Brands: the supporting cast of Skyfall
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.
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.