James Bond is much more than a sex symbol.
The most recent James Bond movie, Skyfall, has been the most commercially successful of all of the James Bond films. That’s quite something, as the 20 Bond films made to date are the longest continuous series of this sort and so far they have grossed over $4.5Bn. The media were as one in saying what a great film it was too; but, I didn’t really think much of it. So, I couldn’t help wondering why I didn’t think it was as good as all the hype suggested. Just why did I feel let down by this most recent product from this famous franchise that I have enjoyed for most of my life? Why did it promise, me at least, so much but deliver less than I expected? Isn’t that the wrong way around? Shouldn’t Barbara Broccoli be delivering more if she wants my repeat business? Was it the film, or me, that was at fault here?
James Bond was created in 1953 by Ian Fleming and to quote Leslie Poles Hartley “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” Although the original Bond character evolved a little when he first appeared on film, he was born in a very different country indeed to the one we find ourselves in today. It was not only a more reluctantly post-colonial Britain, but one buoyed-up by the military success of WWII. All this is important because Bond is a quintessentially British spy, the personification of the country’s belief and confidence in its world view and authoritative voice. Isn’t this after all the essence of the Bond brand, what the Bond franchise is all about?
Daniel Craig’s Bond seems to be aping Jason Bourne in his more viseral portrayal of a spy’s life. Perhaps that is in part because of the great success of this challenger brand that surely had legs enough to give James a run for his money, if only Matt Damon had stayed onboard. Also, Daniel Craig is a more vulnerable man with a rather politically correct respect for woman that Sean Connery’s Bond would have laughed at. In fact, Skyfall is a very female-centric film overall, with Judi Dench’s foray into “the field”, and her painfully prolonged demise, just emphasising the change in status of women in today’s world from how it was back in the 1950’s.
So, the world has changed and so has James Bond and maybe that is why I found it a bit disappointing, as I was born at much the same time as the original Bond and the films are no longer aimed at my generation, with our tendency to ascribe more value to the past than it deserves sometimes, just like Britain, as a nation, does too. Daniel Craig is trying to pull me out of my original Bond comfort zone of misogyny and Britain still a world power to contend with. But maybe I should have learned from the more recent birth of Johnny English, who rightly satirised this romantic nonsense, that those days were over and I should have adapted by now.
As a brand, I see James Bond as the personification of Britain’s attitudes to others and particularly its world standing. You could argue that is how the Brand is positioned in customers’ minds. If I am right about this then Skyfall is a consummate piece of marketing, as whilst the world may have moved on Bond’s positioning hasn’t changed a bit, its treatment has just been adapted to new “market conditions”.
I am constantly surprised by how the uncomfortable feeling that accompanies new things often presages something great and I’m inclined to think that this explains my reaction to Skyfall; it was absolutely true to how the brand has been positioned, over many decades now, and there is a lot to learn from that. This consistency of positioning is what makes great brands. In the UK, Lucozade, a carbonated glucose drink, has always been positioned as an energy drink, although it has been promoted as everything from a medicine to a sports drink in my life time.
Bond is the personification of Britain’s place in the world and he can no longer be credible as the sexually irresistible Sean Connery sort of Bond who seemed so invincible to “foreigners”. Today, women also have more of a voice in the western world, where most of the money from Skyfall was earned, and they want to see a different sort of man on the screen; they, and their partners, also want to see a different sort of Britain too and Daniel Craig’s Bond provides both.
As long as the Bond brand can keep in touch with a changing Britain it is likely to be a successful franchise for some time yet, especially if it continues to respect its long term positioning.
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