Licensed to Make a Killing


On television, radio, magazines, billboards and the sides of buses across America, the new James Bond movie is being promoted. Here’s the twist: MGM, the studio releasing “Tomorrow Never Dies” on Dec. 19, hasn’t spent a dime on any of it.

Sure, MGM will spend an estimated $25 million of its own dough to market Pierce Brosnan’s second go-round as Agent 007. But promotional partners including BMW cars, Smirnoff vodka, Ericsson phones and Heineken beer will kick in nearly twice that: $48 million domestically, $100 million worldwide.

“Tomorrow” is the latest and perhaps biggest example of how studios are increasingly looking to augment their marketing dollars with other people’s money. It’s no longer just kiddie fare that’s attracting big tie-ins.

Last year, “Independence Day” and “Mission: Impossible” both featured tie-in commercials with Apple Computer that arguably did more for the films’ awareness than for the struggling Apple. “Independence Day” also got Coors beer to create 75 million “Independence Day” decorated cans.

“This used to be a fast-food- and soft-drink-dominated business. If you didn’t have those things or a film that fit those things, you didn’t have promotions,” says Steve Ross, head of worldwide promotions and product placement for “Independence Day” studio 20th Century Fox. Ross adds that now there are many adult-targeted promotions throughout the year with films like “Out to Sea” (Holland America cruise lines) and “Volcano” (Tanqueray liquor).


Deals vary, but studios will often allow a company to tag onto a film in exchange for a multimillion-dollar advertising commitment.

“Our biggest objective was to break through the Christmas clutter, in a highly competitive film season, with things never seen before,” said Karen Sortito, a hyper-energetic ex-New Yorker who has headed MGM’s Bond promotional efforts on 1995’s “GoldenEye” as well as “Tomorrow Never Dies.”


How about James Bond being asked for identification (“driver’s license, license to kill?”) in a Visa Check Card commercial? Or several regular guys--including an airplane mechanic and a used-car salesman--who happen to be named Bond . . . James Bond, in a Heineken commercial? This is the first movie promotion for both companies.

What makes companies eager to bond with Bond is simple.

While movies that get big burger chain tie-ins are aimed at kids, Bond stands alone as a 35-year franchise directed at upscale adult audiences.

“Some people were a little skeptical at first,” says Steve Davis, vice president of marketing for Heineken USA. “But now, our whole [Bond] promotion has already become a huge win with the people at our company, our distributors and our retailers.”

Davis says that while it would have been nice to have seen Bond drinking a Heinie in “Tomorrow Never Dies,” the company deferred to filmmakers who felt that would be out of character for the martini-quaffing Bond. Instead, moviegoers will see a Heineken truck and Heineken bottles being smashed in an action sequence. (Like the other companies, Heineken spent no more for this placement beyond its multimillion-dollar advertising commitment and supplying the product.)

Besides the humorous TV spots, Heineken is running radio spots and print ads, and putting up 20,000 life-sized standees of Brosnan and his co-star, Michelle Yeoh, at supermarkets across the country to promote exclusive Bond merchandise, including jackets and ballpoint pens available from a Heineken 800 number.

Visa customers are getting Bond promotional inserts in their statements this month, and shoppers who go to look at watches at an Omega retailer may find a BMW motorcycle sitting in the jewelry store.

“Retailers tell us that more people, and especially younger people, are looking at Omega overall,” says Venanzio Ciampa, worldwide marketing director for Omega. Bond sports a Seamaster model in the film and in print ads for Omega.


Director Roger Spottiswoode actually created a scene around the BMW R1200 cruiser motorcycle after spying it on a trip to BMW headquarters with Sortito. BMW supplied several of the $13,000 bikes and 10 $92,000 750iL sedans gratis to the production.

BMW had been on board since its huge success with “GoldenEye,” which the auto maker used to introduce its Z3 roadster. Buyers booked advance sales of 10,000 cars at $30,000 and up; Automotive News christened the Z3 the most successful car launch in history.

BMW’s success certainly inspired other promotional partners to jump aboard. But will consumers be turned off if they feel the movie is being over-commercialized?

“You can’t do a forced promotion; it doesn’t work,” says Alyse Kobin of Kobin Enterprises, the agency that handled Smirnoff’s Bond campaign. Kobin says that handled correctly, though, placement and advertising campaigns should appear seamless (and inoffensive) to viewers and consumers.

“Smirnoff and Bond have a long history, back to the first movie,” says Kobin, “so this was just really natural.”