The Secret To Marilyn Monroe’s Timeless Brand

Marilyn Monroe knew that staying on message was the key to continually captivating American audiences. The desperation to make an impact is incorrectly targeted by giving much more choice than is needed, making the consumer feel burdened. That’s not marketing, that S&M in the store aisle.


Marilyn Monroe made 29 films, 24 in the first 8 years of her career. Norma Jeane was an American actress, a model, a singer, and a timeless sex symbol to become one of Hollywood’s most enduring silver screen legends. 


Scratching beneath the surface, what if a brand was able to isolate the secret to Marilyn’s Marilyn unfading star? What if there were a specific quality that resulted in a brand rising above the noise while others simply withered away?

Al Ries got it right in his milestone book on the 22 immutable laws of branding when he observed the narrower a brand, the more it won and gained traction. The wider it went, the more diluted and less it stuck. As Ries wrote, “You can’t expand your way to success. You can only narrow your way to success and then hope you don’t spoil that success by overexpanding the brand.”

In the case of Marilyn, she knew her sweet spot and she shined in that very specified place where she could shine. Her choices aligned to the Marilyn mystique and didn’t try to veer off and fail to use her seductive quality. She utilized, recognized and played her strength.

Yet, ask a company owner or brand manager how to grow their brand and the knee jerk response is to go broad. To try to dominate by going wide in terms of what you stand for and who you wish to reach. In other words, to try to be everything to everybody.

The problem with this approach? You become nothing to nobody and dilute what you do stand for as shown in this video:


Single Is Power

Companies try to solve the problem of relevance by being and offering so much that the consumer “has to” choose something in your wide product offering.

The issue is: by going “big,” brands end up solving their concept of the problem of market penetration, not the problem of simplicity desired by the consumer.

Marilyn knew this best: she flaunted her skills to entertain–to flirt and tickle the imaginations of audiences. She knew the power of focus.

Let’s take Ben & Jerry’s. They’re great when it comes to ice cream. Now what if they decided to start selling spoons, bowls, sugar and napkins? That would be a stretch. But it happens in much more subtle ways as demonstrated in the video above.


Even Donald Trump tried to expand his brand a couple of years ago with a mattress line and steaks in addition to his vodka and clothing line. Do I really want to dress like Donald, drink like Donald (who doesn’t drink), be a carnivore like Donald and then, “sleep with him” (in his bed) after a hard day’s work?

But it’s not always obvious like these line extensions. Sometimes the subtleties and choices give consumers too many options in a single category, something car manufacturers are very guilty of.

Let’s look at the opposite approach of focus taken by one of the most successful brands on the planet: Apple. Apple doesn’t offer a truckload of smart phone variations. You have one iPhone, with a choice of black or white, with a few memory choices.

Compare that to Samsung, HTC or the endless sea of Android phones. How much time do manufacturers think consumers have to make a choice?

The desperation to make an impact and drive sales is incorrectly targeted by giving much more choice than is needed making the consumer feel burdened and abused. That’s not marketing, that S&M in the store aisle. No wonder some consumers look angry by the time they reach the checkout counter.


Life is Hard. Shopping Shouldn’t Be Harder.
Simplify. Do that for the consumer and it all gets better.

It’s not our job to make the choices so overwhelming as to overload the consumer with more choices than are practical and useful.

Remember: Your branding is for them, not you and your business problems and objectives. So focus.

And let’s stand for something unique in the consumer’s mind. Cheap worked for Walmart as they were the first. Kmart tried to emulate that model with zero distinction and failed. Target was smart because they didn’t try to offer “more cheap” but instead offered “cheap chic.”

So, find your sweet spot, stand for something and simplify and, by doing that, become an ally of the consumer, not another obstacle to be overcome on the way to the checkout counter.


And maybe you too will become an iconic legend in your space.

David Brier is a brand identity specialist, an award-winning package designer and branding expert. Besides creating the Defy-O-Meter, David is also the author of Defying Gravity and Rising Above the Noise. David’s series of videos shed new light on effective, counter-intuitive branding in these videos and interviews. You can subscribe to his YouTube channel or request your own free copy of David’s eBook, “The Lucky Brand, 10 Golden Rules of Branding to Outshine, Outperform and Outlast Your Competition” .

About the author

Brand identity expert, veteran designer, author, speaker and Fast Company expert blogger. Shark Tank investor and CEO of fashion brand Fubu, Daymond John states, "David Brier is brilliant with branding." He’s been written about in, INC and Fortune Small Business. In addition to being a branding specialist and a Fast Company expert blogger, David's Slideshare presentations on branding have exceeded the 500,000 view milestone (a founding member of Slideshare's Half-a-Million Views Club) and is the 1st place winner in the 2013 Shorty Awards (known industry-wide as “The Oscars for Social Media”) for branding