This line might have been replayed on screens, and in the consciousness of millions of fans the world over, time and time again. Yet, few pull of it. The panache and aplomb of its delivery, irrespective of whichever actor is saying it, keeps the audience wanting more. That in a nutshell, has been the history of the James Bond Franchise. For over 60 years, and spanning 25 films, this has been a brand which has been remarkably consistent, even if many of its ingredients have changed over time. It is the quintessential name which surfaces, when definitive movie sequels are discussed at any forum.
As we have appreciated in the first edition of this series, brands are ‘mini sequels’ in themselves. The reason loyalty, differentiation, stature and other parameters grow, is because consumers keep revisiting and relishing the same experience. And if the Jurassic franchise, had some insights to teach brand custodians and marketers, surely three parallels is just scratching the surface when it comes to the legendary secret agent with the 007 code. This has literally been an icon with a ‘license to thrill’ all those looking to get out of dead ends, when it comes to brand thought. For when it comes to resurrections and revisits of any manner, this is the undisputed master, ever eager to ‘die another day’.
Begin on a powerful note
James Bond movies typically commence with a bang-all puns intended. There is a mini-adventure which usually kicks things off, which sometimes has a link to what follows, but often can be an enjoyable detour on its own. Then, there is the title track, typically belted out by a music superstar, often with an eye-catching visual treatment. The audience is hooked on and invested from the get go. There is no slow build up. No gradual escalation of tension. Bond hits the ground running. This ‘signature start’ has enthralled fans for years, and has become an expectation with the franchise, with every successive movie trying to outdo the previous one on this aspect. Perhaps, just like in the life of a secret agent, the franchise understands the need to get on with it, and not waste any time.
There is an old adage which goes “one never gets a second chance to make a first impression”. This is emphatically true even when it comes to the hugely competitive world of business and branding. In an increasingly overcluttered space, the initial steps one takes in the market, are extremely important. They can either firmly establish the brand in public consciousness, or cause it to be cursorily cast aside to the back benches of consumer interest. Apple’s famous ‘1984’ commercial that premiered (and was only run once) at Superbowl, set the stage for a brand ready to shake things up, and redefines the way the world looked at technology. In an era, where the fear of technology dehumanizing people was looming, and the threat of monochromatic conformity was imminent; this piece of perspective, decisively put the power back in the hands of the rebellious individual. Something James Bond himself might have fancied.
Customize with ‘cultural corrections’
There have been interesting shifts which the franchise has engineered, to always stay relevant with the times. Judi Dench stepping in as ‘M’, was emblematic of the rise of women to positions of power across the world. This was a clear departure from the chauvinistic undertones of the earlier movies. The morphing of the character arc of Moneypenny, to a woman who was confident of her role in the world (as opposed to being a ‘light diversion’ earlier), also reflected the same drift. Then, the recasting of ‘Q’, previously typically associated with an older man, to a much younger person, signaled how the young were taking over the world of technology. On closer inspection, there were always many more trendy things about the Bond saga, other than his choice of tuxedos.
Brands have to necessarily add ‘nudges of relevance’ to their narratives, to keep ringing true for consumers. One way to look at it, is that brands play regular roles in the everyday lives of people. Hence, understanding the mores of the everyday have transitioned, makes all the more sense. Ariel, was one of the early communicators of the idea of men lending a helping hand at home. The brand was saying ‘share the load’, long before it became a trending hashtag. A few years back, Airtel also showcased a pioneering story, of a man whose wife was his boss at the office. Both Femina and Tanishq, have also celebrated widow remarriages in their communication. This has been an inspiring effort by these brands to lend their support and voice, to an important, much needed change underway. It is when brands exhibit such deeper understanding of the changing moods of their audience, that they forge truly deeper bonds.
The face of Bond has changed five times over sixty years.
To put this in context, paraphrasing a famous Pierce Brosnan quote, more men have walked on the moon, than have played the famous spy. Sean Connery, George Lazenby. Roger Moore. Timothy Dalton. Brosnan himself, and finally Daniel Craig. Each new avatar of Bond, added a layer of much needed vitality. It refreshed the franchise, brought in new fans, and remained relevant to the changing times. It allowed for experiments in new directions. It indicated to the audience, while the brand was still very much the same in a sense, new conversations around his character and his world could now be started. That was always something fans could be over the moon with.
Brands need a change of face too. They strategically need to do things which either rejuvenate interest around them, or start them off on a new journey in a fresh garb. This ‘makeover’ might be most readily evident when it comes to packaging. Think how Servo from Indian Oil, launched new packs for its lubricants, as the century turned over. This emphatically communicated to consumers it was prepared for a new hi-tech era. In a category where consumers would find it hard to discern a change in product, the new pack played a vital role in adding a state-of-the-art edge to the perception of this lubricant. Britannia’s ‘Eat Healthy Think Better’ philosophy, embarked on a few years back, showed how a new face could also be interpreted as a new perspective on the world. It was about embracing a philosophy which tapped into a (then) latent insight, around it’s audience getting increasingly health conscious. Something which Bond has never got down to over the years to be honest, considering the excess of drinks and late nights he indulges in.
To sum up, Bond has undoubtedly been one of the greatest brands in popular culture. And beyond the gamboling around gadgets, girls and vodka martinis, he definitely shakes and stirs up things up, when it comes to brand thinking. It is up to brand custodians to follow his lead from him. Not be fazed by the ‘Spectre’ of increasing competition, or dwell on the prospect of ‘Skyfall’, even as they seek a ‘quantum of solace’, amidst battling their challenges.