Media advertising uses former icons to sell products


Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn and Bruce Lee have been seemingly resurrected in television advertisements with digital re-creations of their faces. 

Monroe makes a cameo appearance in the J’adore Dior commercial; Hepburn gracefully excuses herself from a bus to hop into a car with a stranger and eat Dove chocolate; and Lee inspires us from a rooftop with quotes on the power of life and liquid, just before the image of Johnnie Walker whiskey appears on screen.

It’s clear how and why these icons are brought back; digital re-creation techniques can apply their faces from other film footage and paste it onto a stand-in actor. In doing so, they are able to return to screen and bring a new appeal to certain products.

Young and old audiences will know their faces after having seen their films and images. So, “featuring” them in commercials makes the advertisements accessible to a wider audience. The celebrities are also certainly meant to set some sort of tone for their respective products.

Erin D’Aleo / Graphics Editor: Marilyn Monroe, as well as Bruce Lee and Audrey Hepburn, are making appearances in today’s advertisements.

Erin D’Aleo / Graphics Editor:
Marilyn Monroe, as well as Bruce Lee and Audrey Hepburn, are making appearances in today’s advertisements.

Hepburn brings elegance to the Dove Chocolate commercial. Whether I specifically remember the commercial or not, I feel that same sense of sophistication when looking at Dove compared to other chocolates (of course, when a Dove bar is $3.68 and a Hershey’s bar is $1.02, it’s pretty easy to think the former is “classier”).

At the same time, there is an element of shock value being brought into the uncanny appearances of these apparent reincarnations. If I was overwhelmed by Hepburn’s resurrection while watching the commercial (when I first saw it I assumed it was a look-alike), the tone and branding would be concealed by that “whoa” moment.

But, then again, maybe that was part of the commercial’s intention. There are attributes of these icons that make them timeless. Lee and Monroe by name alone are as ubiquitous in our culture as Dunkin’ Donuts.  One has to wonder whether we are stuck in the past or if the digital re-creation of deceased celebrities is ethical.

On the one hand, their continued use in advertisements show they are still remembered and loved even decades after their lifetimes came to an end. They clearly have admirable traits that will instantly be recalled during such advertisements.

On the other hand, what does it mean for our society if we use the images of deceased to sell material items?

Would Lee be really happy to know he is being used to advertise whiskey? How would Hepburn react if she knew her face was pasted on someone else’s body to sell chocolate? It is one thing to pay homage to a person, the way people dress as Monroe or are inspired by Lee. A look-alike in a commercial would show that homage, and be quite humorous mainly in that we’d know it wasn’t them. I have to wonder why that type of tribute wouldn’t be enough. Do we really need to bring their actual faces into the picture?

I do think there is a place for this technology, though. It is currently being used for deceased actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, who is being digitally re-created and resurrected for the scenes of “Mockingjay” he was not able to complete in life.  For those purposes, when the show must go on and the scenes do not require any high level of emotion, this type of recreation can be very useful.

Something worth reminding ourselves, though, is what is easy to forget: these re-creations are not real. Digitally reincarnating a person’s image does not in any way bring back who they were.

Their faces are taken from footage already filmed — therefore, we are not seeing any new or authentic emotional reactions. Hepburn doesn’t know or care about that chocolate or the man driving her; her facial reactions are pulled out of her performances in other films.

Still, it is interesting to think about what celebrities of our age will be iconic, as well as who may next re-appear on screen. Will Britney Spears sell hairspray one hundred years from now? I wouldn’t be surprised if Michael Jackson pays us a visit soon as well. Celebrities are no longer immortalized in the films and media they are a part of; now, they can “return” in any decade to come.


Anthony Munoz can be contacted at

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