As the James Bond movie franchise prepares to turn 50 this fall, Relaxnews takes a look at the affair the iconic secret agent has had with brands over the years.
From the very beginning
Just like Bond’s code number 007 or his famous saying "Bond, James Bond," the brands are part of the character’s DNA. "This is Bond’s very essence," says Jean-Patrick Flandé, president of Film Media Consultant, the company in charge of product placement for the franchise since 1977.
"The novels already refer to a certain number of products like the car, the fine wine, or the accessories, all of them being very sophisticated goods. That was already part of Ian Fleming’s vision."
Indeed, references to Bentley, Rolex and Dom Pérignon were abundant in the pages of the 21 novels and short stories written by the British author.
"The three core elements are the watch, the champagne and the car," adds Guillaume Evin, author of the French-language James Bond book Goldmaker. The 007 expert explains that the brands evolved with time but that the staples remained the same: "Rolex/Omega for the watches, Dom Pérignon/Bollinger for the champagne and Aston Martin for the car."
A more intentional product placement
Dr. No, the first installment in the series, "represented only the universe of the novels," according to Flandé. "As time went by, brands started showing interest in James Bond’s marketing potential."
The third film in the franchise, Goldfinger (1964), was a turning point. "That’s when we first saw the Aston Martin, which Bond still drives today. The producers chose this brand for the image of British luxury it reflected at the time," he remembers.
Towards the end of the 1970s, when Film Media Consultant entered the game, product placement became more intentional, "with the desire to find sponsors to go along the launches of the films," says the company's president. "The producers always tried to find sponsors that fit Bond’s image. Eon Productions is a family business. This led them to do business with similar companies such as Omega, Bollinger and Heineken, a sponsor since 1995," says Jean-Patrick Flandé.
A large-scale placement strategy allowed Bond to reach a wider audience. Flandé refers to the example of BMW at the time when Pierce Brosnan embodied 007. "Eon was looking for a high-end automobile partner with a sporty European image. This partnership made it possible to reach the 35-50 age target, complementing the usual target of 18- to 25-year-olds. Older generations, who preferred Sean Connery or Roger Moore, liked seeing Bond driving a BMW."
James Bond, for the brands only?
007 will always be associated with brands since they helped shape his very character. "There are concentric circles," says Guillaume Evin. "You've got the brands at the heart of the franchise, associated with the hero, like Bollinger and Aston Martin. Then there are other brands that will communicate around it. The sponsors are the second circle."
According to Evin, these sponsors led to "certain excesses, as in Die Another Day . That’s when I first talked about the most expensive human billboard ever. In Moonraker , you could already see 7up all over the place. That was exasperating."
"As long as good taste and aesthetics prevail over commercial concerns, the formula works. There is a subtle balance that needs to be upheld. When, for instance, George Lazenby grabs a spoonful of caviar after a fight, tastes it and says, 'Royal Beluga, north of the Caspian,' it’s classy and refined,” says Evin.