Source - New York Post
The billion dollar rasta
Thirty-one years after his death, Bob Marley is still Jammin’ — to the sound of cash registers
He was born in a Jamaican hill town without electricity and grew up in Kingston’s most notorious slum. Even as an adult, he often walked around barefoot. But now, in death, Bob Marley has transcended his humble roots and become one of the biggest earners on the planet. And with a new documentary and a slew of Marley-inspired products on the way, the reggae legend is about to become even more valuable.
Puff on this: Marley’s empire could be worth a billion dollars.
Once known mostly as the patron saint of college dorm rooms, Marley is now going high-end. Gone are the days of chintzy trinkets with Marley’s name on them in favor of selling the singer as a “lifestyle” brand.
“It’s been an evolution,” says Courtney White, a brand manager for the Marley family, which controls the rastaman’s empire. “What they were doing four years ago were more souvenir items: a lot of lighters, apparel. We’ve moved away from that in favor of products that focus on every aspect of your life.”
House of Marley recently introduced a line of electronics, including earbud and over-ear headphones with names like Zion and Exodus. (Prices range from $30 to $300.) There’s also the $350 “Get Up, Stand Up” iPod dock, a new line of swimwear, and watches and bags will come later in 2012.
Last year, Marley Beverage Company launched Marley’s Mellow Mood sodas and teas, made with herbs such as valerian root and chamomile that are said to have a calming effect.
“I thought it was the perfect time, because everyone was Red Bulling it,” says Cedella Marley, daughter of Bob and his wife Rita. “There were too many hyper people running around in the world, ya know?”
And then there is the movie, “Marley,” opening Friday. The years-in-the-making documentary is meant to be the definitive story of the singer and was created in cooperation with the family. Martin Scorsese was originally attached in 2008, but he dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. The film was finally completed under the direction of Kevin Macdonald of “The Last King of Scotland.”
“I liked the way he went into it,” Cedella says of Macdonald. “It wasn’t going to be a glossy documentary filled with the same old people telling the same old stories. He wanted to get different perspectives about what Dad was.”
The movie concludes with a montage of fans all over the world listening to Marley’s music, even in what appear to be remote parts of Asia. His appeal, even 31 years after his death from melanoma at age 36, remains incredibly powerful, which is perhaps why he is such a marketer’s dream.
Sanjay Sood, a UCLA marketing professor and faculty director of the Center for Management of Enterprise in Media, Entertainment & Sports, says that Marley ranks among the top five dead celebrities in terms of dollar sales, joining Michael Jackson, Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Andy Warhol. In 2009, the family struck a licensing deal with a Canadian private equity firm called Hilco Consumer Capital, which estimated that the brand would be racking up sales of $1 billion by this year. (The family declined to reveal earnings.)
Product ideas, restaurant, bar and other concepts are pitched to the family constantly. Marley officially had 11 children with a number of different women (unofficially, that number could be much higher). Some of the kids followed their father into the music biz, including Damian, Ziggy, Julian, Ky-Mani and Stephen. Son Rohan owns a Jamaican coffee farm, while Cedella designs fashions. The Marley offspring get an equal share of the pie, with widow Rita, getting a bit more. (She is not involved day-to-day.) Some children, including Cedella and Ziggy, take a more prominent role in developing the brand.
“Not everyone can be equally involved in the business, because that would be a cluster — not really realistic,” Cedella says. “But when a product is coming out, if it’s musically geared, I’d take it over to Damian and Ziggy and Stephen and Ky-Mani and say, ‘What do you think?’ If we’re making a coffee drink, I take it to Rohan.”
Branding expert Sood says that those in control of Marley’s brand need to be especially careful about what they choose to license.
“He stood for things that were positive in nature,” Sood says. “You have to manage that fine line between what the brand stands for and when it crosses the line into commerce.”
Some have been critical of the Marley empire, claiming the simple Rasta would’ve been uncomfortable with building a billion-dollar business on his back. Cedella Marley disagrees.
“When people say, ‘I’m tired of seeing Bob on a T-shirt,’ I say, ‘Well, you have to let him know that, because he printed his face on a T-shirt,’” she says.
Yes, early on Marley himself was a pioneer of the concert T-shirt, and formed his own record label to maximize his profits. The image that many have of Bob Marley as a socialist hippie is not exactly accurate.
“The idea that he was anti-capitalistic and wasn’t into making money is preposterous,” says Josh Baron, editor at music magazine Relix. “He was very interested in making money, not in ways that compromised his artistic integrity, but he wanted to make money. He was frustrated by how hard he was working and how little he was receiving.”
Marley lived in a large house in Kingston next door to the prime minister’s residence. He drove BMWs. He lived well on the road, staying at the Essex House on Central Park South when he was in New York.
He was, however, devoted to charity, which is why his heirs are helping to buff the image of Marley Inc. by donating 5 percent of its proceeds to various causes across the globe. Many of the products, in the spirit of Marley, are eco-friendly. The headphones are made with recycled plastic and sustainable wood.
“A lot of people just want the Marley name and to slap something on the side of their product, but that’s not what it’s about for us,” brand manager White says.
Sood agrees that the family has thus far made good choices and hasn’t diluted the brand, unlike the Presley and Monroe estates.
“For most young people today, Bob Marley still stands for reggae music, hope, redemption and social justice,” Sood says. “That still comes through. So to the extent that they’ve built such a big business around the Marley brand and it still has meaning and relevance decades after his death tells me they have done a good job.”
“The name ‘Bob Marley’ represents much more than just the musician,” Baron says, raising the possibility that if the family handles the “lifestyle” merchandising correctly, 20 years from now, kids may not even know that Marley was an actual human being. Instead, they’ll merely associate his name with generic good vibes, peace and love.
“No Woman, No Cry” anti-depressants, anyone?