THE name is Bond... James Bond. Now, might I interest sir in the new Sony Eriksson mobile phone?"
It seems 007 now has more than a licence to kill; he has a licence to sell, and a very lucrative one. Quantum of Solace, the 22nd "official" outing of Britain's best known secret agent, released this week, has reportedly earned a record 50 million from manufacturers for "product placement", as these subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, adverts are known. It tops the previous record of 44 million for Die Another Day, a film so laden with plugs for 20 products that it sometimes resembled a big-budget Argos advert and was retitled by critics "Buy Another Day".
When Casino Royale was released in 2006 the number of advertising partners was cut to six. They still paid out a reported 36 million to have their wares touted in what turned out to be the most successful James Bond film so far. However, it was not always to the edification of the finished film. In one cringe-making scene, Vesper Lynd, the leading Bond girl, quizzed 007 on his choice of timepiece: "Rolex?" "No," he replied, "Omega", a choice that would have had Ian Fleming spinning in his grave.
For the author of the original novels was ahead of the game when it came to product placement, or, as he viewed it, luxury products that helped characterise the type of man about which he was writing. The James Bond of the printed page wears a Rolex Oyster, drives a Bentley 1933 Continental, collects his suits from Savile Row and pours Gordon's Gin, Smirnoff vodka and Tattinger Blanc de Blanc 1943.
Daniel Craig's revamped Bond, however, will drive a customised Aston Martin, wear his Omega watch and possibly sip from a bottle of Coca-Cola Zero, the soft drinks giant's latest beverage. His laptop and mobile phone will be Sony while his latest love interest will drive him around Panama in a Ford Ka.
Lucy Barrett, editor of Marketing magazine, described some of the new deals as "undignified". She explained: "As part of Ford's deal, in Casino Royale, our action hero had to drive a Ford Mondeo. This time around, Ford is using Quantum of Solace and a Bond girl to launch the updated Ka. It is aimed predominately at women, a largely untapped market for the Bond brand."
There is even a Bond Girl perfume, being launched by Avon, the mail order beauty firm. It is being fronted by Gemma Arterton, who plays Agent Fields. As Ms Barrett recently wrote: "It's not the smoothest or cleverest of tie-ups, but we should expect more women-targeted brands to get on board."
The shrewdest deal appears to have been struck by Ocean Sky, a British private jet company, which lent Eon Productions, the company that makes the Bond movies, five of its private jets, worth 100 million, for a week. In return the company is featured eight times in the film, including shots inside and outside its planes and a woman in an Ocean Sky uniform behind the company's branded check-in desk.
The cost to the company, which usually charges 5,000 an hour, was put at 600,000 but the potential exposure will be worth millions. The company's owner, Kurosh Tehranchian, 45, explained: "It was a major investment for us financially and in terms of plane usage but it is something we feel will be very worthwhile in terms of the exposure. The James Bond brand is unique. It is known worldwide, yet it is completely non-controversial: everyone likes it. It was something we wanted to be associated with."
It is a sentiment shared by Andy Payne, the global creative director of Interbrand, which specialises in brand development. He said most companies would leap at the chance to have their products appear in a Bond film. He said: "Companies will fight for the rights to be a partner and they'll pay considerable amounts of money to get the contract. Bond is cool and has kudos and that status rubs off on the products he is seen to endorse.
"For a company like Ocean Sky this could be a very good move because even though they have given up the use of five of their jets for a week, they will view the money lost as a good investment in terms of the amount of global brand identification they will achieve and the worldwide audience they'll reach."
While product placement in films has existed for decades – cigarette companies in particular used to pay large sums to have characters smoke their brands – it has become increasingly popular as a way of offsetting the huge costs of blockbusters and for companies to highlight their products.
Dr John McCarty, head of marketing at the College of New Jersey, said the huge growth in product placement was a direct consequence of the rise in the United States of video and digital recorders, which allowed people to record programmes and fast-forward ads. "Product placement is a way of getting the product to a person in a way they can't avoid," he said.
But does it work? For the product companies involved, it would appear so. In 1982, when ET started snacking on Reece's Pieces, sales spiked, while in 1964 Aston Martin sold more DB5s in one year than during the entire five-year production run of its predecessor.
"In general, it works best if it's not perceived as product placement; if it's natural," said Dr McCarty. "In the show Sex and the City, and the movie, they talked about a lot of brands of clothing. But those women in that situation would be expected to know about fashion, so it didn't seem unreasonable for them to mention those names. The problem is any time the storyline has become bogged down around the product, and it seems unrelated. There shouldn't be a tug between the people telling the story and the commercial enterprise."
Yet while the producers may welcome the extra cash and the manufacturers the publicity, not everyone is a lover of product placement. The director Ken Loach (granted it is difficult to imagine a man less likely to helm a James Bond film) is no fan of such an intimate mixture of commerce and art.
He recently said: "At best, it is an extraneous interference; at worst it subverts the film. It is something every director would be resisting."
Even James May, presenter of BBC2's Top Gear, has grown weary of it. He wrote: "I'm becoming rather tired with product placement. It begins with whatever mobile phone (Bond] uses, which seems to loom large on screen every five minutes. If you're the person responsible for brokering the deal by which this was achieved, I'd like to assure you, with some smugness, that I never noticed what make it was. Ha!"
Product placement is on the up
PRODUCT placement has a long and distinguished history. The earliest example is believed to be found in the novel Around The World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, which was published in 1873. As the author was already a renowned figure, a shipping company persuaded him to have Phileas Fogg, the novel's hero, travel on one of its ships.
While Ian Fleming used brand names in his James Bond novels, it was not for financial reward but as a means of characterisation, so the reader was aware that only the best would do for 007.
Perhaps the most extreme example of product placement in recent cinema history was the movie Somers Town, which was directed by Shane Meadows, but entirely financed to the tune of 500,000 by Eurostar. The film was shot against the background of the St Pancras Eurostar terminal, with the main characters travelling to Paris by Eurostar.
The use of products is not always in the manner in which the manufacturers might approve. In the film Fight Club, Apple and Volkswagen both paid to have their products featured, only to see Brad Pitt and Ed Norton break into an Apple store and later smash up the headlight of a Volkswagen Beetle.
In recent years, product placement has expanded rapidly in both movies and American television. Brandchannel, a company that monitors marketing, has since 2001 handed out "Film Whore" awards for the film that has contained the most product placement. The most recent winner was Sex and The City: The Movie, which featured 25 fashion designers, eight shops, seven electronic brands, seven publications, seven food and drinks brands, five cosmetic companies, three car companies and one airline. The average blockbuster, meanwhile, was found to feature 22.1 brands each. Ford, which features heavily in Quantum of Solace, was singled out in the awards for appearing in 57 per cent of the films that topped the US box office over the past year. The company also won the Scene Stealer award for the use of the Ford Mustang that appeared in I Am Legend.
Meanwhile, the rival car company Audi was awarded Best Off-Screen Support for the manner in which the company's R8 model, which appeared briefly in the film Iron Man, made an appearance at each of the film's premieres, with Robert Downey Jnr arriving at each event in the car. PQMedia recently estimated that the total yearly spend on product placement in America was between 3.5 and 5 billion.