Product placement in ‘Skyfall’ is nothing new to James Bond films
The recent release of Skyfall has led to many disgruntled fans expressing their frustration at the sight of James Bond electing to drink a Heineken beer rather than his signature vodka martini. Many were annoyed by the Bond franchise ‘selling out’ to the point of altering a well-loved character’s trademark drink in order to suit the highest bidder (in this case a Dutch lager). Director Sam Mendes and star Daniel Craig were quick to defend the large-scale product placement in Skyfall as a now unavoidable element of mainstream film-making; and despite the umbrage felt by audiences, it’s somewhat difficult to disagree with them.
The history of product placement in cinema is as old as the medium itself. However, due to the secrecy and subtlety of product placement deals it is difficult to confirm whether it has occurred, even if seems to be intentional in the film. As a consequence, it is difficult for me to confirm whether a product placement deal has taken place however, in my opinion it would appear that in certain films some sort of product placement may have taken place. For example, the apparent plugging of confectionary and magazines can be found in classic films such as the first Academy Award Best Picture Winner, Wings (1927), Fritz Lang’s M (1931), and Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life (1946).
There is a misguided perception that product placement is a modern phenomenon because brands constantly change face and it may be difficult to spot in older movies. However, it should not be forgotten that many have highlighted the James Bond franchise’s notoriety for brand tie-ins over the years. In fact, before signing a long-standing deal with Smirnoff vodka, 007 was seen sipping on a Red Stripe beer during the first Bond film, Dr. No. Forty years later, Die Another Day broke the record for the film with the most product placement at the time of its release.
It’s unsurprising that the Bond franchise has such a healthy relationship with imbedded marketing. The movies have unparalleled universal appeal (it’s estimated that a third of the world’s population have seen a James Bond film), and 007 is perceived as exactly the sort of suave, stylish and sophisticated gentleman that leading brands wish to be associated with.
Moreover, audiences go into a Bond film to witness a spectacle – be it a rooftop motorbike chase, or an underground train crash – and those scenes do not come cheap. Considering that MGM went bankrupt during the production of Skyfall; I think it might have been difficult for producers to resist agreeing on Bond drinking a Heineken in one scene, when that deal covered 30 per cent of the movie’s production budget. In fact, I believe that a modern blockbuster has to be pretty remarkable nowadays not to resort to product placement in some form in order to secure a profit.
After all, a massive bonus of the digital age is the ability for people to immediately view content without advertisements. The growing popularity of digital TV recording, and the downloading and streaming of movies, has made it increasingly difficult for advertisers to force their products upon you before you sit down to enjoy a film. If you wish to continue enjoying movies, whilst avoiding being bombarded by a string of unrelated ads at the start of a movie, it may be necessary to tolerate a few brand names popping up during the feature presentation.
Of course, some of the most esteemed working auteurs are so confident of their ability to create profitable films that they can flaunt the dearth of product placement within their movies. Directors like Quentin Tarantino (Red Apple Cigarettes, Big Kahuna Burger) Kevin Smith (Mooby’s) and Spike Lee (Da Bomb Malt Liquor) have the talent and cult following to seemingly reject large-scale product placement in favour of repeatedly plugging their own invented brands.
Even though this may seem foolish in a business sense, their confidence in the cult and critical success of their productions is what drives their films to be made, and allows them a greater freedom in terms of what makes the final cut. Not all filmmakers share this confidence in the financial success of their movies; so may have to rely on product placement to secure their productions a steady financial footing before the film is distributed.
However, the main problem that audiences seem to have is not with the increasingly apparent need for product placement, but rather with the garish nature in which brands tend to be presented on screen. Whilst it is not known whether product placement deals lie behind them, in my opinion the clumsy appearance of brands in some movies result in on-screen situations running contrary to reality. For instance, in The Social Network there is a student who has a mini-fridge full of Mountain Dew, but devoid of alcohol. Then there are instances that insult the viewer with a crass breaking of the fourth wall, such as Will Smith spontaneously expressing his love for Converse All-Stars in I, Robot.
Saying this, I think there have also been astute uses of genuine brands – not necessarily product placement – in films, which have provided filmmakers with the ability to ground a situation in the real world. A Wilson volleyball in Castaway, for example, plays a supporting rôle and provides much of the film’s comic relief; whilst the brand names that feature in Fight Club enjoy the honour of being destroyed by the anti-consumerists of Project Mayhem. The potential intelligent usage of product placement could therefore please audiences, filmmakers and advertisers alike by creating entertaining and believable scenes set within realistic, though branded, environments.
In an industry dominated by mega-budget blockbusters, product placement is apparently sometimes a necessary evil for studios that are attempting to recoup the huge costs of a film that they may suspect to be large on spectacle, but low on ‘arthouse movie’ substance.
In my opinion, as long as the brands featured within films are tastefully handled within realistic settings, they stand to provide more big-budget action for moviegoers who are now free to avoid conventional adverts altogether. Even if you still can’t tolerate Bond’s prolonged staring at his Omega watch, or lingering shots of the front of his Land Rover; you can always choose to watch one of the many independent films that secure funding solely based on the decency of their script, and the talent of their cast and director, rather than the universality of their brand appeal.Tagged in: daniel craig, Heineken, james bond, omega, product placement, red stripe, sam mendes, Skyfall, Wil smith
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