Michael Jackson: It's A Wonderful Afterlife

In some respects, the public's opinion of Jackson had begun to shift even before his death.

"Thriller: The Musical" premiered in London in 2006 and was performed in a handful of other European countries before returning to the Lyric Theater in London in January 2009. The show received several positive reviews and was well-attended enough to extend its run well into 2010.

Interest was high in Jackson's comeback concert series, and AEG felt confident enough in the public's desire to see the star that it booked the O2 Arena for 50 nights. (Even in his later years, Jackson largely maintained his popularity overseas, particularly in emerging markets.)

While the deal to create two Cirque du Soleil performances using Jackson's music was finalized after his death, Cirque CEO Daniel Lamarre says the process started before Jackson passed on.

"He was a big fan and came up to our offices in Montreal to visit," he says. "We would still be doing it if he was alive today. Now, we are constantly thinking, 'How would Michael have done this?' It would have been an honor to work with him."

One question that looms large for Jackson's estate, just as it has for the estates of Elvis Presley and John Lennon, is how to extend public good will and grow Jackson's legacy while avoiding any appearance of exploitation. (Representatives for Sony Music, and for Jackson's attorney, John Branca, declined to comment for this story.)

Adam Hanft, a marketing and branding expert and chief executive at Hanft Projects in New York, says he would give the family and the estate a C+ grade in terms of their management of the Jackson brand so far.

"I'm not so worried about the family looking greedy, because part of Michael's narrative was that he was raised by a father who exploited him at every turn, and it makes the public even more sympathetic," he says.

"The one thing they really need to do is work on continuing the emotional connection with his fans," Hanft adds. "I looked at MichaelJackson.com, and it's just a sales platform; it's an example of what not to do. There are so many outlets and social media platforms for fans to participate, and they need to embrace some of those."

But Tony Gumina, head of the Ray Charles Marketing Group, believes the family and the estate have done an excellent job. "With all the offers that have come in, they have been very selective and taken their time," he says. "The big challenge is always staying true to the artist's wishes, and I think they have kept the integrity of the brand intact. Nothing they have done seems like they've done it just for the money. They've managed to strike the perfect balance between being important and being cool."

Hanft adds that it will take a while for mainstream brands to embrace Jackson, but it will happen eventually. "It'll take a brand like Nike, who after all did stay with Tiger Woods, to cross Michael back into the mainstream branding community," he says. "It'll take someone who is a little edgy and willing to take some heat to get the ball rolling."

"The messaging has to continue to be about his musical genius," says Hope Boonshaft, executive VP/GM at public relations and public affairs consultancy Hill & Knowlton. "They need to keep the brand top of mind for the public and keep the memory of his talent out there."