With a bang, the 23rd James Bond film will open in U.S. theaters on November 9, and no doubt it will be a blockbuster like all the films from this franchise. The media buzz has already begun, and actor Daniel Craig will attempt to once again put his edgy stamp on the iconic character. But the Bond “brand” is much bigger than any one actor. It is built on a solid and winning formula that has worked for more than 50 years. It’s totally scalable, always on trend, and continually innovative. A close look at James Bond as a brand reveals seven universal lessons that are applicable to any company in search of brand stardom:
1. The Story.
Every great brand must have a great story, and Bond’s is bulletproof. You don’t have to tell it like Ian Fleming, but you need a story that builds a loyal following and makes people come back for more. A compelling story helps create the emotional attachment to a brand, and the right balance of the familiar and the new is at the heart of all great storytelling. From the opening action sequence, you know what to expect from Bond, and he delivers, always with an added element of surprise.
2. The Style.
Successful brands recognize that looking good is part of doing business in a design-conscious world. Purchasing decisions are driven by both utility and aesthetics, whether it’s a watch or a running shoe. Customers wear the “style badge” as a way of saying “I have good taste.” Every one of the six James Bond actors used style as one of his weapons. From the impeccable tuxedo and the perfect martini to exotic locations and luxury hotels, being “uber cool” is an integral part of the Bond brand. If good design is not part of your company strategy, don’t expect your products to perform like Bond.
3. The Team.
Bond has more than M.I.6. as backup; he also has a bevy of brands always willing and ready for the golden touch of 007. Aston Martin, Sony, Playboy, British Airways, Smirnoff, Omega and, in Skyfall, Heineken. In the case of BMW, a Bond film was used to launch a new Model Z sports car. It’s rumored that this next film will have more product placement than any previous one. This may make some purists cringe, but it’s a win/win arrangement that helps cover the enormous cost of these films. It’s a 1+1=3 approach to branding that allows like strategic partners to add value to a collective brand experience for customers.
4. The Sex.
Sex is not your typical corporate brand pillar, but for the Bond brand, it is key. With no apologies, the Bond brand is built for men. It knows its loyal male following well and has made the “Bond girl” a cultural icon second only to James himself. From the moment a bikini clad Ursula Andress stepped out of the surf in Dr. No in 1962, sex has become an integral part of the Bond brand “toolkit.” This might not be essential if you’re selling smartphones, soft drinks, or vacuum cleaners, but knowing what drives consumers to your brand is. Even the irrepressible Ms. Moneypenny knows what James really wants.
5. The Technology.
Behind every Bond there is a “Q,” the techno wizard that equips James with the coolest “toys” for him to decimate his foe. A machine-gun-fitted Aston Martin for Sean Connery and the new palm sensor pistol for Daniel Craig are just some of the gadgets that Bond, with his fetish for technology, gets to take for a spin. Additionally, the opening film titles have always been technically innovative, including designer Robert Brownjohn’s famous projected type on a shimmering body for Goldfinger in 1964. In the recent Quantum of Solace, fantastical use of touch screen communications was pervasive in the film. Embracing high tech is a no brainer for fueling any forward-moving brand in business today. If you don’t, you do so at your peril.
6. The Media.
Every Bond episode is much more of a cultural event than just a film, and the cross-media opportunities seem boundless. The title song? Great artists have always stepped forward to set the films’ mood, including Shirley Bassey, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Alicia Keys and, now, Adele for Skyfall. In publishing, Playboy will surely have a feature. There will be a game for Xbox. MoMA has already launched its 50th anniversary of Bond film series. And, who could forget the Bond and Queen Elizabeth’s “skyfall” at the opening of the 2012 Olympics? Timing is everything, and a seize-the-moment strategy to maximize brand exposure may be the open shot you need.
7. The Logo.
It’s a classic. The clever 007 number fused with a silhouette of a pistol designed by Joseph Caroff in 1962 has proven staying power. It appeared in the first Bond film, Dr. No, and has been used in every film since. In an age when logos can be pulled off of clip art files on the Internet, the Bond logo is a testament to designing it right the first time for it to last. Couple this with the film’s twangy guitar theme and you have the best in sonic branding too. Well-designed logos become iconic when the brand they represent delivers outstanding quality consistently over a sustained period of time. For over a half century, the 007 logo has done just that.
The winning brand formula offered by the James Bond model works brilliantly for this Hollywood franchise. What about for your company? Any of these seven lessons will give you more than enough ammunition to conquer your competition and build an outstanding brand.
—Ken Carbone is cofounder and chief creative director of the Carbone Smolan Agency, whose clients include Tiffany & Co., W.L Gore, Herman Miller, PBS, Christie’s, Nonesuch Records, the W Hotel Group, the Museé du Louvre, The Museum of Modern Art, The Pierpont Morgan Library, The Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the High Museum of Art. He is the author of The Virtuoso: Face to Face with 40 Extraordinary Talents, and his new book written with business partner Leslie Smolan, Design: What Makes a Great Design Partnership, hits stores on November 8.