The Consumer Republic

The Bond Market
Once upon a time, the Bond girl was the most hyped feature of a James Bond flick. From the moment a 007 movie went into preproduction, everyone wanted to know who among the international gallery of bikini-ready starlets would have legs long enough and cleavage deep enough to be worthy of finding ecstasy in the arms of the Free World’s smoothest secret agent. No more.
In Tomorrow Never Dies, the 19th edition of the Bond epic, bimbos take second billing to Beemers. This time, when audiences come out of the theater waxing rhapsodic about the great pair of headlights on Pierce Brosnan’s co-star, more likely than not they’ll be talking about the front end of his 750i sedan.
This holiday season, 007 has a license to license. Two years ago, GoldenEye entered cinematic marketing history by providing the rocket fuel for BMW’s launch of its Z3 sports roadster. This time around, marketers have lined up for a piece of the action.
BMW is back with not one but two products to flog. It’s sharing the Bond mystique with Ericsson cell phones, Smirnoff vodka, Omega watches, Visa bank cards, Heineken beer and L’Oreal cosmetics. Thanks to their ads, the James Bond theme song permeates the airwaves. At a time when the top-ranked broadcast network can barely scrape together an average rating of 10 points, Tomorrow Never Dies is racking up tens of thousands of gross ratings points. And you thought Dr. No was out to dominate the world.
Add to this the media attention the gluttonous promotional spree has won. No one knows or cares what the damn movie is about, but everyone who turns on a television or reads a magazine knows about its raft of sponsors. GoldenEye was a movie that became the occasion for a marketing event. Tomorrow Never Dies is a marketing event in the form of a movie.
In fact, the greatest danger James Bond faces in Tomorrow Never Dies is being upstaged by the entertainment provided by his promotional partners. Next to BBDO’s Visa spot, with the dense atmospherics and megabuck special effects that only a zillion-dollar-a-second ad budget can buy, the film footage looks cheesy.
But maybe you go to see Bond movies for the chase scenes. Just zap around the dial and you can watch the whole thing from the comfort of your living room in the BMW motorcycle ad. Or what about that cool moment when the remote-control sedan stops a few inches from 007 and Q’s feet? Seen it half a dozen times already. Lucky for distributor MGM/UA, the millions of people who go to James Bond movies–which are more or less the same–don’t mind.
Yet among those who take James Bond seriously, there’s a sense that MGM/UA has been too promiscuous in the brands it’s let bond with Bond. “You’re telling me that James Bond drinks Smirnoff?” sniffs a friend who knows his vodka. Bond would drink Kettel One, he insists, much like the expense-account high rollers who frequent the fashionable bars. I suspect he wouldn’t. 007, with his taste for classic luxuries such as caviar and vintage champagne, wouldn’t be caught dead sipping a cocktail as arriviste as a vodka martini. Anyone with a palate that separates shaken from stirred knows that a martini is made with gin.
Those who feel the Bond sale-a-thon cheapens the aura shouldn’t take it so hard. As flubber flies to Big Macs, so was James Bond destined to ripen into a marketing opportunity. There was a time when the spy had his hands full saving the Free World from wanna-be totalitarians. But since the end of the Cold War, there’s not much call for that kind of thing. In the brave new world of the global marketplace, what’s left for Bond to stand for but global brands?
Besides, Ian Fleming himself was slipping brand names into his books when Bret Easton Ellis was still in diapers. Born into the golden age of mass marketing, Bond was a consumer ahead of his time. He was a connoisseur of fine food and wine in the era of TV dinners. His way was smoothed by nifty technological gadgets in the days when most people had to heave themselves out of easy chairs to change the TV channel. Long before the world ever dreamed of premium vodka, Bond exhibited the only-the-best-is-good-enough discernment that, 30 years later, is the hallmark of American middlebrow taste.
In the ’90s, we’ve all caught up with Her Majesty’s most glamorous spy. These days, 007 resembles every other expense-account bigwig who, when he gets back to headquarters, sits down with his Visa statement and fills out his T&E.
The Heineken ad gets closest to this truth with its parade of regular Joes–all of whom claim to be Bond, James Bond. But, cutting to Pierce Brosnan, the spot veers into bad faith. “There’s only one true James Bond,” it says. The message of the Bond pitchfest, however, is just the opposite: With enough money and the right brands, these marketers promise, we can all be James Bond.