James Bond is back. And he brought his brand with him. Skyfall, the twenty third film in the 007 movie franchise, lands today in movie theaters across the United States after earning £50 million in 10 days in the United Kingdom (a U.K. record). In fact, Skyfall, the third Bond to feature Daniel Craig, began conquering audiences long before the movie opened. Skyfall has generated strong buzz through a masterful mix of PR and marketing that capitalizes on 2012 being Bond’s 50th anniversary on film. By celebrating both 007’s past and his future, Eon Productions, which has reaped $4.9 billion from the Bond movie franchise, has positioned Bond as a brand with timeless appeal.
You Can’t Buy This Kind of Advertising
You know can always tell when a phenomenon enjoys media saturation by walking through a busy airport terminal past the crowded newsstands, which give you a quick snapshot of pop culture from magazine covers vying for your eyeballs. Daniel Craig’s macho face is everywhere, gracing the covers of publications ranging from Entertainment Weekly to Vanity Fair. And the PR explosion has occurred at international, national, and local levels. In London, Bond graces the cover of British GQ. In New Orleans (a city that immediately evokes Bond’s eighth movie appearance, Live and Let Die), The Times-Picayune has been featuring in-depth looks at the history of Bond via a special series, “007 Days of James Bond.”
The James Bond brand enjoys a double benefit. On the one hand, news media are fascinated with his movie heritage, dating back to when Sean Connery muscled his way onscreen in Dr. No in 1962. (But the Ian Fleming books appear to have missed out on the party.) At the same time, the charismatic Daniel Craig has revived interest in a franchise that was ebbing when Pierce Brosnan made his final appearance as Bond in Die Another Day. Bond is the fabled Aston Martin he drives: both the vintage and newer models captivate. In particular, Vanity Fair does a masterful job having it both ways, looking back to celebrating 50 years of James Bond on film in September and then anticipating Skyfall by profiling Daniel Craig in October.
Meantime, Isaac Chotiner of Slate is having a field day ranking the best and worst of Bond. In July the staid New York Times discussed how shorter swim trunks have become de rigueur for men since Daniel Craig sported a trim pair of GrigioPerla trunks in Casino Royale five years ago (just one piece of evidence demonstrating 007’s influence on society).
Bond is a media darling. And I’m not even scratching the surface with my examples.
The Return of Adele
Bond theme songs have come a long way since the brassy strains John Barry and his orchestra accompanied the opening credits of Dr. No. The release of a Bond theme song is now an event unto itself, designed to build anticipation for the return of 007. But like Super Bowl halftime shows, the songs have a spotty past, ranging from memorable (“Live and Let Die,” by Paul McCartney) to the awful (Nancy Sinatra’s rendition of “You Only Live Twice).
The Bond franchise has soared with Adele’s sultry Skyfall theme, which debuted at Number 8 in the Billboard Hot 100 (the first Bond theme to debut inside the Top 10) and became a Number 1 seller on iTunes within hours of its release.
“Skyfall” is being hailed as an instant Bond classic, with Rolling Stone’s description as a “soaring 007 ode” being pretty typical of the song’s critical reception. As Adam B. Vary of Entertainment Weekly wrote, “Beyond its lush cinematic sweep, I’m most impressed by how the lyrics manage to work as a classically composed torch song while also evoking what appears to be the inciting incident of the film.”
But beyond the merits of the song, “Skyfall” also adds an element of drama to the movie’s build-up: the song represents the first studio recording for the storied British songwriter and singer since January 2011. Since that time, she’s enjoyed stardom, the pain of vocal cord surgery, the joy of motherhood, and now what appears to be a smashing return to usher in a sexy new Bond movie. She is a sympathetic figure and a wise choice for “Skyfall.”
As Keith Caulfield of Billboard‘s associate editor of charts, said, “Bond themes have a spotty record. There’s no guarantee. Selecting Adele was a very conscious decision to go after a hit. It’s like calling up Taylor Swift for The Hunger Games. You know it’s at least going to attract a lot of attention.”
The Playful Bond
The most imaginative Skyfall promotions bring everyday people into a storytelling experience. For instance, Coke Zero gave visitors to the Antwerp Central Station in Belgium the chance to play Bond. Unsuspecting travelers wanting to buy a Coke from a tricked-out vending machine in the station received an invitation (flashed on the front of the machine) to win free Skyfall tickets. Those who accepted were given 70 seconds to race to Platform 6. Along the way, contestants were surprised by obstacles (planted by Coke Zero) such as annoying joggers who refused to get out of the way as the Bonds-for-a-moment scrambled to Platform 6 for their free passes. Jolly good!
Meantime, Heineken gives everyone of legal drinking age the chance to direct your own Bond movie. Through a specially made movie linked to your Facebook profile a Bond girl helps you find hidden briefcases stored in a fast-moving train — an experience made even more engaging by the surprising appearance of your Facebook photo in certain key segments of the short movie. The experience is guaranteed to have everyone in your home or office gathered around your computer as you play.
Note that the two best Bond promotions involve co-branding partners (who have deep pockets and access to the most imaginative advertising talent) and employ storytelling. Producers Eon Productions and MGM, along with distributor Sony Pictures Entertainment, are smart to co-brand with partners who are willing to go beyond predictable product placements and advertisement and instead employ the art of storytelling and audience immersion. It’s easy for audiences to tune out advertising — not so easy when we are willingly part of the ad.
The Digital Bond
James Bond flourishes in the digital world. The centerpiece of the Skyfall digital experience is the official movie website (customized for eight countries), which is a hub for all things Skyfall. The site features the sexy, brooding image of Daniel Craig prominently, and for good reason: his is the face that rebooted the Bond franchise when he stunned longtime 007 loyalists by having the nerve to be an icy blond Bond. Among the website’s features: high-definition movie excerpts and “news from the set” (such as the availability of a Bond poster app).
But the site is also a jumping off point for a broader Bond digital experience. And by encouraging visitors to Tweet (with the pre-populated #SKYFALL hashtag) and post on their Facebook and Google+ accounts, Skyfall courts a digitally savvy and social audience. Moreover, the website and Facebook pages contain links to ticket booking sites in order to drive commerce.
The digital Bond also celebrates his past and future. By linking to the official 007.com website (through a “Half a Century of Bond” link), the Skyfall website pays homage to Bond’s legacy. Moreover, the official Facebook page contains both updates about Skyfall and Bond trivia (Sample wall post for November 6: “ON THIS DAY IN BOND HISTORY: 1973, shooting began on THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN.”)
But if you want to enjoy a more interactive, the aforementioned Heineken game is a more immersive experience. Another clever tie-in is an interactive game, “Fit to Serve” test created by Wieden + Kennedy to promote the movie and Sony’s own interactive brand of Bond games. “Fit to Serve” is a lifelike, five-part examination that tests your aptitude for serving as an agent. You find “Fit to Serve” through a cryptic URL address, 188.8.131.52, which puts you through a battery of questions that appear as old-school computer prompts. The experience is low-tech — and every bit as immersive as a movie game.
Daniel Craig is carrying the torch now with sex appeal, emotion, and intelligence. Skyfall already enjoys a strong start based on a multi-media experience and a strong opening in the United Kingdom. And James Bond has proven himself to be a timeless brand.