If you think that product placement is something that has just recently became a part of the world of James Bond, think again. With the 40th anniversary we can also celebrate the lifelong partnership with product placement. “My books are spattered with branded products of one sort or another as I think it is stupid to invent bogus names for products which are household words,” replies Ian Fleming in his biography written by Andrew Lycett when someone remarked that his books are “the only modern thrillers with built-in commercials”.
007 is a milestone in the history of moviemaking. Over the past forty years the name and his licence to kill have evolved into a brandname. Bond has become a product of it’s own with a licence to entertain and to sell. He has been blessed with a high media profile, so naturally everybody wants to get a piece of the action and the spotlight. The films have become a way for advertising agencies and corporations to associate their product with 007, and so get the media attention they’re seeking. A way to advertise a product is through product placement. You make a deal with the filmmakers that your product will be used in the film, one way or the other. When and what you define as product placement is open for debate. Do you have to see the brandname, the logo or not? Does the character has to use or mention it in the scene? Or is it enough that the product is part of the set decoration? I say that product placement occurs when you see or hear a product in the film and are able to identify it as an existing product that consumers can buy.
In general E.T. The Extra Terrestrial directed by Steven Spielberg is referred to as the film that made product placement possible. But long before E.T. hit the big screen there was already a famous movie character that used product placement: Bond, James Bond. Knowing that Fleming used real products in his books it seems natural that product placement also found it’s way into the films. The only difference is that supposedly it wasn’t a money making process with the early Bond films, unlike today. You need props to make a film. If there’s a scene where James Bond drives a car, you need a car. In Dr. No it could very well have been a different one than the Sunbeam Alpine. Nowadays it’s not unlikely that you first get the car and then write a scene.
For my thesis I did research on product placement and James Bond. It shows that there’s product placement in every single Bond film. In fact, every Bond film opens with a form of product placement: the Bond theme. It wouldn’t be fair to John Barry and Monty Norman if you don’t acknowledge that. Music is a product that the creator wants to sell and we as a consumer are willing to buy. And so every time we hear the Bond theme, a themesong or a different song it’s product placement. In the case of the Bond theme in Dr. No it can be heard in 28 shots for a total time of 3.48 minutes. You also have the songs Three Blind Mice (6 shots and 51 seconds), Under The Mango Tree (23 shots and 2.51 minutes) and Jump Up (13 shots and 1.52 minutes).
Including the music I found at least 17 products in Dr. No, that can be seen in 191 different shots. These shots are good for a total of 19.47 minutes of screen time. On the amount of products Dr. No is the second lowest film, next to YOLT. On the other points the film has the lowest amount of shots and screen time when you compare it to the other Bond films. The obvious forms of product placement include Pan American, Chevrolet, Ford, Dom Perignon and Rolex. But sometimes you have to read a lot of articles and books to find the product. For instance in Dr. No when James Bond visits Miss Taro at her house he helps himself to a drink before awaiting the arrival of Professor Dent. The bottle he uses is Smirnoff. You never see the label but thanks to merchandising and advertising there’s a poster of Sean Connery in the same room holding the same bottle with the Smirnoff label pointing to the camera. That way we can identify the bottle as product placement. Once you know the product you can search for it in different scenes and than you’ll find that a Smirnoff bottle also appears in Bond’s hotel room.
With the absence of Smirnoff in Die Another Day you can say that a little piece of history vanishes. I for one always enjoyed their advertisements. But we don’t need to fear. Die Another Day will have a lot of product placement for all of us to enjoy. So, happy birthday 007 and a happy birthday to product placement.
Didier Van Hoorebeke