Revenue Agent 007: In his latest adventure, the urbane British spy seems determined to make the world safe for commercialism.

December 14, 1997|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,SUN STAFF WRITER

What a man! What a life! What cool stuff!

James Bond sips his Smirnoff vodka martini; the women draw near. He calls Moneypenny on his Ericsson mobile phone; he gets through no matter what. He drives his BMW motorcycle off the top of a building; his hair isn't even ruffled.

You, too, can own this stuff!

007: Super secret agent ... Super sales agent.

When ever-debonair Bond returns after a two-year hiatus to movie theaters this week in United Artists' "Tomorrow Never Dies," he will do so with an unprecedented license to sell, sell, sell.

Amid a slew of cinematic tie-ins involving tiny plastic Dalmatians or Batman action figures sold with a burger and fries, the ultra-urbane Bond stands out for his particularly adult appeal. Among the products with marketing links to the film are Visa, Avis Rent a Car, Smirnoff vodka, Heineken beer, BMW cars, Omega watches, Ericsson electronic gadgets and L'Oreal makeup.

When it comes to selling to adults, it seems, nobody does it better.

"He has universal appeal," says Elizabeth Silver, advertising vice president for Visa. "He's got high-tech appeal. The women love Bond movies because he is handsome and sexy. And the men love it because they identify with him as an action hero."

Designed to ride the coattails of "GoldenEye" -- which in 1995 proved to be the most successful Bond adventure to date with $350 million in worldwide box-office sales -- the promotions for "Tomorrow Never Dies" aim to peak around the film's Friday opening. Already, they can be seen everywhere from TV, magazines and the sides of buses to auto dealerships, billboards and electronics outlets.

There's L'Oreal's 007 Beauty collection, complete with "Bond Bordeaux" nail polish. There are stand-up cardboard James Bonds (a k a actor Pierce Brosnan) hawking fifths of Smirnoff and "Shaken Not Stirred" T-shirts in liquor stores. There are contests offering free trips to the movie premiere in Los Angeles, to London, to exotic island locales. And there are first-of-a-kind television spots scripted and filmed specifically for Visa, rather than movie clips grafted into TV commercials.

All of which adds up to about $100 million in cross promotions for the film -- about as much as it cost to make -- and what may soon seem to consumers like an overabundance of Bond.

The film, the 18th featuring the perpetually attractive super agent, pits Brosnan as Bond against Jonathan Pryce as the maniacal head of a global media conglomerate who is threatening to start World War III to boost his company's TV ratings.

MGM (which owns United Artists) has a lot riding on the project. Last year, its production pace slowed significantly as it changed ownership. The studio's goal now is to create a promotional frenzy that will boost "Tomorrow Never Dies," the most expensive Bond film yet, into a holiday blockbuster.

'Titanic' competition

The saturation approach may be justified: "Titanic," the much-ballyhooed Paramount and Twentieth Century Fox action movie that cost more than $200 million to make, opens the same day.

"It is financially important to us. We want to do what we did with "GoldenEye" again. We want to make sure it tips itself into success. And we have a pretty good shot at that," says Karen Sortito, MGM vice-president for worldwide promotions.

"We strategized: The corporations we targeted were upscale and had some compatibility with Bond. And on the companies' part, they thought, 'Sure, we want to be associated with the Bond image. He is debonair, fun, sexy. He loves gadgets, and he is the ultimate survivor.' "

Bond, that indefatigable defender of capitalistic society, is no stranger to commercialism. In the books that inspired the movies, the late author Ian Fleming used brand names as literary stage props that helped to establish his protagonist's personality.

The first Bond movie -- "Dr. No," which starred Sean Connery and was filmed in 1962 -- is credited with pioneering product tie-ins by featuring an Aston Martin automobile and Smirnoff vodka.

Since then, Bond films have included an amphibious Lotus, a laser-beamed Omega watch, and a Rolex that could be used to slash throats.

Just for a Lark

In 1989, Phillip Morris paid what industry analysts estimate at $350,000 to have Bond (played by Timothy Dalton) smoke a Lark cigarette in "Licence to Kill." And in the last Bond adventure, "GoldenEye," the super agent traded in his Aston Martin and Lotus for a BMW.

Now, in "Tomorrow Never Dies," Bond has corporate sponsorship for nearly anything he does, from drinking to telling the time. He will be sipping Smirnoff martinis that are, of course, shaken not stirred. He won't just make phone calls on his Ericsson phone -- he'll also use it to blow up safes, open doors, drive his car and peer around corners. And the partnership forged in 1995 between BMW and MGM proved so successful that in the new movie, Bond will not only drive a BMW car, he will also cruise around on a BMW motorcycle.

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