Who said going into science wasn’t a lucrative career move? In Forbes’ latest ranking of the highest earning dead celebrities, Albert Einstein beat out the likes of John Lennon, Andy Warhol and Marilyn Monroe to take the fourth spot behind Elvis Presley, Charles Schulz and Heath Ledger. Even though the father of relativity has been dead for 53 years, he remains one of the most recognizable faces in the world. He’s been a consistent appearance on Forbes’ list and raked in $18 million last year.
But where is all this money coming from? And who gets it?
As it turns out, Einstein doesn’t have any living heirs. He bequested all his personal papers, intellectual property rights and the right to use his image to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The university hires the company Greenlight to manage these rights and dole out permission for Einstein paraphernalia. (Greenlight also manages the rights to Steve McQueen and the Wright brothers.)
Greenlight says they receive 400 applications a year to use Einstein’s image, but they only approve about 40 of them. According to Martin Cribbs, director and brand strategy manager of Greenlight, to receive approval a company needs to prove that they are serious about the product, provide three years of sales predictions, and demonstrate a commitment to green issues. Cribbs says they reject proposals for cigarettes, sex toys, and anything of a scatological nature, like toilet paper.
Among products that have made the cut are Einstein calendars, mugs, jigsaw puzzles, action figures and a Japanese brand of coffee made by Nestle. The biggest source of revenue to the Einstein estate, however, comes from parents hoping to raise their very own geniuses. Disney’s line of Baby Einstein products, including educational DVD’s, books, and toys for babies, brings in millions every year. Most recently, Einstein has also been seen hawking Kobe Bryant’s new Nike ZKIII sneakers as part of its Genius campaign.
Earlier this year, Hebrew University asked an Israeli telephone company to retract its advertisements for its new Google-enabled mobile phones because they used the slogan “Everyone’s become an Einstein.” The company was told that it would cost NIS 400,000 (more than $100,000) to use the frizzy haired scientist-celeb for their ad campaign. Take that, Elvis.
Image: flickr / maveric2003