Bond’s drink choice shake-up causes a stir

Three martinis and a Heineken: Daniel Craig breaks with tradition.

James Bond has had many faces, but certain habits have remained – chiefly a penchant for martini, shaken not stirred. Now, a search for funds has driven him to beer. Fans are outraged.

Sharp suit, sleek black pistol, femmes fatales... and a pint of mid-range lager? Since the release of the first James Bond film, no character in popular culture has been more closely associated with a particular drink. Yet in his latest outing, Skyfall, the swashbuckling spy will swap his traditional dry martini (shaken, not stirred) for a simple can of Heineken.

Has Bond been hit by the credit crunch? In a way, yes. After struggling to raise enough money to fund the extravagant and hi-tech film, producers have turned to brands like Heineken. For £25 million, the Dutch brewer will get to see its product suavely sipped by a cinematic icon.

This marketing technique is known as product placement. It is hardly new to James Bond: ever since he conspicuously boarded a Pan Am flight in 1962, his films have always been heavy with brands. At least one – the Aston Martin – is essential to his image. But advertising has become increasingly prominent: the last Bond film drew criticism for an obvious name-dropping of watchmaker Omega.

This, though, is by far the most controversial example yet: outraged fans say that Bond has sacrificed his trademark sophistication to the highest bidder, and lost a part of what defined him.

Apart from the irritations caused when a film is cluttered with unnecessary shots of gleaming drink cans, product placement also raises ethical concerns. When our brain registers images without us being consciously aware, it is called ‘subliminal messaging.’ Psychological experiments suggest that it can subtly change our desires, and even our behaviour.

In an age when both film budgets and the advertising industry are booming, producers are increasingly reliant on product placement. In a recent film exploring (and funded by) product placement, an advertising executive was asked where he suggested we could go to escape branding. ‘To sleep,’ was his dry response.

That is not quite true: in Sao Paulo, Brazil, most outdoor marketing is banned. But the fact that this exception is so striking simply shows how accustomed to adverts we have become.

An ad romance

Daniel Craig, who plays James Bond, has defended the brand’s role in the film. We all consume branded products in our everyday lives, he says, so it is silly to complain when actors do the same. And if these brands can help fund a film, then so much the better – in fact, claims Craig, ‘without them we couldn’t do it.’

But purists are disgusted: is nothing safe, they ask, from the grasping hand of global corporations? With a product shoehorned into every other shot, big budget films are now little more than glorified TV ads. Such blatant selling out makes films bland and phoney – just, they say, like Heineken.

You Decide

  1. Does it bother you when films, TV programmes and celebrities ‘sell out’ by advertising big brands?
  2. Should billboard advertising be banned?

Activities

  1. Write a spoof of a famous episode from film or literature in which the scene is ruined by a character advertising a product.
  2. If all advertising were made illegal, what effect would it have on the world economy? Write down the five most important consequences.

Some People Say...

“Selling out is the new keeping it real.”

What do you think?

Q & A

How can I tell when product placement is being used?
A lot of the time you can’t – and that’s part of the concern. In other areas it is illegal for celebrities to market a product unless it is clearly an advertisement. But in films there is no such obligation, and producers do not always reveal the details of their deals with companies. Having said that, product placement is often quite blatant when you are looking out for it – and that’s another part of the problem.
So does ‘subliminal messaging’ actually work?
Psychologists largely agree that we can be affected by an image without realising we have noticed it – in one experiment, instantaneous images of ‘Lipton’ branding made subjects more likely to want ice tea.

Word Watch

Femmes fatales
‘Deadly women’: beautiful, mysterious, captivating... and fatal to the men who falls for their charms. Characters like this have appeared in literature since ancient times, from the Bible (Salome) to Greek myth (the sirens). Some are witches, vampires or demons, others simply calculating seducers with secret motives. The femme fatale was a particularly popular character type in Hollywood films of the 1940s and ‘50s.
James Bond
The original character was invented by writer Ian Fleming in 1953, and shared many of his author’s expensive tastes. These included martinis, scotch whisky and champagne – but also lager. ‘Foreign’ lager (as opposed to British ale) was considered far more glamorous in the 1950s than it is today.
Producers
Although they are rarely as famous as directors, film producers are absolutely essential in making a film. They oversee the whole project – finding funding, bringing together the crew and organising marketing and distribution. But it’s not all logistics: they often have a creative role as well.
Shoehorned
Shoe horns – so-called because the earliest ones were simply an animal’s horn – are tools for helping a foot fit into a stiff shoe. Hence the metaphorical meaning of attempting to ram something in where it doesn’t naturally belong.

Subjects

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