Bond. James Gold Bond Medicated Powder.
When 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies had Bond leave his Aston Martin behind for a BMW (a four-door, because Bond sometimes takes the family out for ice cream, I guess), 00-nerds everywhere figured that was as far as product placement could go. The venerable spy had been bought off, but at least his drink was still his drink. Until…
This week it was announced that the upcoming Daniel Craig-starrer Skyfall (never trust a Bond movie that sounds like a rejected Atari 2600 game) would feature Bond killing some brain cells with Heineken, yes, Heineken, the beer really best known for its availability.
Product placement (sometimes known by its MBA name, “brand integration”) isn’t always a bad thing. TV and movies from the ‘70s and ‘80s hardly ever showed name-brand cereals or sodas, with some even disguising the recognizable names with masking tape. It was distracting, and kind of stupid. (“I wish I knew what kind of soda Farrah Fawcett was drinking – red with a white swoosh? – that’s a real puzzler. Oh well, back to the nipples. I mean action. I mean nipples.”)
Ever since 1982’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial made Reese’s Pieces famous (after M&M’s said no), it’s become increasingly rare for any big-budget movie or network TV show to be made without some “promotional consideration by…” some major commercial concern. Apple Computers, and Coca-Cola are among the most-visible players in the field, but everyone does it.
While there are clearly no limits, there are rules. Here’s just a few criteria producers should use before agreeing to let their characters get branded.
DOES IT MAKE THE CHARACTER SEEM LAME?
It’s fine for Jack Bauer to drive a Ford on 24. He’s a government official, we assume he wouldn’t have a fancy car. Besides, in any given season he’s on the run by the end of the first episode, stealing whatever cars/trucks/helicopters he can get his lethal hands on, so who cares? But when the Fantastic Four piles into the flying “Fantasticar” with a giant Dodge logo on the front, a character scours the web with AOL’s search engine, or anyone drives a Prius, everyone loses.
DOES IT MAKE THE PRODUCT SEEM LAME BECAUSE WE KNOW WHAT IT’S DOING IS IMPOSSIBLE?
Forgetting for a minute that every TV show and movie character has the magical power to make cellphones work in areas where you’d be lucky to get one bar, smartphones on TV and in movies stagger the imagination. On Person of Interest, iPhones can clone other phones from across the street while, on 24, Jack Bauer’s Treo (ask your dad) could identify terrorists, upload floorplans remotely, and people’s locations. It couldn’t fix Elisha Cuthbert’s acting problems, but that’s probably just because he wouldn’t trust her with the phone.
WILL A PRODUCT YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF DISTRACT YOU FROM THE STORY?
Reese’s Pieces weren’t well-known when E.T. came out, but they weren’t uneard-of. On 24 (which never met a placement it didn’t like), when the President gathers the Cabinet using Cisco Systems’ then-brand-new videoconference equipment and they show the logo every time, you don’t think “boy Cisco Systems is cool,” all you think is “man, those guys must have paid a FORTUNE.”
So back to Heineken and Bond. On the face of it, this seems like such an off-brand distraction that it can’t help but fail. But since we don’t know exactly how it will be worked into the story, we can’t be positive it won’t work. Maybe Bond gets injured and loses his taste buds. Then it becomes a joke, like Doritos being used to make a designer drug in 21 Jump Street, or when a gorilla makes Kevin James take him to T.G.I. Friday’s in Zookeeper, which neatly established that gorillas have terrible taste in chain restaurants. (Friday’s doesn’t even know how to spell “hospitaliano.”)
Heineken has big hopes for its Skyfall campaign, with plans to be known as Bond’s drink of choice in more than 170 countries. But in every one of those countries, Bond fans have known one indisputable truth for decades: while most girls don’t really care what you drink, you will never get Pussy Galore with beer.
Ivan Cohen writes for Mancave Daily and has been published in TV Guide, The New York Post, and on Newsweek.com. Follow him on Twitter @ivanmcohen.