Branding RBG

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The Notorious RBG

When Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed to the US Supreme Court in 1993, no one could have predicted that she would become a national brand in the last decade of her life, nor did she set out to become one. It just seemed to happen—but when it did, it made total sense.

It all started in 2013 with a blog, “The Notorious RBG,” created by an NYU law student. The title, of course, was a play on the name of the late rapper, Notorious B.I.G. The blog became a best-selling book, followed by a 2018 documentary, internet memes and SNL skits, along with an unending stream of RBG-inspired merchandise—mugs, pins, posters, tote bags, action figures, ball caps, tees and, of course, Halloween costumes. Even State Street’s Fearless Girl statue in New York’s financial district was seen wearing her signature lace collar in honor of her passing.

RBG wasn’t the first woman to serve on the Court and, at the time of her death, there were two others on the bench. But no other SCOTUS justice in memory, male or female, ever achieved anything close to her level of celebrityhood . Not one ever became a brand.

Why RBG and no one else? Part of the answer lies in her singular record of achievements as a jurist, social justice advocate, feminist barrier-breaker and dissenter, both before and during her 27 years on the Court. Other, less obvious elements round out the picture: her enduring friendship with Antonin Scalia, her polar opposite on the bench. A twice-weekly exercise routine that would have scared off a person half her age and twice her weight. And an uncompromising insistence on staying current with Court business and casting votes while recovering from cancer surgery.

All of this went into the RBG brand, not that she would ever have called it that. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was fine with the trappings of rock stardom, but never sought them. Her brand was about self-effacement, decency, equality and strength and she lived it every day of her life.