Why a Bond tie-up can be the kiss of death for brands

In the world of product placement and brand sponsorship, James Bond gets away with murder. It’s hard to imagine any film or franchise that could have so many sponsors, yet somehow manages to avoid a backlash from viewers who see it as undermining the integrity of the story.

But Bond is different. Unlike most films, Bond seems to have a “licence to brand.” When brands show up, most viewers hardly bat an eyelid. Some even embrace the concept, with dedicated fans going through each frame of the film to find every single product so they can go and buy them.

Given the recent valuation of the Bond franchise now at £13 billion, it’s no surprise that brands want their very own slice of the pie. But it’s arguable whether this particular pie really provides the sustenance for which these brands are looking.

While much has been said of the potential for success that comes with a Bond partnership, a fair few of these partnerships haven’t worked out quite so successfully.

Remember Sony Vaio? In the 2012 film Skyfall, this PC brand was featured prominently and effectively presented as “the laptop that MI6 uses.” A huge coup for Sony, one would think: in one of the biggest films of the year, the Vaio became associated with the exciting, high-tech and luxury world of Bond.

How did this work out for Sony? Last year, Sony ended up selling off its PC division and making 5,000 staff redundant. Turns out that for all of the expense that came with sponsoring Bond, the brand awareness it created could not stem declining PC sales and a shrinking market share. And Sony Mobile hasn’t fared much better, still struggling to stay ahead despite shrinking sales.

Of course there’s Heineken International, a company one could hardly label as in decline, with an astonishing 81% increase in profits at the start of this year. But what has Heineken’s £28 million Bond partnership really done for the brand? Certainly it has created more exposure for the product, but a lot of this was the product of a backlash from fans unhappy that Bond’s martini – “shaken not stirred” – had been displaced by the sponsorship deal. Worse still, the Heineken beer featured in only one scene – for the rest of the film, the characters drank Macallan whisky, a brand that had paid absolutely nothing for the product placement. Suddenly, the £28 million fee doesn’t seem like such a good deal.

And for Aston Martin, it’s more “die another day.” For the car maker struggling to stay profitable, the temporary boost in sales from each Bond movie is said to give Aston an extra two years of life. An unusual survival strategy certainly, but not the sustainable solution that Aston really needs.

It’s easy to buy into the cult of Bond, believing that it is an easy way of achieving huge increases brand awareness while positively associating your products with luxury and excitement. But for a brand placement to be successful, it needs to be carefully targeted, appropriately contextualised, and properly evaluated.

The Bond brand is not a panacea, it’s merely another pie. In the right context, it can provide a boost to awareness and sales; but it cannot sustain and develop your brand in the long-term. If you place too much faith in the power of Bond, you may forget one fundamental truth: here is one movie brand that is stronger than any product placement; the action, the breath-taking stunts – and yes, even the basic plotline of good overcoming evil – means that we suspend disbelief for the pure pleasure of Mr Bond. And that means we pretty much ignoring anything that gets in the way, sponsor brands included.