Spectre, the latest installment of the James Bond franchise that rolls into Canadian movie multiplexes this week, cost a reported USD$300 million to make, and that’s before you figure in an equally hefty marketing budget.
The high cost of producing the film makes Sony Pictures’ coveted product-placement deals even more important to help defray 24th Bond flick’s enormous costs.
We’re already seeing the Bond-related marketing tie-ins even though the movie, which premiered in London last week, is not in theatres here yet.
Omega, which supplanted Rolex as 007’s timepiece of choice in the mid-1990s, has an $8,000 limited-edition watch available, complete with custom box and branded jeweller’s loupe, so you can admire your purchase up close.
There’ve been magazine ads for Bond’s new favourite vodka, Belvedere, and Bell Mobility is pitching a Sony Xperia smartphone “made for Bond” in TV ads starring Miss Moneypenny, played by Naomie Harris. Jaguar/Land Rover has been touting its connection on the web and TV for months.
The Bond movies may be the most successful product-promotion vehicle in cinematic history.
“The movie itself is one of the very few that gets paid for product placements,” Michael Belch, a professor of marketing at the San Diego State University, told Yahoo Canada, explaining most involve the loan of items in exchange for visibility in the movie.
“They [Bond producers] keep pulling down a ton of money from people wanting to have their products placed there. In some instances there’s some pretty clear evidence that the products that have appeared in the movie have also benefited directly from the product placement.”
Loyal Bond movie watchers have come to expect product placement as part of the movie’s familiar architecture, like the exotic locales, spectacular stunts and crazed megalomaniacal villains.
“I think people are more inclined to pay attention to the product placements in the Bond movies than they are in a lot of other movies,” said Belch, who studies promotional marketing.
Product placement is the deliberate inclusion of consumer goods in a film or TV show in exchange a fee or free use of the item. It can be anything from indirect placement, such as a box of cereal sitting on a kitchen counter, to direct placement like lovingly shot images of a major character using a computer or drinking a brand-name beverage.
Bond creator Ian Fleming mentioned high-end products in his novels from the beginning, from Bentley automobiles (not the Aston Martins used in most of the movies) to Rolex watches, to help define his character as a misogynistic thug with gentlemanly tastes.
Product placement evolved in Bond films over decades
The early Bond films had Sean Connery sporting a Rolex and using Martini-brand vermouth for his shaken, not stirred vodka cocktails. But this was less about promoting a product than establishing the character. Companies providing products or services would get a shout-out in the film’s end credits.
But in the decades since “Dr. No” hit the screen in 1962, Bond movies have evolved into a veritable festival of featured goods. Bond, his comrades and even the villains have been used to pitch everything from beer to hot sauce.
Vancouver Bond aficionado Murray Gillespie says there’s nothing wrong with introducing real-world products into the story if it’s done right.
“I’ve always said that if it fits the plot, as long as it’s not overbearing and obvious and it’s just a moment for the star to hold up the product to camera to get that plug, I don’t really have any issues with it,” Gillespie, who operates the Bond Decor website and walked the red carpet at Spectre’s London premiere, said in an interview with Yahoo Canada.
Gillespie at the London premiere of “Spectre” with actress Naomie Harris. (supplied)
Admittedly, it has been pushed a little too far on occasion, such as in the reboot of Casino Royale, where Bond girl Eva Green admires Daniel Craig’s watch. “Rolex?” she asks in the famously cringe-worthy exchange. “Omega,” Bond replies, to her approval.
The Bond movies have never been about brand loyalty. In the books, he drove a Bentley Continental.
“In Goldfinger he visits Q and the first thing he says is ‘where’s my Bentley?’“ Gillespie said. “Q responds, he says ‘it’s had its day, I’m afraid.’ “
It opened the door for the famous Aston Martin DB5 “with modifications” such as rockets, oil-slick producer and ejection seat.
Consider vodka: Bond’s gone from Smirnoff to Finlandia and now to Belvedere. When it comes to cars, Bond ditched the Aston for a submersible Lotus and a tiny BMW Z3 roadster before switching back to Astons.
The key, said Gillespie, is ensuring the product doesn’t dilute Bond’s upmarket brand image.
“As long as the product is comparable they’re willing to change brands,” he said.
Products featured in Bond films get a bump
Featured products almost invariably get a bump in sales, market profile or both, said Belch.
He noted that when Bond drove the blue Z3 in “Goldeneye” – whose USD$125 million in product-placement deals largely covered the movie’s production cost – BMW sold out of the model in that particular colour for six months.
A BMW750iL that was used in the 1997 James Bond film “Tomorrow Never Dies” (Getty Images)
“Everybody wanted that blue BMW,” said Belch.
Your product doesn’t even have to be in a Bond film to get on the gravy train. For example, said Gillespie, Swatch came out with a collection of Bond-themed watches in 2002 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the movie franchise, then did another series of models in 2008. Not coincidentally, Omega is also one of Swiss giant Swatch Group’s brands.
The whole field of product placement has become an active subculture among Bond followers.
Craig reportedly turned down USD$5 million to be seen using the Sony Xperia Z5 phone seen in the movie. Sony Pictures emails leaked by North Korean hackers included one suggesting Craig and Bond director Sam Mendes argued the super spy wouldn’t have an Android device because he uses “nothing but the best.”
Heineken is a longtime Bond sponsor, paying a reported USD$45 million for product placement in Skyfall, roughly a third of the movie’s budget. That earned them a shot of 007, famously a martini and whiskey drinker, taking a sip of the beer in the 2012 movie, which put off some purists, Gillespie said.
“They made it sound like no more martinis for Bond, now he’s a beer-guzzling Heineken drinker,” he said. “Not at all the case. It works in the type of scene he’s in.”
Craig appears in a new Heineken commercial, part of the brewer’s USD$100-million marketing campaign around the movie.