When your brand is your Bond
So everywhere you look at the moment there seems to be some kind of article or debate about who the next James Bond will be.
It seems that we, the film-going public, are really taking the process of finding Daniel Craig’s successor to heart. Many a dinner party has become bogged down in the latest bookmaker odds or whether Tom Hardy is too edgy (or short, or tattooed, or beardy, or old…) to be JB or how likely it is that the franchise owners will be really brave in their choice.
But in amongst all the chatter, perhaps we’re missing the point. Isn’t the key question more about what direction the Bond brand is going to take rather than who exactly will be waving the Walther PPK around? After all – whoever takes on the role effectively becomes enveloped by the brand. They are it – and will be for the next ten years.
When a franchise is as loved as this one, the stakeholders take its direction very personally. They’ll have spent time considering how to design the new Bond and what needs to be done to ensure the series attracts new fans in the post-covid, audience-controlled, anti-misogyny, socially-obsessed, mid-2020s and beyond. And yes, they will doubtless have concluded that the world’s favourite fictional British Secret Service agent will need to attract wider and younger new audiences.
But that will bring its own unique set of challenges. The resurgent popularity of cinema should help but only if the tricky task of choosing the right actor and arming them with the appropriate narrative, positioning, values and personality is successfully negotiated.
Sound familiar? Yes, it’s the same kind of branding discipline we all go through in business every single day – writ large.
The difference for us mere mortals is that if we misjudge our messaging, we can tweak, fiddle and re-launch and as long as we don’t take too long about it – our audiences should be receptive to another approach. But with 007, if producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson get the 26th film wrong, generations of goodwill, brand currency and future revenue could be washed down the sink with the Martini dregs. How’s that for a bit of brand pressure?
Those same producers recognised a while ago that their boy was exposed to becoming a victim of cancel culture. Daniel Craig (mostly) tried to lay the sexist, old school Bond to rest and delivered a flawed, grumpy version who could still incapacitate you without ruining his Tom Ford suit and also looked pretty damn good in a pair of budgie-smugglers. But now the producers seem to want to knock some years off and have already hinted that the new incarnation will need to be a ‘30-something’. Good news for fans of tight swimming trunks no doubt but will a youngest ever Bond fit with the brand? I’d venture to say that an age shift would be a more contentious issue than having a female or a person of colour being cast in the role.
The main reason for that is the legions of devoted Bond followers. They know (intimately) that their hero has life experience – there isn’t much he hasn’t seen – and there’s a big risk they will be put offside by someone who clearly couldn’t have crammed all that experience into their 20-something years. As with all things brand related – a certain level of authenticity is required to show a loyal audience the respect they deserve.
Once they crack that conundrum the next thing on their list will be how to make the next chapter of the 007 story relevant to the shifting sands of global opinion – how to create a new cinematic journey that’s modern but familiar, cutting edge but comfortable. And how to do all that without alienating the traditional Bond audience – yes that does include those straight, white men who can feel just a touch threatened by global re-thinking.
But here’s where defining clear, appropriate values really comes into play.
Physicality, sophistication, humour – these foundations of the Bond brand can unquestionably be kept and even exaggerated but, if there’s even the faintest whiff of toxic masculinity about #thenewbond then they can kiss those fresh audiences goodbye. It’s inevitable that how Bond looks will always be the key criteria to certain audiences, but it’s how Bond looks at the world that will really define his, her or their future success.