Product placement is a fact of life.
There’s no getting away from it and, if it funds great flicks, long may it continue. But as with so much these days, it seems now to be running away in superfluous deliverance. Film integrated advertising has lost its subtlety. No longer is it merely embedded within cinema, gently filtering into our brains and only whispering at us to buy; now it shouts to us from inside Coca Cola cans and slaps us in the face with Omega watch-wearing wrists.
James Bond has always been a materialistic man. You can’t be a top spy without enjoying the finer things in life, after all. His cars, armoury and suits have always been of utmost sophistication. Even Ian Fleming mentioned Cartier in print. That set the standard. Lately though, it appears Bond has hit hard times.
In the much-talked about Heineken ad we witness the man himself chatting over a cold one, and it’s said that a scene in which Bond slugs back a brew is likely to appear in Skyfall’s theatrical release. Not really something that parallels introducing your name by stating your surname, then first name with your surname, you know? And just because it says ‘premium’ on the bottle does not make it Bondworthy. You don’t step out of an Aston Martin wearing a dinner suit and crack open a lager; just as Homer Simpson doesn’t step out of his big red wagon and pour himself a glass of Bollinger.
It’s claimed that without the reported £45 million revenue Heineken poured into the film, Skyfall would not have gone ahead. This seems strange to me; Bond is so perpetual a character that it’s hard to imagine a world without him. And, as we know, he always triumphs. He always finds a way. Did the film really hinge on one deal? Indeed, today it’s commonplace for blockbusters to require lavish funding from brands, and I’m sure we’d all rather see Skyfall happen than not – but still, why did it have to be lager? The reasoning as to the revenue is understandable, but the choice is not. Bond is man of elegance. Bond, ‘007’ himself, is a cocktail man.
"A vodka martini to Bond is the free kick to David Beckham, the high trousers to Simon Cowell"
Of course, it’s important at times for him to blend into his surroundings. In Dr. No, Bond’s first appearance as an international superspy, he leans next to a Red Stripe while in a Jamaican bar. He has sipped Scotch in the past; he’s even been seen with a mojito. But in those cases the beverages were purely situational - they were not his implicit drink of choice. A vodka martini to Bond is the free kick to David Beckham; high trousers to Simon Cowell; what the moonwalk was to Michael Jackson. It’s his trademark. Swapping Bond’s lemon twist for a lager is like Shakespeare being paid to write with a biro rather than a quill. It just looks wrong.
In 2006 it was reported that product placement across all media was worth over £3.3 billion. You cannot dispute the necessity, and it would be explicitly unwise not to tap into it. It’s been a part of cinema since the industry began – one of the earliest examples being 1919’s The Garage, which featured Red Crown Gas. Today, even Hollyoaks alone is said to be worth £12 million, and who on earth watches that?
The problem is, when you meddle with the crux of a personality and change the whole tone of a character’s persona, that artistic credibility is compromised. Business may pull the strings, but it seems a shame when it stifles the essence of the creation. It’s easy to sweepingly use the clichéd ‘selling out’ conception negatively; when really, everyone ‘sells out’ in some way. It’s just about selling out in the right way.
"I have no doubt that if Jesus was walking around today he’d be sponsored by Birkenstock. Socrates by Muller Greek Style yogurt"
I have no doubt that if Jesus was walking around today he’d be sponsored by Birkenstock. Socrates by Muller Greek Style yogurt. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Everyone who’s anyone in the public eye is backed financially to some extent. But Bond veritably defined by a lager is just too far. It doesn’t fit the image. And where does this incongruousness end? If Heineken, why not a can of Stella? Maybe a little bit of extra violence won’t matter. Why, even McDonald’s? You can see it now: James Bond ordering a Big Mac just before shooting his adversary and jumping head-first through a big yellow 'M’ in the window. ‘Would you like fries with that, Mr Bond?’ ‘But of course. Salted. No sauce.’