COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | TOM SIEBERT

007 slums with Heineken

As I figured and hoped, Heineken’s $45 million product placement deal with the new James Bond franchise entry, "Skyfall," doesn’t undermine the 007 brand at all. In fact, if I were an exec at Heineken, I might well be fuming and pouring myself something a good deal stiffer than a beer.

So whether you’re an Ian Fleming purist or just a loyal fan of the long-running movie series, don’t sweat it. Bond is in good hands, not only in terms of big budget entertainment, but also in brand stewardship.

When the deal with Heineken was announced, there were reports that Bond would be forced to eschew his signature martini — shaken, not stirred, duh — in lieu of the brew. That hasn’t happened. Instead, the product integration has been handled so creatively, I’m surprised the film’s brain trust got away with it in the way that they have. Heineken actually plays a key part in the narrative and character development of "Skyfall," but not in any way I’d want my brand to be associated.

First, Bond drinks but a single Heineken in the entire movie, and it happens early in the film and under a cloud. The quaff comes shortly after Adele and the opening credits, with the British superspy presumed dead and licking his wounds (actually, there’s a dialogue-less exotic beauty doing that, but whatever), in some remote island locale. Bond is burned out and full of self-doubt, hiding away in some tropical backwater, at a loss, questioning his very existence. When we see him drinking a Heineken, eyes haunted and body broken, the very fact he’s drinking that beer becomes a subtext of how far he’s fallen. James Bond, drinking Heineken? The poor guy’s slumming. He’s in a bad way. Uh-oh.

Moreover, in the scene, actor Daniel Craig as Bond doesn’t even let us see the logo. The whole time Bond’s got the beer bottle in his hand, it’s conspicuously over the Heineken logo. We never see it. Maybe we recognize the distinctive green bottle and the label’s border. Maybe.

Later in the film, after Bond’s back on top of his game, spiffily sporting a tuxedo and strutting into an Asian casino, when he gets to the bar we’re back to the trademark martini, shaken, not stirred. No Heineken in sight. The bartender ostentatiously shakes up the drink for him, and Bond purrs “Perfect,” before taking it. I thought the scene was pretty perfect myself — the transition from Heineken to martini is used as another signifier that Bond has returned to form — though it’s doubtful Heineken’s execs feel the same.

Heineken pops up a couple other times in the movie, mostly as drink of choice for the MI6 geeks wonking out in the spy agency’s basement beneath London, but I don’t think anybody’s going to be rushing to buy a six-pack of Heineken because Q or some bureaucratic flunky likes it.

It’s possible that when you blend in all the other marketing tie-ins — a TV commercial featuring Craig and femme fatale Bérénice Marlohe, which ties to a digital gameification campaign — it adds value to the brand’s $45 million investment. But I don’t think so. In this case, Bond has taken on the supervillain of brand-corrupting product placement and won in almost humiliating fashion.



Siebert, an award-winning former film critic, is currently director of communications for Digitaria, a JWT Company.

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