Branding 101 from 007 — and ‘Dr. No’ – The Washington Post

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“Bond told the story in simple terms, with good men and bad men, like an adventure story out of a book.” — Ian Fleming, Dr. No (1958)
“Dr. No” is a simple movie shot on a poverty-stricken budget, starring a relative unknown, based on the sixth book in a series and released 60 years ago to a mixed critical response — not least from Ian Fleming who, according to biographer Andrew Lycett, left an early screening “looking sad and distracted as he tried to summon enthusiasm for the carefree, gun-toting character he had created.”
Yet for all these inauspicious omens, “Dr. No” was not just a hit in its own right — taking more than 16 times its sub-$1 million cost — it inaugurated one of the most valuable and venerable franchises in cinema.
Since October 5, 1962, Eon’s 25 canonical Bond films (those excluding the 1967 “Casino Royale” and “Never Say Never Again”) have grossed billions of dollars, secured the stardom of dozens of actors and defined an image of espionage that Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service is still shaking off.
Significantly, “Dr. No” also created one of capitalism’s most successful and sophisticated brand collaboration ecosystems. Over six decades, scores of companies have placed their products into James Bond films (more than 30 appear in “No Time to Die”), and even brands that don’t pay to play are not above hijacking 007 to flog everything from Barclaycards to Brooke Bond tea:
The commercial appeal of a handsome, debonaire, alpha-male spy requires no explanation, but the “Bond Collaborative Universe” empowers also a remarkable network effect, where mid-market brands like Heineken, Dell and Moscot bask in the reflected glory not just of 007, but of luxury marques like Bollinger, Omega and Leica. It’s hard to think of many similarly scaled and sustained brand ecosystems in cinema, or elsewhere — save, perhaps, global tentpoles such as the Olympics or World Cup.
Exploring Bond movies through the prism of branding is apt, for Fleming’s novels glitter with luxury marques. Bond drives a Bentley, shoots a Leica, wears a Rolex, putts with Penfold Hearts, bathes in Floris bath essence, zhushes his hair in Pinaud Elixir and smokes cigarettes specially blended by Morland & Co. of Grosvenor Street. Naturally, not all of 007’s tastes are so exotic: He uses a Ronson lighter, drinks Gordon’s gin and shaves with a Gillette. Yet no brand was too arcane for Fleming to specify: The elevator in Dr. No’s lair, Bond observes in the novel, was manufactured by Waygood Otis.
Although Fleming was pragmatic about his (unpaid) corporate specificity (“I think it is stupid to invent bogus names for products that are household words”), the brands he selected pack a trifold punch: as markers of class, as anchors to realism and as shortcuts to aspiration — initially for a country fogged by austerity, and later for a culture fixated on consumption.
But what of Bond as a brand in itself?
According to the excellent analysis of Tony Bennett and Janet Woollacott, because the early Bond novels were “installed ambiguously between … ‘literature’ and ‘popular fiction’,” they had a limited readership that was “largely restricted to the metropolitan literary intelligentsia.” Indeed, in 1955, Fleming considered killing Bond off because the novels paid so little.
Sales picked up in 1957 after The Daily Express serialized and strip-cartooned “From Russia with Love,” but it was the release of the “Dr. No” movie that transformed the books — and Bond — into a phenomenon. As co-producer Harry Saltzman said:
“The ‘Dr. No’ book had sold virtually nothing when we made the film. Then I went to Pan and suggested they print an extra 500,000 copies. They laughed at me. And, do you know, in the next seven months, they sold one and a half million copies.”
By producing a film that was sartorial, sadistic, seductive and sly, Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli simply dismissed the dichotomy between “literature” and “popular fiction,” presenting high-brow viewers a frisson of rough, and cheap-seat gawkers a glimpse of the good life.
Saltzman and Broccoli also coded a brand DNA that would outlast them both: As I explore below, almost everything that still makes Bond Bond is to be found in their production of “Dr. No.”
* * *
00:12 — Gun Barrel Opening
It’s hard to overstate the brand impact of “Dr. No’s” opening which, like a burning fuse, primes the audience for the fireworks to come.
Designed by Maurice Binder, who used a pinhole camera to film down the barrel of a pistol, the sequence actually stars stuntman Bob Simmons, an oddity that wouldn’t be rectified until Connery reshot the scene for “Thunderball.”
“Dr. No’s” gun-barrel sequence achieves several things simultaneously: It trains the eye to trust the camera; it establishes Bond in the center of his own stark stage; and it melds action, elegance, tension and death. It’s a strikingly confident kickoff for a neophyte production. Twenty-five films later, it still packs a Pavlovian punch.
00:27 — James Bond Theme
While there are many more ubiquitous audio brands than Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme — the Intel bongs, perhaps, or the Netflix “ta-dum” — few are as well loved or long-lived.
Setting aside its undeniable musical merit, the utility of the Bond theme as a sonic brand derives, in part, from its interlocking elements: the triumphant 11-note horn fanfare; the lush backing strings and tight horn stabs; the brassy, big-band “Stripper”-esque swing tune; and the pantherine guitar riff (plucked by Vic Flick for a £6 fee) which conjures Bond as completely as Prokofiev’s Peter.
With so many musical cards to play, 007’s sonic deck can be shuffled almost indefinitely. Not only can just a few notes from any one of these elements evoke the entire Bond universe, but each has proved adaptable to a range of cultural styles, music trends and dramatic requirements. Adding depth and longevity to the sonic brand, components of the theme are woven into every Bond song since Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger” — some more subtly (Billie Eilish’s “No Time To Die”) than others (Tom Jones’s “Thunderball”).
00:38 — Title Sequence
Echoing Piet Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie,” Kurt Schwerdtfeger’s Bauhaus light shows and Reid Miles’s Blue Note record covers, the graphical titles of “Dr. No” are as potent as its gun-barrel opening. And then, as type and shape give way to sensual silhouettes, we get a taste of the “sex” in the “sex and violence” to come.
It’s a testament to Maurice Binder’s vision, that after his death in 1991 (following his work on “License To Kill”), “Dr. No’s” titles have been repeatedly referenced, even unto “No Time To Die.”
06:33 — Le Cercle, Les Ambassadeurs
It’s appropriate that we first find Bond in an elegant and exclusive casino, since high-stakes gambling is both a metaphor for his fieldwork and the best explanation of how he funds so lavish a lifestyle. From “Dr. No” on, the franchise returned regularly to casinos, with Bond displaying an innate mastery of many games of chance, including: craps, sic bo, backgammon, blackjack, roulette and one-card draw. Disappointingly, while the novel “Casino Royale” has Bond besting Le Chiffre at chemin de fer, in the 2006 movie they play the fashionable if pedestrian Texas hold’em poker.
07:59 — Bond, James Bond
In a flawless detail of sonic branding, Connery’s iconic introduction — “Bond, James Bond” — is not merely underscored by the “James Bond Theme,” it’s punctuated by the click of his lighter:
This now legendary sequence set a vertiginous bar for every incantation of the spell — as Daniel Craig admitted:
“Saying that fucking line! I mean, if I have to say it, I’ll say it once to myself — and then you’re on set and you think ‘I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine,’ and then you say it, and it’s like the weight of it. I try to be quite cool about these things, but it’s impossible. I don’t know how many takes we did at the end of ‘Casino Royale’ but literally there are takes with ‘The name’s Bond’ like I’m a 13-year-old whose voice is breaking.”
07:59 — Black Tie
Our first canonical vision of Bond has him in a dinner suit (cut by Anthony Sinclair) that features the same silk turnback cuffs favored by Ian Fleming. From this scene, the silhouette of a black-tied Bond was established as a key brand asset, and every 007 since has appeared in the conspicuous and impractical uniform of the gentleman spy. All of which is rather ironic, given what Fleming told Ken Purdy in 1964:
“I quite deliberately made him rather anonymous. … This was to enable the reader to identify with him. People have only to put their own clothes on Bond and build him into whatever sort of person they admire. If you read my books, you’ll find that I don’t actually describe him at all.”
It’s persistently rumored that actors playing 007 are (contractually?) precluded from wearing black tie in other movies. This stricture may explain Pierce Brosnan’s ridiculous untied white tie in the 1999 remake of “The Thomas Crown Affair.”
09:39 — Universal Exports
We discover 007’s cover story as he exits an elevator and walks toward the offices of “Universal Exports” — a running gag that still works because, unlike Britain’s actual empire, the sun hasn’t yet set on Bond’s showboat diplomacy. As he tells Honey in the novel:
“It’s like this. I’m a sort of policeman. They send me out from London when there’s something odd going on somewhere in the world that isn’t anybody else’s business.”
Bond’s ability to export (fictional) hard and (actual) soft power was celebrated in 2012 when Queen Elizabeth II “leapt” out of a helicopter alongside Craig’s 007 to open the London Olympics — a collaboration that illustrated both the monarchy’s confidence and the real-life symbiosis between Bond and Brand Britannia. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, indeed.
9:44 — Moneypenny
As Bond enters M’s outer office, he tosses to the hatstand his Lock & Co. trilby — an act of  practiced insouciance which alerts Miss Moneypenny that The Flirtation is about to begin:
Bond: “Moneypenny! What gives?”Moneypenny: “Me. Given an ounce of encouragement. You never take me to dinner looking like this, James. You never take me to dinner, period.”Bond: “I would, you know. Only M would have me court-martialed for illegal use of government property.”Moneypenny: “Flattery will get you nowhere … but don’t stop trying.”
From this 30-second scene, Bond’s by-play with M’s secretary — played by Lois Maxwell in 14 films — became a much-loved and audience-expected brand asset. In more recent films, Miss Moneypenny has been made a tad more three-dimensional, but “Dr. No’s” will-they-won’t-they is a classic of the genre, and apparently helped inspire the six-year “Gold Blend couple” campaign:
9:54 — “007 is here, sir”
Bond explains his codename in the 1953 novel “Casino Royale”:
“A Double 0 number in our Service means you’ve had to kill a chap in cold blood in the course of some job.”
Over the years, any number of theories have been advanced to etymologize Fleming’s “00” concept, and Bond’s septenarious designation — including the observation that seven “works” as a suffix as it’s the only double-syllabled digit. But from Moneypenny’s brief aside, the concept of a “Double 0 agent” who had a “license to kill” became a brand asset embedded (and trademarked) in popular culture.
10:50 — M
Puffing on a pipe in his wood-paneled office, the head of the British Secret Service “M” is the still point of Bond’s whirling world, and a bureaucratic reminder that while 007 may be a secret agent, he’s not a free agent.
M’s irritation at Bond (despite his myriad successes) and the stern manner with which he outlines each new mission quickly developed into a brand asset — echoing the analytical “magic trick” Sherlock Holmes performs with a yawn whenever a new client enters his Baker Street rooms.
12:28 — Q 
Although Q is not named in the franchise until “From Russia with Love,” Bond’s perpetually exasperated quartermaster is foreshadowed in “Dr. No” by an armorer called Major Boothroyd [see below], who equips 007 with his new gun.
Played for 17 movies by Desmond Llewelyn, Q became so popular that he was allowed his own catchphrase (“Now pay attention, 007”) and starred in any number of Bond-esque adverts, including this spot for LG:
13:39 — Walther PPK
007’s Walther Polizeipistole Kriminal is one of cinema’s most infamous firearms, on a par, perhaps, with Dirty Harry’s Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum. Yet the PPK almost didn’t make the movies. If it hadn’t been for a letter of complaint sent to Fleming by a gun aficionado named Geoffrey Boothroyd, Bond would still be packing his chamois leather holster with a Beretta 418 — “a lady’s gun, and not a very nice lady at that.” As Connery explained:
Over the years, 007 wields a variety of guns, including a Walther WA2000, an AK-47, a Sterling AR180, a Walther P99 and a Glock 17 — to say nothing of a speargun in “Thunderball.”  Yet few fictional characters are so associated with one brand of firearm. Bond even foreshadows Dirty Harry’s “Do I feel lucky?” taunt, when he tells Professor Dent: “That’s a Smith & Wesson, and you’ve had your six.”
16:17 — Location, Location, Location
Although we’ve glimpsed Kingston’s public streets and private clubs, as 007’s Pan American Boeing 707-320 descends to the runway so the audience arrives in Jamaica, setting the saturated scene for a world of exotic Bond locales — including Cairo, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Moscow, Monte Carlo, Havana, Tangier and “outer space”:
Even if the impact of such “stunt locations” was greater before the era of mass travel, the “Bond effect” on tourism is felt even today. In a fascinating paper on the topic, Marie-Hélène Chevrier and Chloé Huvet note:
“Each film turns into a picture postcard as it takes the hero off to new destinations. The Bond films play on archetypes of destination (which they reinforce) and of tourism practices … The impact of the Bond films on the development of tourist destinations is indisputable.”
When “No Time to Die” recently filmed in Matera, the city’s mayor estimated the “Bond boost” might be worth 12 million Euro. Of course, some locations simply hope to survive Bond’s arrival; during “Moonraker,” Italy had to endure the indignity of this Venetian vergogna:
21:58 — “Make sure he doesn’t get away”
Bond’s quip, tossed off as he delivers to Government House the corpse of a suicided goon, is the first of many post-mortem gags that came to brand the humorous side of 007’s psychotic death toll — at least 370 by one count.
Even Daniel Craig played the game, albeit with a self-deprecating twist.
 24:32 — Shaken Not Stirred
A well-framed shot of Smirnoff product placement precedes Bond being handed a drink by a hotel steward, who very nearly makes cocktail history by announcing: “One medium-dry vodka martini, mixed like you said, sir, and not stirred.” In fact, the magic words, “shaken not stirred” are first spoken much later in the film, by Dr. No himself.
Now, any number of afficionados, including “The West Wing’s” Josiah Bartlet, will tell you:
“Shaken not stirred, will get you cold water with a dash of gin and dry vermouth. The reason you stir it with a special spoon is so not to chip the ice. James is ordering a weak martini and being snooty about it.”
Others will insist that a vodka does not “bruise” as easily as gin and can therefore withstand the rigors of the shaker. No matter: “Shaken not stirred” became a world-famous drink order, a rather fitting description of 007, and a trademarked catchphrase on par with “Bond, James Bond.”
25:02 — Spycraft
Before leaving his hotel room, Bond sets a couple of traps for unsuspecting burglars: talcum powder on his briefcase’s latches and a strand of hair spittled across his wardrobe’s doors. Later in the movie, he fools an assassin by packing a bed with pillows, and fashions makeshift snorkels from reeds.
Although gumshoe “tradecraft” is more usually associated with the workaday espionage of John le Carré, Bond returns to such low-fi tricks throughout the franchise, for instance, in “For Your Eyes Only” when Roger Moore ascends a rope by tying his shoelaces into a Prusik knot.
39:25 — The Villain’s Lair
Our first glimpse of Dr. No’s “lair” — an oversized, dystopian, off-kilter cell — sets the scene for dozens of villainous spaces to come. The man responsible for the “lair look” was Ken Adams, who went on to design a host of similar spaces for Bond and beyond — including Blofeld’s volcanic base in “You Only Live Twice,” and the war room in Stanley Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove” (1964). Adding humor to these megalomanic spaces is the high camp of bustling uniformed henchmen and the well-signposted health and safety precautions.
30:55 — “Felix Leiter, Central Intelligence Agency”
It’s curious that Felix Leiter features in “Dr. No” since he’s not in the novel, and he adds very little to the plot. One explanation is that a CIA agent was helpful in selling a Limey movie to an American audience.
However, from “Dr. No” on, Leiter’s function to the franchise became obvious: He provides technical, material and financial support; he offers professional camaraderie to a lone-wolf agent; he reminds the audience that, even if Bond’s missions are morally binary, they exist within a greyscale multipolar world; and he demonstrates, more often than not, that one well-dressed British spy is superior to America’s vast espionage machine.
 40:49 — Exotic Deathcapades
In the novel, Bond is menaced under his sheets by a tropical centipede, and later encounters a cluster of tarantulas in Dr. No’s lair. The movie conflates these terrors into a single scene that inaugurated the franchise’s exotic (and often absurd) methods of murder — from gold paint asphyxiation to death by Komodo dragon.
 46:47 — Geiger Counter
“Dr. No” is notably lacking in the gadgets that would come to define the Bond franchise (for good and ill). Although in the novel, Fleming describes Dr. No’s flame-throwing “dragon” as “just some gadget,” the movie’s most obvious gadget is the Geiger counter Bond orders from London to test radioactivity on Crab Key. Other contenders include the unseen “self-destructor bag” mentioned by M; the cyanide-laced cigarette with which the chauffer-cum-henchmen commits suicide; and Dr. No’s bionic prosthetic hands.
It was not until “From Russia with Love” and “Goldfinger” that gadgets become an anticipated asset of the films, and the source of much spin-off merch. Yet they also created the dramaturgical dilemma of “Chekhov’s Gadget,” for whenever Q issues Bond with a highly specific piece of kit (say, an “ultra-high frequency single digit sonic agitator unit”) the audience demands it be deployed before the credits roll.
The increasing extravagance of Bond’s arsenal was quickly parodied by shows from “Get Smart” to “Inspector Gadget” — and was awkwardly acknowledged in “Skyfall” when Bond meets his new Q (Ben Wishaw) and is issued with his latest equipment:
Bond: “A gun, and a radio … not exactly Christmas is it?”Q: “Were you expecting an exploding pen? We don’t really go in for that anymore.”
 46:47 — Rolex
Not much is made of Bond’s Rolex Submariner in the film, though it appears regularly in shot from casino to closing scene, somehow surviving Crab Key’s decontamination facility. But from “Dr No.” on, 007’s timepieces — including Breitling, Gruen, Seiko and TAG Heuer — became a serious matter of product placement and plot development. The Rolex in “Live and Let Die,” for instance, created a magnetic field capable of deflecting bullets and undressing women:
Although Bond has worn an Omega since “Goldeneye,” his association with Rolex is so resilient that more than a decade later the producers of “Casino Royale” felt obliged to insert this preposterous speedbump of brand clarification:
 49:55 — Car / Chase
While this is not the movie’s first car chase, it’s the first with Bond at the wheel. From this moment, chases of increasing elaboration became a franchise asset — including those eschewing roads (no matter how remote) to traverse water, dirt, snow and ice. The golf game between Bond and Goldfinger is also a form of chase, albeit at a pace that would not distress the committee.
Aside from a murderous hearse and a rented Sunbeam Alpine, there are few notable cars in “Dr. No” — certainly nothing resembling the fleet of beautiful and bizarre vehicles Bond would come to drive. Although “From Russia with Love” featured a Bentley Mark IV Drophead and a Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith, Bond’s automotive identity was properly established in “Goldfinger,” when Q presents 007 with his first Aston Martin:
This silver DB5, with its bullet-proof windows, revolving number plates (“valid all countries”), dashboard tracker, smokescreen, oil slick and mounted machine guns, set the gold standard for every “Bond car” that followed, and established a thriving market for collectable toys.
The 57-year collaboration between 007 and Aston Martin — celebrated in “No Time to Die” which featured a DB5, a V8 Saloon, a Valhalla and a DBS — provides the perfect illustration of how the Bond brand intertwines with its commercial partners: If it’s hard to disassociate Aston Martin from 007, the opposite is also true.
56:30 — Bond Song
It’s hard to say whether “Dr. No” has a “Bond song” in the term’s current sense. Penned by Monty Norman, and performed by his wife Diana Coupland, the ballad “Underneath the Mango Tree,” features several times in the movie — most unexpectedly when Connery accompanies Ursula Andress (whose entire performance was dubbed by the German actress Nikki van der Zyl).
Yet “Mango Tree” is rarely considered part of the canon (or included in the compilations), perhaps because the Bond Theme rather stole its thunder. (There are also those who correctly consider the film’s true hit to be “Jump Up” by Byron Lee and the Dragonaires.)
It’s a testament to the power of “Dr. No” that its producers persuaded Matt Monro to croon “From Russia with Love,” thereby setting the stage for dozens of superstars to co-mingle their brands and join the Bond Collaborative Universe. Below are the peak British chart entries for every Bond song, according to data from the Official UK Charts Company:
1:02:21 — Bond Girl
Whereas Bond enters the world in black tie, the first echt “Bond Girl” arrives wearing very little — though Ursula Andress was spared the indignity of emerging from the sea as she does in the novel: naked but for a “hunting knife in a leather sheath at her right hip.”
“Dr. No” also toyed with the “Bond Girl formula,” as recounted by Roald Dahl (the screenplay writer of “You Only Live Twice”) in a 1967 article for Playboy:
“Girl number one is pro-Bond. She stays around roughly through the first reel of the picture. Then she is bumped off by the enemy, preferably in Bond’s arms.… Girl number two is anti-Bond. She works for the enemy and stays around throughout the middle third of the picture. She must capture Bond, and Bond must save himself by bowling her over with sheer sexual magnetism. This girl should also be bumped off, preferably in an original fashion.… Girl number three is violently pro-Bond. She occupies the final third of the picture, and she must on no account be killed. Nor must she permit Bond to take any lecherous liberties with her until the very end of the story. We keep that for the fade-out.”
The product of this formula has been a pantheon of actresses — 75 by one count — for whom a dalliance with 007 proved either a canny career move or the beginning of the “Bond Girl Curse.”
Curiously, 44 years after Andress strode from the surf, “Casino Royale” featured a strikingly similar scene.
Accepting this shot was accidental, as Craig insists (“I was supposed to swim in and sort of float off, but I swim in and stand up. And it was just one of those things.”) the decision to keep it suggests both a sagacious arc of brand continuity, and an audience expectation of eye-candy equality.
1:27:27 — Bond Villain
“I am, as you correctly say, a maniac — a maniac with a mania for power. … That is why I am here. That is why you are here. That is why here exists.” — Ian Fleming, Dr. No (1958)
Dr. No was right: Bond exists because madmen exist — and so the “Bond villain” became vital to the franchise, and a brand in itself. (The term’s first appearance in the London Times, on November 14, 1966, was by no less an authority than Sir John Gielgud.)
Over the years, any number of powerful men have been compared to “Bond villains,” including Jeff Bezos, Steve Mnuchin, Robert Maxwell, Rupert Murdoch, Ted Turner and Elon Musk — who seems to relish the resemblance:
1:30:54 — “That’s a Dom Pérignon ’55”
When Dr. No cautions Bond not to brandish a bottle of Dom Pérignon ’55 as a weapon, he is really setting up the nonchalant reply, “I prefer the ’53 myself.”
From this scene, audiences expected 007 to flaunt a connoisseur’s discrimination of everything from cigarettes (“These are American, those English, those Turkish”) and brandy (“I’d say it was a 30-year-old finé indifferently blended … with an overdose of Bons Bois”) to mint juleps (“sour mash, but not too sweet”) and sake (“especially when it’s served at the correct temperature, 98.4 degrees Fahrenheit”).
Such refinement is all the more interesting when you consider that the working-class Connery was introduced to fine dining and Savile Row suits by “Dr. No’s” director Terence Young. As Connery told Mark Cousins:
“Terence had really identified very much with being the grand seignior. He took me on the trip to get our clothes and everything and it was an eye-opener. The budget on the clothes was astronomical in relation to the film, but he was right, Terence, because there was a look about it. We had shoes handmade at Lobb’s, and no cufflinks, a special fold-back button, and I used the Windsor knot, very small Windsor knot.”
Central to the brand of Bond, then, is that Bond knows his brands.
1:32:33 — “I could have had you killed in the swamp”
The reluctance of Bond villains simply to murder 007 at the earliest opportunity is now a much loved (and lampooned) part of the Bond blueprint. It’s apotheosis surely arrives in Goldfinger:
Bond: “Do you expect me to talk?”Goldfinger: “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”
1:49:00 — The End?
“Dr. No” fades out (as per Roald Dahl’s dictum) with Bond about to take “lecherous liberties” with Honey Rider.
What’s missing from this moment is the tantalizing promise “James Bond will be back,” which appears after the finale of many subsequent movies, including the controversially concluded “No Time to Die,” which pledges “James Bond will return.”
Of course, at the time, the producers of “Dr. No” had no idea that Bond would be back, or that they’d created a masterpiece that would redefine not just espionage and action movies but cinema’s relationship to brands and branding.
*  *  *
Disrupt Another Day
In an era when legacy brands face relentless disruption from upstart startups, it’s notable that the Bond franchise has regularly and successfully disrupted itself.
The scene was set in 1969 when George Lazenby replaced Sean Connery and proved that 007 was bigger even than “Big Tam.” Four Bonds on, and the trick still works.
The next major disruption was to dump the cartoon campery of Roger Moore for the darker reality of Dalton and Brosnan. This transition became commercially urgent in the face of competition from brands like Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer and Batman, and creatively pragmatic in the context of a post-9/11 world.
Bond had also to contend with the power of parody — most notably from the International Man of Mystery, Austin Powers. Between 1997 and 2002, Mike Myers’s three pastiches systematically dismantled Bond’s brand tropes, with an impact no less devastating for being affectionate. Comparing the lifetime gross of each Austin Powers movie with that of the corresponding year’s Bond release is illustrative:
And so, as Daniel Craig told “MI6 Confidential” magazine in 2012:
“We had to destroy the myth because Mike Myers fucked us — I am a huge Mike Myers fan, so don’t get me wrong — but he kind of fucked us; made it impossible to do the gags.”
In retrospect, Austin Powers probably saved Bond from himself. The 2002 movie “Die Another Day” might have worked financially, but it jeopardized everything the franchise had built when Brosnan jumped the shark by kitesurfing a CGI tsunami. Four years later, Craig’s bruised and brooding reboot stripped away the gags and gadgets to recast 007 as a blunt force rather than suave farce.
But Bond is still Bond, and after 20 films audiences were entitled to have their sweet tooths sated. Luckily the deep bench of Bond collateral allowed Craig to cut on the bias of the brand — for example, by saving “Bond, James Bond” for the final line of “Casino Royale” or by coolly dismissing his signature drink:
Six decades on from the film’s gun-barrel opening, the brand assets established by “Dr. No” remain popular and potent. Bond had logos, locations, catchphrases, characters, a tone of voice, a look and feel, and a sweeping sonic landscape. He even had a mission statement: To save the world from megalomaniac villains “who think they’re Napoleon or God.”
Few global conglomerates (let alone film franchises) can boast such a portfolio of brand collateral, and of those that can, fewer still are as well liked. Consequently, even when a script stumbles (“Quantum of Solace”) or the action is absurd (“Moonraker”), the foundations laid by “Dr No” (from Moneypenny to vodka martinis) are resilient enough to keep the brand aloft.
It took vision to see the formula “Dr. No” had established, and courage to leave well alone — a one-two punch of insight and inaction from which many brands could learn.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
Ben Schott is Bloomberg Opinion’s advertising and brands columnist.
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