Is Elizabeth Taylor Worth More Dead Than Alive?
By Jo Piazza Posted Mar 25th 2011 02:00PM
Elizabeth Taylor was one of the last greats, an icon until the day she died and now a legend that will live on forever. Unlike plenty of celebrities who advance in years and let their business fall to the wayside, Taylor maintained a lucrative package of licensing and endorsement deals, which for a lesser being, would have dried up a half-century ago.
Still, the value of the Liz Taylor image and name only stands to rise in the months and years following her passing.
After their death, certain departed stars (referred to as "Delebs" by executives within the dead celebrity industry) generate more income than they did while they were alive. The dead celebrity industry today is valued at more than $800 million a year and growing. They're the easiest clients to manage. Not only don't they meddle in their business affairs, but they won't get caught with their pants down, get busted for drunken driving or make a racist remark. For some expired celebrities, their postmortem value has nowhere to go but up.
Taylor was surrounded by a very stable group of representatives, who were fiercely loyal, throughout the course of her career.
"I would expect this same group, in consultation with the family, will look carefully at the various commercial exploitation options available to them," says David Reeder, vice president at GreenLight, a global media licensing, talent negotiation and rights representation consultancy that has a niche with Delebs (Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison are among their clients). "I highly doubt we will see sensationalism or drama, but instead, a more orderly and thoughtful approach to determining just what product and endorsement categories might be useful to extending and enhancing her formidable legacy."
There are some obvious categories where Taylor's estate could effectively license her postmortem brand -- beauty, fashion, luxury goods, just to name a few.
"Because she was herself a consumer of goods and services within these categories and undeniably elegant and beautiful, her future association with any number of companies in this area will appear genuine and very much on brand for parties," Reeder says, adding that what is underappreciated about Taylor from a commercial perspective is that she was also a mother.
"This is an underleveraged component to her personality that could lead to opportunities to extend the Taylor brand into large lifestyle-oriented retail deals -- something like Martha Stewart and K-Mart or the Kathy Ireland collection."
Her existing brands, her perfumes and cosmetics, will likely see an uptick in the ensuing months.
"Undoubtedly there will be renewed interest in her various fragrance brands due simply to the increased awareness of her through the press coverage of her passing," Reeder says. "What will be interesting is to see whether the fragrance line becomes the cornerstone of a much larger brand strategy or whether there is a re-imagining of these products going forward."
Celebrities not only become more valuable after they die, but we like them more, according to Steven Levitt of Marketing Evaluations, a firm that calculates the Q score, a quantitative measurement of a personality's overall likeability.
Celebs with perception problems in life, like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Michael Jackson, become more valuable to marketers in death.
Levitt created Dead Q in response to the licensing and rights revolution happening around dead celebrities in 1999 and has watched a trend toward positive feelings about dead celebrities.
"Once a celebrity passes away, the public is more apt to focus on their talents and the good in their life than the bad," Levitt explained. Presley's positive Q score was at 25 before he died and in a 2009 measure was 34. Johnny Cash's positive Q rose from a 19 to a 33 in the years following his death.
Taylor was lovable in life and will become more lovable in death, but her window of opportunity for cashing in won't be open forever.
"I've noticed that when someone dies suddenly, people who collect things -- whether it's autographs or memorabilia -- they all rush to get a piece of that celebrity," says Todd Mueller, a longtime celebrity autograph and memorabilia dealer. "The prices are highest up to two years after the celebrity has passed."
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