The big idea: Can you develop a unique and effective marketing strategy around the partnership of two global brands with different cultures? The James Bond franchise evaluated a lucrative sponsorship offer from Heineken while considering the reputational risks of Bond deviating from his usual Vesper martini. More specifically, as the franchise weighed the economic benefits against the risks, a new theory around the idea of “being cool” emerged, as did an examination of how a brand can design and sustain this quality to stand out.
The scenario: The producers of “Spectre,” the latest Bond film, had a difficult sponsorship decision to make before filming the movie. Up for consideration was a highly lucrative product promotion with Heineken, which pledged $100 million to the film and planned a high-budget advertising campaign. The studio was looking for any way to reduce the cost of the film, but the producers were concerned about the negative backlash they had unwittingly unleashed when they’d shown Bond drinking a Heineken instead of a martini in “Skyfall,” the previous Bond film.
James Bond has been recognized as a masculine ideal: a dashingly handsome British gentleman, able to attract the most beautiful women with ease, possessing impeccable taste, and able to best the most villainous enemies with his brawn, daring and cleverness. He is the definition of cool.
Heineken, on the other hand, is a Dutch company not known for its vodka. Although its green bottle and red star make it one of the most recognizable beer brands in the world, its brand image and culture contrast that of Bond. As the producers of “Spectre” considered Heineken’s appealing offer, they had to think deeply about how a potential partnership would affect Bond’s image.
The resolution: Even a brand as established and popular as James Bond is not safe from a mismatched partnership that could scar its brand image and perception. The Bond franchise, assessing the risks and benefits of associating with a Dutch beer, could use a new theory on coolness as its guide. This leverages three traits that are crucial to designing and maintaining cool: autonomy, authenticity and attitude.
The producers first considered whether Heineken fits with Bond’s image of autonomy, which refers to its lack of conformity, unconventionality, rebellion, individuality and independence. Second, Bond is authentic. If a martini is part of his authenticity, viewers might see a partnership with Heineken as disingenuous or even fake.
In something akin to a Catch-22, Bond cannot look as though he is trying to be cool, as this is decidedly uncool.
There is also the other side of the coin. For Heineken, associating with Bond is a great opportunity, as this would be a far quicker and easier path for establishing coolness in the beer than building an organic movement from scratch.
This is a risky partnership, one that needs to be carried out very carefully. Authenticity is key. Heineken’s excitement is understandable, but the partnership should be approached programmatically.
The lesson: The ephemeral idea of being cool is crucial to both personal and professional brands in the entertainment industry and beyond. It is a work of art and science to design and sustain it.
Lalin Anik is an assistant business professor at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.