Michael Jackson is worth more dead than he was alive. Nearly bankrupt in his final days, he (well, his estate) earned nearly a billion dollars in the year after his death.
Even the comeback tour that never happened managed to make $6.5 million US in ticket sales simply because many fans wanted to keep their tickets as souvenirs.
Why is a brand like Michael Jackson able to make more dead than alive?
1. When you’re dead, you can’t screw up your brand any more. Let’s face it… Michael Jackson had managed to mangle a once-brilliant brand. Through bizarre behavior, child abuse allegations, and endless plastic surgery, Michael Jackson’s brand had faded far from his Thriller days. Once he died, there was no way he could possibly do himself any more damage.
2. When you’re dead, we realize what we lost. Despite all the oddities, Michael Jackson was a once-in-a-generation musician. He created magic. Now it is gone, and it isn’t coming back. It took losing his genius for most of us to be able to recognize it.
3. When you’re dead, supply and demand work in your favor. With nothing more to offer, everything Michael Jackson did becomes more valuable. Merchadise and souvenirs become currency. Unreleased music from before he died becomes infinitely more valuable than it otherwise would have been.
4. When you’re dead, we get to remember you the way we want to. Michael Jackson is remembered as a quirky musical genius, not a surgically-manipulated circus sideshow. Elvis Presley is remembered as young and energetic, not bloated and pathetic. Kurt Cobain is a troubled genius, not a drug-addled wife beater. We can write our own history, thank you very much.
Think about the various products that your company makes, especially the ones that have passionate customers but limited appeal. Would these fringe products be more valuable if they were completely discontinued or released in limited or time-sensitive quantities?
If this strategy sounds crazy to you, just ask McDonald’s how they are doing with their McRib sandwich. The product was a mediocre seller from 1981 to 1985. Since 1994 McDonald’s has periodically brought McRib back for limited periods. Last November, the McRib helped boost McDonald’s monthly sales by 4.8%.