How James Bond helped to pioneer the art of product placement

ONE morning in 1963, the film director Guy Hamilton arrived on the set of Goldfinger and found Harry Saltzman, who, with Cubby Broccoli, was the film’s producer, dressing the set.

The scene in the day’s shooting schedule took place in a bathroom and involved Pussy Galore, the minxish villainess watching as James Bond shaved. Surprised to see Saltzman up so early, Hamilton exclaimed: “Harry what are you doing? It’s eight in the morning, the crew haven’t arrived and you’re dressing a set?”

It was only when Hamilton looked down at the gentlemen’s accoutrements now artfully positioned around the basin that the reason for Saltzman’s dawn visit was revealed. “There was Gillette foam, Gillette aftershave,” recalled the director. “He’d done a deal with Gillette and we were going to get sixpence to use their stuff.”

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Times change, prices rise and while 007’s licence to kill may only extend to the enemies of Queen and country, his services as model and promotional connoisseur have always been for sale to the highest bidder. In many ways Ian Fleming’s secret agent was the perfect ambassador for the new and lucrative art of product placement. Like his author, James Bond has always appreciated the finest things in life, such as suits from Savile Row, a Rolex Oyster Perpetual watch, while his 1933 Bentley convertible purrs smoothly through the pages of most of the novels. Today the car most closely associated with 007 is the Aston Martin that makes an brief appearance in the novel Goldfinger, giving Broccoli the excuse to do a lucrative deal with the manufacturers.

Yet last week the wheels appeared to have come off the whole promotional product placement racket with the disturbing news that in the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, which has recently been shooting in Scotland, Britain’s top secret agent will forego his favoured drink of a dry martini “shaken, not stirred” for a pint of Heineken.

Yes. You read that correctly. A character celebrated around the globe for the strict precision with which his one specific drink is made – “A dry martini. One. In a deep champagne goblet. 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,” as he explains to a bemused barman in chapter 7 of Casino Royale) – has now apparently been reduced to settling for whatever is available on draught.

Well, the signs were there for all to see that Daniel Craig’s incarnation of James Bond was unlikely to favour the drink of Ian Fleming, an outlandish snob who, while as addicted to cigarettes as any man on the street, felt it necessary to have his own brand made by hand and then distanced himself further from the plebs by use of an elongated cigarette holder.

Fleming’s fussiness extended to his martinis which were shaken and not stirred as he believed that stirring a drink reduced the flavour, which actually did have a basis in fact. In the 1950s, when he was quaffing them, vodka was made from potatoes and so could be especially oily, which was also best dispersed through vigorous shaking.

Yet what do the prissy drinking habits of a 1950s author have to do with a rugged MI6 officer in the 21st century? Nothing, apparently. In Casino Royale, Craig’s first outing in the role, he was asked by the waiter if he wished his martini, shaken or stirred, to which he replied: “Do I look like I give a damn?” Then when it finally was served, shaken or stirred, it now mattered not a jot, it was laced with poison, so no wonder he’s turned to a premium brand of carbonated lager from the Netherlands.

But safety aside, why has Eon Productions, keeper of the flame of James Bond, appeared so keen to remodel his palate? The answer is simple: money. According to press reports Heineken is paying around £25 million to have its brand projected onto the big screen with Craig sipping from a bottle and the film’s director, Sam Mendes agreeing to direct a commercial for the brand. As we have seen, the James Bond movies helped to pioneer the art of product placement, with Broccoli even doing a deal with KFC so that it would appear as the favoured fast food chain of Felix Leiter, Bond’s CIA friend. In Moonraker, when the film’s budget ballooned from $20 million to $35m, the producers struck deals with 7 Up, British Airways and Marlboro cigarettes.

Yet it appears that the product placement has become more obvious over the years. Die Another Day, Pierce Brosnan’s final outing as the character was so stuffed with brands that it was dubbed “Buy Another Day” while in Casino Royale, Bond’s new watch was even named in an excruciating piece of dialogue with Vesper Lynn, his Treasury minder who enquired of his timepiece: “Rolex?” Bond: “No, Omega, actually.” The film also had so many scenes featuring Virgin Atlantic, including a shot of Richard Branson going through airport security that British Airways later snipped them out when screening the film as part of their onboard entertainment system.

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Eon Productions has, over the years, usually managed to secure a quarter to a third of the film’s final budget from onscreen advertisements. When, in Goldeneye, James Bond’s tank smashed through a branded Perrier truck, it wasn’t a convenient accident that one just happened to be at hand.

For Peter Walshe, global brandz director of Millward Brown, which advises commercial brands, the key to successful product placement is having the film and the product fit, which, he insists, James Bond and Heineken do.

“Bond has always been a bit of a rebel, so doing things differently is good! He also represents a degree of style – and Heineken is a great brand that can live up to a bit of a surprise and cheeky style. The brand fit is excellent as our data shows that Heineken is ‘adventurous’, ‘brave’, ‘rebellious’, ‘fun’ and ‘sexy’. Could be describing James Bond. Good for Bond, good for Heineken. It is literally refreshing the parts.”

The question is, will Heineken enjoy a suitable return on its investment? Will, for example, the diehard Bond fan, having devoted his life to swallowing down a chilled Martini without screwing up his face, now opt, with relief, for a pint of lager? Walshe insists that “not that many people would naively say: ‘because James Bond is drinking Heineken in a film, I have got to drink it’. It is a much lighter social contract with the brand, but nevertheless, if the fit is good and done in an interesting way, that can be very memorable and generate good sales for the brand.”

There will be those who take delight in Bond’s cost-cutting decision to abandon the cocktail list for the proletarian pitcher. Mark Cousins, the former director of Edinburgh Film Festival and the director of A Film Odyssey, said: “Bond was always a name dropper, a label queen, to use modern parlance. I think it is great – and amusing – that commercial pressures are forcing him to be a bit déclassé. Bond is a snob and it’s nice to see snobs having to rub shoulders with the rest of us.

“It would be better still if his new swally were to be Jägermeister or Tesco’s Pinot Grigio. Imagine them trying to shoe-horn that into the story.” «