Twitter’s posthumous blue checks look a lot like necro-advertising

American actor Marilyn Monroe (1926 – 1962) gets out of a car wearing a strapless white dress and a white fur coat at the premiere of director Walter Lang’s There’s No Business Like Show Business.
Murray Garrett/Getty Images

  • Twitter added paid checks to the accounts of dead celebrities like Kobe Bryant and Anthony Bourdain.
  • Necro-advertising is a marketing strategy using deceased icons to promote a brand or product.
  • But using the image of a dead person, especially without permission, can cross legal lines.

Even after death, iconic celebrities including Marilyn Monroe and Bob Marley can be seen endorsing popular products, from candy to vacuum cleaners—and maybe Twitter Blue?

Necro-advertising strategies that capitalize on the eternal popularity of celebrities long after they have died play on the public’s nostalgia for huge profits: Forbes reported that House of Marley audio products and sales of Marley’s Mellow Mood drinks and merchandise have netted Bob Marley’s estate more than $21 million since his death in 1981.

According to NPR, Marilyn Monroe’s posthumous brand has been used to advertise Coca-Cola products, Mercedes-Benz cars, and during a 2016 Superbowl ad in which she transforms from an angry William Dafoe back to her charming self , after eating a Snickers candy bar. The rights to Monroe’s image and intellectual property were sold to Authentic Brands Group for about $20 million to $30 million in 2011, the outlet reported.

In 2013, shortly after Authentic Brands Group acquired the rights to Monroe’s image, she became the spokesperson for Chanel No. 5, Telegraph UK reports. Her official Instagram account continues to endorse Zales and JC Penny jewelry.

Authentic Brands Group, which also owns the rights to the Elvis Presley and Muhammad Ali brands, did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment. The marketing group is led by Jamie Salter, the billionaire entrepreneur who co-founded Hilco Consumer Capital. Salter has no known personal connection to the estate of Monroe, Presley, or Ali.

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Recent changes to Twitter suggest the tech giant may be trying its hand at a form of necro-advertising, users speculates after delibs — dead celebrities — including Kobe Bryant and Anthony Bourdain, had verification checks placed on their inactive accounts, giving the impression that they had paid to subscribe to Twitter Blue.

But using the image of a dead man in an endorsement comes with ethical and legal questions, according to industry experts.

In California Civil Code 3344.1, any person who uses the name, voice, signature or likeness of a deceased person – in any way – for the purpose of advertising or selling products, goods or services, without the person’s consent, is liable for $750, or the amount of damages actually suffered, whichever is greater.

Federally, the Lanham Act protects consumers against false endorsement and extends to people’s posthumous likeness as long as it can be shown that use of the heir’s likeness would be “likely to confuse as to the sponsorship or endorsement of the defendant’s goods,” according to the American Association to the lawyers.

When brands run afoul of these laws, a dead celebrity’s estate can sue—and Monroe’s estate has done so many times. In 2005, the estate sued two photography agencies not to use her image, but was ultimately unsuccessful. In a separate 2015 suit, Monroe’s likeness was found to be protected by the Lanham Act after a vintage collectibles licensor that created and marketed various products featuring Monroe was found to be using her image as misleading endorsement.

Reputational risk

Andrew Gildon, a law professor at Willamette University College of Law, wrote in a research paper on the topic titled “Support After Death” that while current laws establish who has the legal right to use a decedent’s image, there are few rules about how they can to be depicted — leading to brand deals that can tarnish the successor’s reputation, he said, citing a brand deal with Monroe and Walmart as an example.

Gilden writes that the current posthumous endorsement system “pays little attention to the dignity of the deceased or to the desire of surviving fans to maintain emotional and psychological connections with them.”

Indeed, Twitter users were quick to react – a lot quite a lot negative — at the prospect that celebrities like Bozeman or Bryant would endorse the social media subscription service. Musk has not publicly commented on whether the posthumous checks are part of a deliberate necro-advertising campaign or were accidentally added for some other reason.

Some high-profile accounts with over a million followers briefly received Twitter Blue’s verified verification, but their badges disappeared just as suddenly as some celebrities like Chrissy Teigen complained that they received the checks as “punishment”.

Twitter’s press email automatically responded with poop emoticons to Insider’s request for comment. Musk did not immediately respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

Gildon continued: “Only if posthumous approvals were made more transparent, were the result of conscious decision-making and were entrusted to individuals closely related to the deceased, could they form part of a thriving digital life after death.”

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