One of the most enjoyable things about the Sony Pictures hack of last Christmas was the leaking of a bunch of emails full of gossip about Bond 24, aka Spectre. We learned that the film's script hadn't gone down too well with executives at the studio. We also learned that the budget for Spectre was in serious danger of skyrocketing way north of $200m and closer to $300m. That would take the film somewhere into "most expensive of all time" territory.
If you can't imagine how a James Bond flick could possibly cost such an insane amount of money to make... well, let's just say you're part of a not very exclusive club. All we really know for sure is that there's only one way a studio can afford to spunk so much money away on a movie.
That's right. The art of product placement must come into play.
Of course, the relationship between Bond and premium brands is as steeped in tradition as his interactions with disrobed exotic women or his love of vodka martini - in fact, Bond's drink of choice usually happens to be whichever brand has a deal with the film's producers, which is a remarkably lucky coincidence.
In Casino Royale, as Bond and Vesper size each other up during their sexually-charged first encounter on the train, we get a classic example of the less-than subtle way the 007 films work product placement into the script.
Vesper: "Former SAS types with easy smiles and expensive watches... Rolex?"
Bond [smiling]: "Omega."
In this case Omega not only get a mention, but there's an implication that they're a superior brand to Rolex, because Bond wears their watches. Omega probably paid in the region of $10m for the privilege. The truth is that you simply can't make a blockbuster without product placement. With that in mind, let's take a look back at some of the most hilarious, least subtle occasions on which James pocketed a handsome paycheque and sold his soul to the corporate devil.
A long history of vodka martini... and the occasional beer
Over the course of 53 years of cinema, Bond, being a high-functioning alcoholic, has enjoyed many a vodka martini. In Spectre, Bond's regular tipple will be made with Belvedere vodka.
As Charless Gibb, President of Belvedere Vodka explains in the above video, Belvedere are "honoured, privileged and overwhelmed" to be a part of the Spectre experience. The brand has yet to reveal precisely how much money was thrown at Barbara Broccoli and the Bond producers to win the endorsement, but cast your mind back to October 2012, when this insanely expensive advert-slash-mini-spy-movie starring Daniel Craig and Berenice Marlohe debuted on TV ahead of the Skyfall release to promote Heineken beer.
The advert is fun (they also got a shot of Bond drinking the light bottled beer in the final cut of the film) and riffs off 50 years of Bond history, even incorporating a cameo from Dr. No himself with some clever visual effects work, but it didn't come cheap: in total Heineken paid $45m to promote their beer in Skyfall.
Or, to put in another way, they covered just shy of 25% of the film's total budget. Some fans were pretty pissed about Bond turning his back on vodka, but hey - money talks, right?
Of course, when you've got a raging hangover there's little more refreshing than sparkling mineral water from the springs of southern France. A lot of people mistakenly imagine that product placement is a new phenomenon, but it's not - we're just more cynical about it these days. At the time this scene in which Bond crashes a tank through the streets of Moscow and decimates a truck loaded with Perrier mineral water probably didn't get that much attention.
Of course, 007's solution to a hangover is to drink through it, so the promotion of mineral water is probably a creative liberty, but we'll look past that - because as we're about to find out, it's far from the most outrageous Bond endorsement.
That time the world's greatest spy drove a Ford Mondeo. Seriously.
The Aston Martin DB5 first seen in Goldfinger and then given a spin five decades later in Skyfall remains by far Bond's most iconic vehicle, and today Aston Martin are still paying for Bond to promote their luxury supercars - the Aston you'll see James driving in Spectre isn't even going to be available for mere mortals to buy. The very fact that he's at the wheel of an Aston Martin is promotion enough for their very exclusive brand.
But 007's choice of wheels hasn't always been so exclusive. During back-to-back films in the '90s, Pierce Brosnan's Bond drove a BMW - a pimped-out 7 Series in Tomorrow Never Dies and a feminine Z8 cabriolet in The World is Not Enough.
The pre-credits sequence that kicks off Skyfall features Bond giving chase to a henchman on a motorcross bike on the rooftops of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar... on a Honda. Skyfall is so laced with product placement (the opening sequence alone features products from Audi, VW, Honda, Land Rover and Omega) that you can make an excellent drinking game out of spotting the endorsements. M drinks Macallan whisky. Bond wears a tailored Tom Ford suit and sunglasses. And so on, and so forth. In total the endorsements in this movie likely amounted to north of $75m, which would have covered most or all of Sony's marketing spend.
And this clip from Casino Royale is pretty amazing - not only does it feature Bond driving a Ford Mondeo (just take a moment to process that), it also kills two birds with one stone by featuring a long, protracted shot of James gazing at the screen of his Sony Ericsson less-than-smart phone. The film was only made in 2005, but already this scene looks insanely dated, which is why when it comes to tech, Bond should probably limit himself to Walther PPKs and Omega watches.
Does product placement actually work?
Well, that's the 45-million dollar question. It's also impossible to answer without conducting some seriously extensive market research, and it probably depends on the product itself. The numbers of people who watch a Bond film and then head over to a BMW dealership to spend upwards of $50k on a new car are probably pretty limited, whereas Belvedere would probably expect to see an immediate uptick in the sales of their vodka after Spectre.
People are pretty opinionated when it comes to endorsement deals in the Bond movies, but the bottom line is that they're funding the car chases and the exotic locations which make up the DNA of the series. Bond is a fantasy - and if it takes a Belvedere vodka martini to bring that fantasy to life, who are we to complain?
Do you think product placement in Spectre and the Bond films has gone too far, or is it as much a part of the fun as Bond girls and shootouts on ski slopes? Leave a comment and share your thoughts!