Licence to sell: is Bond's new-found taste for Heineken a brand-movie tie-up too far?

With Daniel Craig reaching for a Heineken in the latest James Bond movie, Simon Kershaw explores the fragile relationship between brands and film.

James Bond is back in 'Skyfall'
James Bond is back in 'Skyfall'

'Bond. James Bond.' Welcome to the UK's most successful and long-running film franchise. Since 1962, Eon Productions has launched 22 official Bond films, which have taken $5bn at the box office. This week, Bond celebrates 50 years on celluloid with the premiere of Skyfall - the 23rd film in the canon - starring Daniel Craig.

Skyfall is as close as you can get to a guaranteed gold-plated global hit, so it's hardly surprising that brands fall over themselves to be seen in the movie or create tie-ins. This begs several questions. Are we still in the age of product placement, or have we entered a new era of sophisticated co-creation between brands and film-makers? Or, in the wake of Red Bull Stratos, do brands no longer need film, choosing instead to create their own content?

In Skyfall, two Bond stalwarts return to the big screen - the Aston Martin DB5 and Omega watch - while trend-spotters may nod with approval at the Tom Ford tailoring and Sony Xperia smartphone. However, instead of reaching for a bottle of Champagne or shaking a vodka Martini, 007 chooses a Heineken. Yes, a Heineken.

Greg Nugent (pictured, right), the outgoing brand, marketing and culture director at London 2012, invested in the feature film Somers Town in 2008 while he was Eurostar's marketing director. He describes brands' involvement with Bond films as the kind of 'overt, clunky' product placement that was comprehensively parodied in movies as far back as Wayne's World (1992) and, more recently, The Truman Show (1998).

So what's the alternative? Take the partnership between Orange and the film industry, which has received high praise. There are several strands to the campaign: the 'gold spot' cinema commercials satirising the movie pitch; the Orange Wednesdays initiative, which has turned cinema's slowest night into the second busiest; and the brand's support of the BAFTAs.

David Roberts, head of entertainment at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment, favours such an approach - one that seeks a 'mutual benefit' between brand and film. Distributors, of course, are looking for audiences, especially for independently produced movies, while brands are looking for content to engage consumers and feed their social-media output.

The big picture

The association between brands and film is well established, and several companies have increased the impact of these deals through digital and experiential activity. Outdoor film screenings in partnership with brands, pioneered by Stella Artois, is one way to reach high numbers of consumers in a convivial environment. For its client NatWest, M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment has put together a Film First programme of outdoor screenings, and created a Cult Film Club in association with Irish whiskey brand Jameson.

Away from the siren calls of Hollywood, there are, says Roberts, 'clever ways to get involved' with film. Some brand-owners look beyond cinemas to a broader view, where involvement in a film is just one part of branded entertainment. This may take the form of a feature, but is just as likely to be a YouTube channel, webcast or download. For example, O2 has developed deployment of film as part of the strategy for its O2 GuruTV channel on YouTube. From its origins as a video-helpline, GuruTV has blossomed to include five content formats, including product reviews and celebrity interviews. 'We know more than 60% of consumers use their mobile phones to capture film or images,' Tom Sutton, O2's head of brand experience, explains. 'Therefore, for O2 Guru TV we decided to launch a project demonstrating the creative possibilities of the latest phones. To celebrate the most exciting British summer in years, O2 is launching Six Degrees of Summer - a short film made by award-winning British directors, curated by BAFTA-winner Tom Shankland, and shot entirely on smartphones.'

The plan is for Six Degrees of Summer to be shown at film festivals and distributed beyond YouTube, extending the association for the brand even further.

Of course, shooting a film on a smartphone is not every director's dream. For each brand that has faced criticism for trampling on the creative endeavour of film, there is another happy to take a back seat. To mark the opening of St Pancras International station, Eurostar took an advertising idea from Mother and turned it into the 2008 feature film Somers Town, directed by Shane Meadows.

Set in the London district close to the station, the film only fleetingly features Eurostar. Nugent, Eurostar's marketing director at the time, stepped back from a dictatorial marketing brief, even though the brand was funding the picture. However, critics have questioned whether this hands-off approach translated to any discernible return on investment for the brand.

Somers Town won Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival and has since been aired on the BBC. However, Nugent is careful to stress the unusual nature of the project. 'It was a unique occasion, a seismic moment, and a big creative leap was just as appropriate for the opening of a new rail service as it would be for, say, the introduction of 4G or electric cars,' he says. Nugent concludes that Bond films are 'a red herring for most brands, but if the fit is right and the people are right, the end product can be brilliant'.

Brand fit was top of mind for Anthony Ireson, Ford Britain's marketing director, when a film version of The Sweeney offered the car marque an opportunity to revive a relationship dating back to the original 70s TV series.

'The new Focus ST is for driving enthusiasts, so (The Sweeney characters) Regan and Carter weren't disappointed,' he says. Ford's involvement with the film, released last month, included brand integration, production support and co-marketing, in a deal developed and negotiated by entertainment partnership agency Film Tree.

Nick Love, director and co-writer of the film, says it was 'important to collaborate with Ford on The Sweeney as its legacy with the TV show is so strong - it's the perfect partner'. On the back of this partnership, Ford agencies Ogilvy & Mather Advertising and Wunderman launched the Focus ST campaign at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, followed by ads spanning press, outdoor and the internet.

All this is a long way from the 1988 movie Mac and Me, which featured an incongruous dance scene set in a McDonald's restaurant - a clunky brand tie-in that pales in comparison with the subtle and ongoing inclusion of Bollinger Champagne in the Bond series.

There are, however, many routes to the red carpet, and a growing number of brands are walking the crimson velvet by creating their own content. Red Bull, for example, has been so successful at staging events and creating content that it is now associated with far more than its core product - an energy drink.

The brand's Art of Flight feature film, which told the story of the world's top snowboarders, was the bestselling movie on the iTunes Store in the week of its release. Making a film outright, rather than simply buying a slice of involvement, isn't cheap, but this ownership of content gives brands the benefit of being able to distribute images and clips across digital channels, free from the burden of overprotective film studios.

Not every brand has the ambition to embrace content marketing to this degree, and many film directors would no doubt have qualms about product-owners becoming the hub of filmmaking. However, as Orange's tie-up with film has proved, authentic support of the industry can still pay dividends.







1. Red Stripe

While Bond purists might be alarmed at Daniel Craig ordering a Heineken instead of a dry Martini in Skyfall, beer has featured repeatedly in 007 movies. Red Stripe has the accolade of being the first lager to appear in a Bond film, featuring in his first big-screen foray, Dr No, in 1962. Sean Connery punches his contact, Quarrell, into a pile of Red Stripe boxes in a bar in Jamaica.

2. KFC

In the days before Kentucky Fried Chicken became known as KFC, the fast-food brand appeared in 1964's Goldfinger. In the film's climax, FBI agents stake out Fort Knox from a KFC restaurant.

3. BP

For oil giant BP, it was a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance in A View to a Kill. Bond's associate, played by The Avengers' Patrick Macnee, is assassinated at a car wash in a BP service station.

4. Renault

A View to a Kill has several scenes set in France, so it's perhaps little surprise that Renault has several cameos. The standout has to be the car chase in which Roger Moore hijacks a Renault taxi and repeatedly crashes it until he's left driving just the front half of the car.

5. Unigate

Unigate Milk's sexiest, if rather misplaced, marketing coup was a placement in The Living Daylights. A KGB agent disguised as a milkman pulls up at a mansion in a Unigate-branded milk float - before flinging bombs disguised as milk bottles at Western agents.

6. Lark Cigarettes

Anyone remember Lark Cigarettes? They were the Philip Morris brand smoked by Timothy Dalton in Licence to Kill, with a pack even doubling as a gadget in one scene. The brand's rather crass placement sounded a death knell for tobacco promotions in films when it provoked calls to ban the practice. Licence to Kill was also the first Bond film to feature a Surgeon General's tobacco warning in the closing credits.

7. Avis

In Tomorrow Never Dies, Avis does not merely get an on-screen nod, but has gadget aficionado Q intercepting Pierce Brosnan at an airport, disguised as an employee of the car rental firm, replete in red blazer and tie.

8. Ford

Ford's first foray into Bond was the roaring, tyre-screeching Mustang in Diamonds are Forever. Its involvement later becomes less glamorous, with a Mondeo featuring in Casino Royale (Ford was rapped by the ASA for subsequently implying in ads that Bond drove a Focus in the film) and - even more ridiculously - a Ka in Quantum of Solace.

9. Avon

Rather tenuous this, but door-to-door cosmetics brand Avon may have 'appeared' in Quantum of Solace. Actress Gemma Arterton heavily endorsed the brand's perfume line Bond Girl 007 - and could have been wearing it in the movie ...

10. Omega

If there were an award for the least subtle Bond product placement, it would go to watch brand Omega. In Casino Royale, a scene with Craig's 007 and Eva Green's Vesper Lynd contains the following exchange:

Lynd (admiring Bond's watch, clearly mistaking his timepiece for a more expensive brand): 'Rolex?'

Bond: 'Omega.'

Lynd: 'Beautiful.'

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