How did the 007-Heineken deal become such a big deal?

The flap over Heineken’s product-placement deal with Skyfall, the 23rd James Bond movie, isn’t going away. How’d that happen? After all, James Bond drank beer in some of Ian Fleming’s original stories. He had beer in some movies, as recently as 2008′s Quantum of Solace, the most recent 007 flick.

"James, was this beer deal such a good idea?"
"Pass me a Heineken, Felix!"


With 20-20 hindsight, it’s not that surprising. Here’s what led to the situation:

The financial conditions of two studios: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which owns half the 007 franchise, recently was in bankruptcy court, emerging as a smaller company. It ended up cutting a deal with Sony Corp. to distribute Skyfall (and the next 007 film). But Sony has financial problems of its own. That meant:

Skyfall was going to rely heavily on product placement: The Sunday Times of London reported 11 month ago that MGM and Sony were looking to product placement deals to supply as much as one-third of Skyfall’s budget (this link shows the version of the Sunday Times story that appeared in The Australian). Months later, Skyfall star Daniel Craig tactily admitted that product placement was vital to Skyfall.

As a result, the media and some fans were on red alert: Bond movies had been criticized before for what seemed like excessive product placement. Some fans noted how 1979′s Moonraker included plenty of plugs for Marlboro cigarettes, British Airways and 7-Up. The 2006 Casino Royale movie, Craig’s debut as Bond, was noted for how it shoehorned a reference for Omega watches into a key scene with Craig’s Bond and Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who had done a film on product placement, included 007 films in his critique.

The initial announcement of Heineken’s Skyfall deal wasn’t handled well: Heineken’s Feb. 8 press release announcing the product-placement deal had a lot of chest-thumping by both the company and Eon Productions, which produces the 007 movies:

Alexis Nasard, Chief Commercial Officer of HEINEKEN said: “When two great brands like Heineken® and James Bond join together, excitement is guaranteed. We are proud of our long standing partnership. The trust that we have built has allowed us to take the partnership to a new level by linking SKYFALL directly with our award winning global ‘Open Your World’ campaign. We are confident our activation plan will ignite the conversation with our consumers and film viewers.”

Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, the SKYFALL producers added: “The level of collaboration with Heineken® is unprecedented. We are excited by the global reach and the creativity that the Heineken® team is able to deliver.”

Of course, Heineken and Eon could have mentioned that 007 had consumed beer in Ian Fleming’s novels and Eon’s movies. Evidently, they were so busy discussing how wonderful they were, that fact just couldn’t be squeezed into the press release. Make no mistake, when a press release quotes an executive, those quotes are approved by the executive ahead of time. This wasn’t an oversight. This is the message Heineken and Eon wanted to get across. Translation of said message: “We’re wonderful, you’re lucky to have us.”

Timing is everything: In this case, the timing was bad. Yes, Bond drank more than just martinis on the page and on the screen. (In Live And Let Die, director Guy Hamilton and screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz made a point of having first-time 007 Roger Moore drink bourbon to avoid comparisons with Sean Connery.) But Bond was, for better or worse, identified with martinis in movies.

In addition, the Casino Royale reboot shook things up. The movie turned the traditional Bond formula on its head as we watched a thuggish Bond learn to be a gentleman. They could have chose to shown how a gentleman learned to become tough (this is not an original observation on our part) but the filmmakers didn’t take that approach. During Casino Royale’s marketing, we were told, the film shows “how James became Bond.” We were told by the end of the movie, the James Bond we all knew would emerge. Then, in 2008′s Quantum of Solace, we were told that James wasn’t Bond just yet. Hence, the gunbarrel scene, again, wasn’t at the start of the movie.

As a result, in the last six years, Bond fans have processed at lot of change. The Heineken deal meant yet more change and that’s been the theme of much of the coverage since the deal was first announced. Maud Adams, who appeared in two 007 films, said “this has gone too far. Martini was something elegant when I served Roger Moore and it is elegant to this day.”

Some fans say this was all planned by Heineken to get publicity. We doubt it. Most companies don’t like publicity where people dump on you. This probably will blow over. Then again, we first thought this would have blown over by now.

UPDATE: According to A YAHOO! MOVIES POST blog post, Michael G. Wilson told reporters in Mexico (he was speaking from the U.K.) that: “Bond would sup Heineken in the film, but added that he would drink Vodka Martinis as well.”

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