Product placement and James Bond go together like… well, like James Bond and an Aston Martin. Alongside perhaps the most successful British cultural export since the books of the Brontë sisters, there have been ubiquitous marketing tie-ins — commercials for watches, suits, cars, toys, et cetera ad infinitum. One of the slightly younger advertising connections with the Bond franchise is that built by Heineken beer, which goes back to 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies. I argue here that these Heineken commercials form a contained Bond universe (‘Bondverse’) of their own. In this alternate reality, James Bond is self-aware, self-referential, semi-progressive, and occasionally interchangeable with his alter ego, the actor Daniel Craig. Notable also is that this marketing universe depicts cross-overs with ‘everyday’ lives, suggesting much more than any of the films that Bond has a lasting impact on those around him. I observe this parallel storyworld via the marketing tie-ins for Skyfall (2012), Spectre (2015), and No Time to Die (2021).
The Heineken Bondverse, and the multiplicity of other Bondverses established by other brands, form a network, an ecosystem of references that are alive with a fun and vibrant energy — or, if you prefer, corniness. Rather than transmedia as originally (and perhaps problematically) conceived (see O'Meara and Bevan 2018, Kwon and Byun 2018, and Scott 2010), I here offer that these miniature marketing storyspheres can be understood through an ecological and ephemeral approach. This approach requires a paratextual, ephemeral, objectified attitude to media, an aliveness to its tropological richness and vitality, an investment in the objects of its genre, its tropes, its history (warts and all). Put another way, what if we took the Bond commercials as canon?
In the Skyfall piece, a bystander is mistaken for Bond and chased through a train, a perfect linear corridor for action. Along the way, there are small episodes where the man deliberately or inadvertently affects those around him, and he eventually ends up in a raving party carriage, where he briefly meets Bond himself before the hero must away to save the day. This is where the bystander is effectively propositioned by actor Bérénice Marlohe; the man, like us, is invited to ‘Crack the Case’. The Spectre tie-in is radically different from the dark film with which it’s associated. Bond is once again being chased by toughs, but this time he (for want of a much better phrase) ‘picks up’ a young woman as a water-skier behind the boat he’s used to get away. Hijinks and hilarity ensue as the poor woman is dragged across and between various scenes, including a wedding where apparently Nick Nack (from 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun) is a guest. The tie-in for No Time To Die does not just play with the cultural currency of the Bond films, but also with critical commentary; in this piece, the actor Daniel Craig is mistakenly identified as James Bond, and struggles to cope with a series of Bond-esque encounters in the course of a day in his life.
Each of these promotional clips features a chase. A well-worn action cinematic trope, of course, but it works well as a kinetic device in these short pieces. All three rely on tropes — cultural, cinematic, and those specific to the Bond franchise. In short, they represent “a liquid and elusive textuality” (Lughi 2016: 49) that reconfigures time, space, and cultural materials. These advertisements create a secondary storyworld that one can see as partly connected to the source material, but only where needed to build a cultural reference. Further research might more deeply consider worldbuilding and storytelling in singular or multiple pieces of advertising media, and the role these media play in wider culture.
Kwon, Young-Sung and Byun, Daniel H. (2018), "An exploration of the limitations of transmedia storytelling: Focusing on the entertainment and education sectors", Journal of Media and Communication Studies, 10:4, pp. 25-33.
Lughi, Giulio (2016), "Paratext between time and space in digital media", in Pesce, Sara and Noto Paolo (eds.), The Politics of Ephemeral Digital Media, New York: Routledge, pp. 49-62.
O’Meara, Radha and Bevan, Alex (2018), "Transmedia Theory’s Author Discourse and Its Limitations", M/C Journal, 21:1, https://doi.org/10.5204/mcj.1366
Scott, Suzanne (2010), "The trouble with transmediation: Fandom's negotiation of transmedia storytelling systems", Spectator: The University of Southern California Journal of Film and Television, 30:1, pp. 30-34.