their family members. Also, it must be pointed out that the Indian market dynamic, for one, is different from the west, especially in the matter of royalties. However, in general, we do know that celebrities enjoy fame. And leaving aside the matter of royalties, we could perhaps safely assume that they would at least wish to leave behind a long legacy. So what can current celebrities do to maintain their stardom even after their star fades away?
In general, we do know that celebrities are excellent at managing their personal brands. But planning to leave a legacy after one’s life is over is a completely different ball game. We do see a shining example in recent times though. The late superstar, Rajesh Khanna, had expressed a desire to have his mansion converted into a museum. This is a concrete and positive step in preserving his rich legacy. But there are many other things that can be done, and it is perhaps high time that Indian celebrities also adopt a professional approach to maintaining their hard earned brands beyond their lifetime.