STEVE INSKEEP, host:

We will find out soon if the reggae business is still doing well. More than 25 years after he died, family members of Bob Marley are still guarding the rights to his name. And last month they announced a deal with a company to develop a line of Bob Marley products, including salad dressing and a video game.

NPR's Katia Dunn reports.

KATIA DUNN: It's a sunny afternoon in Washington, D.C., and people stroll through an art gallery in the Georgetown neighborhood. Portraits of Bob Marley hang on the walls. Photographer David Burnett took them more than 30 years ago. But many of the fans here are people who never saw Bob Marley alive. Eighteen-year-old Tarren Queen says she's been listening to him since she was 10, and so have all her friends.

Ms. TARREN QUEEN: You can walk into, you know, clothing stores, like, that sell, like, band T-shirts and stuff and there will be just as many Bob Marley shirts as there are, you know, bands that just came out. And he just - he's still popular, and people still love him.

DUNN: This multigenerational appeal is something marketers have been dying to take advantage of for years. Many of those T-shirts and posters for sale are technically counterfeit. Until now, the Marley family resisted contracting with other companies to sell the name. One marketing guru said that Marley was considered so potentially profitable, getting this account was the holy grail of advertising.

And the company to finally win that holy grail is in Toronto - Hilco Consumer Capital. But there's a wrinkle in packaging Bob Marley to sell to mainstream America. Michael Grant stands in the gallery with his three young daughters. They're looking at a photo and confronting just that problem.

What's going on in this photo right here?

Mr. MICHAEL GRANT: In this picture it's a little controversial because my daughter just asked me, well, daddy, he's smoking marijuana. And I'm trying to explain to her that I'm advocating no drug use.

DUNN: If this image was on a salad dressing, would you buy it?

Mr. GRANT: Not necessarily, but I would hate for them to sanitize his life.

Mr. DAN GAINOR (Vice President, Conservative Media Research Center): By looking at the products they're selling, I was wondering if they're going to include bongs and rolling paper.

DUNN: Dan Gainor is the vice president of the Conservative Media Research Center. He says there's no way around the fact that Bob Marley's image promotes drug use.

Mr. GAINOR: Not exactly a cultural icon I'd like to really see my kid wearing his T-shirt.

DUNN: But the people who are rolling out this campaign say they aren't concerned. They know that Bob Marley was a major stoner.

Mr. DAVID LIPMAN (Marketing Executive): I don't run away from it.

DUNN: David Lipman is a marketing executive. He works on the Marley account. He's known for designing couture shopping bags and promoting designer jewelry.

Mr. LIPMAN: I'm not going to promote drug use to children. And I don't know that I'm going to be selling marijuana on the streets of America or the world, but the courage that he had is this is who I am. I think to be able to do what he did is a beautiful thing.

DUNN: Lipman says he doesn't plan to use marijuana as part of the campaign. But he does think it's just another part of the Marley aesthetic, which is to say, chill.

Mr. JAMES SALTER (CEO, Hilco Consumer Capital): You know, whether it's candles, or bedspreads or towels, you know, Marley stands for a very relaxed lifestyle.

DUNN: That's James Salter of Hilco. They plan to introduce their products next year, when Marley would've been 65. The list of retail goods they're hoping to introduce includes spices, snowboards and headphones.

Katia Dunn, NPR News, Washington.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.