Brands: the supporting cast of Skyfall

Adam HodgeIn this guest post, Adam Hodge argues that the plethora of brands peppering James Bond’s latest outing serve to make him a more relatable character.   

Having worked in sports and entertainment marketing most of my career, I can’t go to a game nor watch a movie these days without taking special notice of the sponsorship and product placement.

I used to say that it diminished the experience for me, but the more examples I see of it done really well, the more I honestly believe it is actually adding to it. And there is no better example of this than the most recent installment in the James Bond franchise Skyfall.

Even before the first few frames were shot, the web was alight with conjecture and complaints about how Bond was going to ‘sell out’ to brands.

It’s easy to jump on this bandwagon and lament for the old days… when Bond was pure… but these commentators should take a moment to read the books that the films came from.

Bond’s heritage is rooted in brands. Ian Fleming’s original novels featured the spy smoking Dunhill cigarettes, drinking Beefeater Gin martinis and wearing a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Chronometer. Fleming argued these references gave Bond an air of reality.

And I agree. Whilst some film makers go the opposite direction and invent fictitious brands – Tarantino is notorious for this approach with his Red Apple Cigarettes and Big Kahuna Burger – Fleming’s point is that a story is more relatable when the protagonists use brands we know and can use ourselves.

Sure, we may not all have access to an Omega watch or an Aston Martin, but a bottle of Heineken and a Sony phone are easily within reach of most movie goers.

The media have also lamented that Bond has ‘swapped’ his martini for a Heineken. It makes for interesting copy, shame it’s not true. In Skyfall Bond sips his shaken not stirred cocktail in a Macau casino very early in the piece. And in Casino Royale – when Heineken features for the first time – he has several martinis; the writers going to great lengths to explain the origin of the name of his signature tipple as a ‘Vespa Martini’ – named for the Bond Girl of the film, Vespa Lynd.

The Heineken deal, which has been in place for the past three films (and rumoured to be worth $45m – almost 1/3rd of the total production budget) makes sense on several fronts.

From the producer’s point of view, it meshes with the current Bond they are portraying. A tougher, grittier man who cracks open a cold one after a big day saving the world and then switches seamlessly to a vodka martini at the casino bar later the same night.

Bond HeinekenBondi Martini

It works because it’s believable. Product placement fails is when it is delivered in clumsy and unbelievable ways. For instance, in The Social Network there is a student who has a bar-fridge in his dorm full of Mountain Dew, but devoid of alcohol. Then there are instances that simply insult the viewer, like Will Smith spontaneously, repeatedly and for no discernable reason expressing his love for Converse All-Stars in I, Robot.

Secondly, the Bond link up is a perfect fit for the Dutch Brewer’s brand positioning. CMO of Heineken USA Lesya Lysyj commented in an AdAge interview earlier this year “(Bond) is the epitome of the man of the world,” referring to the name of the brand’s global campaign. A campaign that came before the film tie up and is reflected through their entire advertising strategy.

And for the cinema goer, it provides a more rounded picture of Bond and makes him a more relatable and believable character.

Eon, the owners of the Bond brand have gone to great lengths clarifying that sponsors are only brought in after the first draft of the script is fully written. They claim this ensures the construct of the story is not compromised by overzealous brand managers, but equally allows for a real partnership approach to integrating the products in ways that work for everyone concerned.

Aston Martin’s director of brand communication, Janette Green, told the UK’s Telegraph newspaper: “It’s some of the best product placement you could ever wish for. Markets that have never heard of us have certainly seen an Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger. How do you measure that? It’s impossible.”

And back in the cinema I experienced this impact first hand. Amongst all the stunning trans- continental backdrops, beautiful Bond girls, dastardly villains, gadgets galore and the debonair Mr Bond himself, the single biggest cheer from the crowd came when the door to a London city garage was opened revealing an original, silver Aston Martin DB5. I won’t spoil it for those who have not seen the film, but the second biggest audience reaction was also reserved for the car just 30 minutes later. Not bad for a supporting cast member – and an inanimate object.

Aston Martin says it never advertises in print or on television, instead relying entirely on sponsorship.

Given the level of relevant, positive exposure Aston Martin, Macau Tourism, Macallen Whiskey, Land Rover, Omega, Walther PPK, VW, Caterpillar, Sony, Heineken and others have received from their partnerships with the Bond films to date, I’d say they’ve probably got it just about right.

Adam Hodge is strategy director for sport and entertainment specialist Octagon.


  1. Mal damkar
    7 Dec 12
    11:36 am

  2. Movies are a business, and I dont have an issue with product placement in films, its like any other advertising. I only hate what appears to be client driven requests that stand out and become less placement and more advert. There is a line in skyfall when moneypenny says “Its a Volks wagon beetle” no one would say that in the tense time limited moment it is said in. And Bond seems to go to the shittest bars where they only have 1 beer. Its hardly choosing Heinekein is he? when thats all on offer.

  3. Mark
    7 Dec 12
    4:17 pm

  4. This was the first blockbuster in recent years while where the placement didn’t feel constantly jarring.

    There were one or two painful moments, but it was mostly plausible, natural even, without disrupting the flow too much.

    I know an incredible amount of thought and planning is behind these deals, but it often all too awkward. I know alot of people believe in ‘disruption’, but when it breaks the flow of the scene you’re left with that awkward feeling not a brand impression.

  5. GeneralColin
    7 Dec 12
    9:54 pm

  6. You don’t know what you’re talking about, which is a shame. Perhaps you should should take a moment to read the books the films came from. It’s plain that everything you think you know about Bond is a result of product placement. At least we know it works!
    In Casino Royale – the first Bond book by Ian Fleming – Bond doesn’t smoke Dunhill, he smokes “a Balkan and Turkish mixture made for him by Morlands of Grosvenor Street…”
    He drinks Gordon’s gin, not Beefeater.
    Bond: “Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”
    Obviously not.
    He drives a Bentley, not an Aston-Martin: “Bond’s car was his only personal hobby. One of the last of the 4 1/2-litre Bentleys with the supercharger by Amherst Villiers, he had bought it almost new in 1933…”
    And it’s Vesper Lynd, not Vespa.
    Bond: “I can’t drink the health of your new frock withour knowing your Christian name.”
    “Vesper,” she said. “Vesper Lynd.”
    Bond gave her a look of inquiry.
    “It’s rather a bore always having to explain, but I was born in the evening according to my parents…”
    “I think it’s a fine name,” said Bond. An idea struck him. “Can I borrow it?” He explained about the special martini he had invented and his search for a name for it. “The Vesper,” he said. “It sounds perfect and it’s very appropriate to the violet hour when my cocktail will now be drunk all over the world…” (Vesper means evening in Latin.)
    And the Walther PPK is never mentioned. Bond keeps a “a very flat .25 Beretta automatic with a skeleton grip” in a holster below his armpit, and “a long-barrelled Colt Army Special .45” concealed beneath the dashboard of his Bentley.
    So none of the products you mention are in the Bond books, but all are in the Bond films. If you believe these products were added to the scripts before sponsors were lined up, you’re an idiot.

  7. Uninformed Commenter
    10 Dec 12
    10:11 pm

  8. Yes, I go to the movies to “relate” to James Bond. The more like me he is, the more I watch the movies. I eagerly await the next Bond movie – where Daniel Craig will portray an overweight, middle-aged father living in Sydney’s Inner West. I will relate to him because he has the same make of orthopaedic shoes as me.

    Bond’s life is supposed to be unattainably glamorous – that’s the whole point. He’s a fantasy. If he’s driving an Aston Martin then he’s a fantasy. If he’s sipping a Heineken then he’s not a fantasy. He’s that mate of yours with the drink problem, the job that takes him overseas and the string of girlfriends he throws away because he’s worried about getting “tied down”. In short, if he’s drinking Heineken – he’s a d**k.

  9. teeritz
    14 Dec 12
    8:39 am

  10. While I agree with you that throwing recognised brands into a film helps the audience relate to the character, I must comment on the sloppy research that went into this article. I won’t go into it all here, since GeneralColin already tore you a new one with his reply up above, but exactly what version of “Skyfall” did you see? Where was the scene where Bond “cracks open a cold one after a big day saving the world”? I didn’t find the product placement all that noticeable in this film. When Bond is knocking back a Heineken early in the film (as shown in the still in your article-btw, that’s not a shot from the film. It’s an on-set photographer’s pic), his hand covers virtually 90% of the label on the bottle.
    Another thing to consider is that Ian Fleming gave Bond the custom-made cigarettes, the Vodka Martinis, and the Sea Island cotton shirts because Fleming himself smoked the same cigarettes, drank the same Martinis, wore the same shirts.
    If James Bond smokes Dunhill and drinks Beefeater Gin, then he must be some suburban Morris Minor auto mechanic from 1972.
    Sorry, but this was a poorly-written piece. And don’t even get me started on the spelling. It’s The Macallan, and ‘whisky’ spelt with an ‘e’ in it is the American vernacular.
    I miss the days when stuff was proof-read.