* This is guest post written by Kristine King

On October 9, 2012 Skyfall, the 23rd installment of James Bond, opened in theaters after a much publicized marketing deal of product integration negotiated by producers for financing the project. This not only allowed the film to move forward, it also brought the ‘artistry’ of the Bond franchise back to life…or did it?

After this announcement diehard Bond fans around the globe started a protest agonizing over the expected change of Bond forgoing the usual ‘shaken not stirred’ vodka martini for a Heineken. A small Facebook group called “Boo James Bond’s Heineken Scene” sprung up. It included the complaint: “This is not the time or place for a grisly product placement fiasco of historic proportions.” And on Twitter, users have started using the hashtag #Skyfail to talk about the product-placement deal.

Heineken in Skyfall (Source: Lonocreative.com)


What’s all the hullabaloo about really?

Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson struggled to get the Bond production moving forward for years. It proved to be no easy feat, first they had to find investors.

On April 19, 2010, MGM was heading on a downward spiral and productions were stopped. A few months later MGM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

You would think James Bond diehard fans would be grateful.

The Bond franchise has survived 50 years in the entertainment industry, maneuvering through years of socioeconomic change to arrive with the latest 50th anniversary production, Skyfall.

Skyfall has made it to the “Superbowl” of product placement. Only unlike the Superbowl, which has million dollar commercial deals with the guaranteed onetime exposure to millions; this deal cements the product integration on a global scale into the future. Is the problem really all about branding, product placement and integration in a film?

Product placement in films is not new. The first appearance of the branding concept through product placement on film happened over a hundred years ago. The first documented example was in May, 1896, when the Lumiere Brothers created a distribution and product placement arrangement promoting Lever Brothers Soap in the film “Washing Day in Switzerland”.

Following the Lumiere Brothers, but taking it to a different scale was Thomas Edison who made the product placement in films into a very lucrative business. He created deals with advertisers to reduce “out-of-pocket production expenses while providing promotional services for customers of his industrial businesses.”

Edison realized the potential of mixing advertising and product placement with his films and product placements as subtle efforts to influence audience attitude and behavior became a specialty of Edison’s.

Branding and product placement marketing was just getting started. The first movie ever to win a Best Picture Oscar was a silent 1927 film called Wings, which featured Clara Bow, Gary Cooper and, in one scene, a prominently placed bar of Hershey’s chocolate.

Branding and product placement in film is a marketing strategy that is big business. When the tent pole movie E.T. (1982), used a brand candy Reese’s Pieces its sales increased by 300% within two weeks after the film opened.

Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses in Risky Business (1983, Warner Bros., screen capture)


In 1983, when Tom Cruise wore a pair of Wayfarer glasses in the movie Risky Business, Wayfarer’s U.S. sales soared to 360,000.

Other recent films heavily marketed with product placement include Minority Report, I, Robot, all three Transformers, and The Island. The Island producer director Michael Bay staunchly defends his placements in the film on the DVD commentary, saying, “Let’s face it, guys. The world is focused on products. Products surround us. And for us to think, in the year 2019, that we’re not gonna still be focused, and still have products and labels flying at us from every different vantage point, is just unreal. It’s just not a true world.”

Product integration in film definitely has a purpose, which leads us back to Skyfall. Why all the fuss about partnership deals to get the Bond film made?

Bond is no stranger to product placement.

James Bond films are noted for the product placements. Bond is cool. He sets the bar. Consumerists expect branding right? Right. …Well, up to a certain point they do. Bond has a certain status, he drives a certain car, wears a certain clothing line, drinks a certain drink, and has a certain girl or two or three depending on the story.

Story is important. It’s what we all know, right? Well that depends too. In the novel, Diamonds Are Forever, James Bond and Felix Leiter consume several bottles of (Miller) High Life at a roadside restaurant.

So story is not such a sure thing. And that’s where the real issue lies.

Aston Martin DB5 from Skyfall
Aston Martin DB5 from Skyfall


I think the argument against the changes in Bond is not about whether Bond drinks his martini or not, but more about what is really happening in the big picture, not the screen. Product placement integration is part of the business side of making films. The business side is one half of making a film. The other half is creative. Creative is made of all the people that create, like directors, cinematographers and writers.

Writers are supposed to be the ones that write the stories, not the other way around. If partnerships like the Bond franchise and Heineken persist, then product placement deals will be worked out in development. Is it possible that screenwriters could end up becoming just glorified copy writers?

When I started researching for this paper I found it interesting to learn that “Ars gratia Artis”, a Latin phrase meaning “Art for Art’s sake”, was MGM’s official motto on the opening logo above the growling lion, always seen at the start of their films. Art for Art’s sake. That’s a great idea. But in this age of brand marketing and product integration perpetuating a societal culture of consumerism, I find it a hard motto for filmmakers to follow.

 

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Kristine KongKristine King is an artist living in Orange County, California, who is currently finishing a graduate degree in screenwriting.