Thought Box



by Monojit Lahiri July 15 2023, 12:00 am Estimated Reading Time: 5 mins, 18 secs

Monojit Lahiri unveils a fascinating story of Marilyn Monroe’s reincarnation as Brand Ambassador of Max Factor in 2015, decades after she is dead and gone…A case study that will cut across all barriers, time and place because of it was an unprecedented, stand-alone example.

Advertising is the art of seducing and enticing the unguarded to buy products and services that sell images and dreams, aspirations, hopes and desires. Today, more than ever in a hugely competitive market where consumers are spoilt for choices, the challenge for the marketer is to try and offer an USP that defines the difference in a dramatic way! No wonder Indian advertising is blitzed with film and sports icons who attract eyeballs from an audience totally sold on both.

Back in 2015, came news from Madison Avenue (the US, New York Ad Street that symbolized this game for us in India) that something sensational has happened in the marketing universe, unprecedented in the annals of Advertising history: the late Marilyn Monroe, the legendary blonde bombshell, has been selected as the New Face of Max Factor Cosmetics!

She replaced the previous year’s brand spokesperson Gwyneth Paltrow and would be their celebrity Global Brand Ambassador for 2015! No sweat, except that Ms. Monroe, dead n’ gone for over half a century, had been yanked out from her grave to play a starring role in that year’s Ad campaign!

The ads would emphasize the role that make-up played in the show-stoppers transformation from Norma Jean Mortensen to the red-lipped, platinum-haired dynamite, which cemented her reputation as one of the most mesmerizing and unforgettable sex symbols to scorch popular imagination from the West. Max Factor’s Global Creative Design Director was both cool n’ confident as he articulated his pitch. “Norma Jean entered his – Max Factor’s – Blonde Room in the late 40’s as a brunette and emerged complete with Platinum Blonde hair, a beauty-look totally fit for Ms. Monroe. She made the sultry red lips, creamy skin and dramatically lined eyes, the most famous beauty look of the 40’s, something that continues to dominate the beauty and fashion industry even today.” Little wonder that Max Factor unveiled the fabled blond knockout as the New Face of their Make-up brand.

Why Monroe? Why not any of the tons of blonde (living) bombshells emerging from tinsel town? Simple. Her luminosity and magical communion with the camera were matchless as was her loneliness, touched with an aching vulnerability, re-enforced by unique provocative emptiness begging to be filled, inviting admirers to violate it with their very own fantasies.

Monroe, ultimately, was every woman: Beautiful. Vulnerable. Available, and open enough for men to read and decode the enigma to suit their ego! Also, Marilyn Monroe had a charisma, perhaps only matched by Greta Garbo. Variously described as “every man’s love affair with America” and “sweet angel of sex”, Monroe could suggest undreamt purity of sexual delight.

The boldness with which she could parade herself and yet never be gross, her sexual flamboyance and bravado, which forever breathed an air of mystery, even reticence…her voice, which carried such ripe overtones of erotic excitement and yet remained the voice of a shy child – these complexities and contradictions were integral to her gift. And they brilliantly described a young woman trapped in some never-never land of unawareness.

“She may have passed on physically in 1962, but for us Monroe represents just what MF wants to resuscitate: the glamour for which the company was once famous. In the golden days when Hollywood ruled the world’s fashion and fantasies, 1920 to 1965, MF ran the only cosmetic game in town, with path-breaking initiatives in the use of makeup for movies. Monroe epitomizes that dazzling phase and is the finest symbol to reflect the grandeur and glory of that golden era,” the Max Factor honchos add.

Point taken, but to clear-eyed, pragmatic marketing professionals and brand custodians, surprise, skepticism and bewilderment hit the overdrive button. ‘I wonder how much sense it makes for a cosmetic company selling beauty products today to the living, to hire a dead person to peddle their wares’ was only one of the loaded zingers to emerge from that camp. Another lot insists that this move is committed less to bosoms than bottom lines, less to charisma than cash! Hot-shot communication and ad/creative dadas however dismiss this apprehension and full-throatily root for this “astonishing, ground-breaking move.”

Exclaims a Mumbai-based creative director dealing with Beauty products, “I think it’s an amazingly revolutionary idea, truly groundbreaking and courageous! It instantly fuses the profile of the company with a presence that, timelessly, represents both glamour and beauty in a way that is truly original!” He goes on to add that this initiative has also gone beyond the conventional “category-codes” that products follow while pitching ads to clients in terms of must-show visuals to spell out their USP. “With Magical Monroe as Brand Ambassador, it is a spectacular and instant connection that can take your breath away.”

Agreed veteran theatre-screen actor and adman Abhijit Dutta, “What a spectacularly insightful idea! It takes genius, and balls, to dream up stuff like this because it so sharply exploits the virtual space that today dominates so much of the consumer landscape. Monroe and Max Factor, the ultimate made-for-each-other brand, so very likely to capture popular imagination. Bravo!”

Mumbai-based face of Taproots-Dentsu Advertising, Agnello Dias, confessed he was ‘taken aback by this unusual and extraordinary move’ and was curious about how it would ultimately pan out, on the ground, once the gasps and pants die down. “The execution part is crucial. However, whatever the outcome, definite brownie points for an astonishing bit of original out-of-the-box thinking!”

So, everything considered, one thing remains clear: Both the body and the spirit of the charismatic Marilyn Monroe is obviously very much alive and in a super seductive mood, if in today’s fiercely competitive and commercial world, she is recalled! Little wonder that the awesome sex symbol was rated the richest dead celebrity by Forbes magazine in 2014, when she earned a mind-blowing $17 million!

What a way to wake up the dead!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of The writers are solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.