James Bond villains or marketing gurus?

Posted on August 2, 2016 by Chris Pate

The James Bond rumour mill has been busy recently, identifying every A-lister from Tom Hiddlestone to Gillian Anderson as potential candidates for the titular role in 2018’s as-yet-untitled Bond 25.

Shaken not stirred

But despite the attention that Bond receives as a cultural icon, far less is paid to some of cinema’s most compelling characters: the films’ villains. Each member of the rogues’ gallery demonstrates a level of creativity and thinking outside-the-box that marketers could learn from (without using a shark-infested swimming pool…)

For the record, I’m not suggesting that we’re a pack of super-villains! But Bond baddies can teach us a few things about differentiation. At face value, they appear to be very similar, much like B2B businesses. But look slightly closer and it’s clear that every one has devised a dynamite strategy to generate attention and stand out from the crowd of competitors.

Whether it’s creating a reclusive underwater colony, manipulating their way into Fort Knox or using a satellite to cause a financial collapse in Britain – top marks if you can name the films I’m referencing – each has a raison d’etre that defines them and fuels their actions in their respective film. Sure, some of these endeavours are far from perfect and are less aligned to B2B (building an elite colony on the moon, perhaps?), but the principal remains the same.

Ensuring that all your content is fuelled by one great idea will serve to heighten the cohesion and impact of any campaign.

The name’s Bond… James Bond – The importance of branding

Whilst wielding a set of chrome chompers or investing in a narcissistic air ship may be a step too far, each and every villain knows how to differentiate themselves. From the bleached-blond hair and eccentric dress sense of Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) in Skyfall[i], through to the exploitation of voodoo and the occult by Mr Big (Yaphet Kotto) in Live and Let Die,[ii] each Bond villain is distinct, memorable and instantly identifiable.

What’s more, their ideas are embraced by their organisations, with every stakeholder – from the henchman to the fluffy cat - working towards the realisation of their ambitious scheme.

Ensure that your ideas are vivid and recognisable, and that they resonate with both your clients and with the staff in your business. An idea that is unique to your business, speaks to your clients and unifies the different segments of your company – particularly the marketing, PR and sales departments – is a sure-fire success.

Shaken, Not Stirred – Dare to differentiate

We have to give the bad guys top marks for personal branding, but credit is also due for their passion for theatricals. The appearance of laser beams, ice palaces and lavish casinos alone should be evidence enough of this. Ostentatious? Sure. But completely different to anything you’ve seen before.

What’s more, each villain hatches a plan that plays to their strengths. Every part of Auric Goldfinger’s plan[iii] involves the precious metal because, well, he likes gold.

Not only do these quirks act as character-defining attention-grabbers, but they also serve as a reminder that attempting something creative and out of your comfort zone within your marketing plan – and I don’t mean a hollowed out volcano – can provide real benefits.

For Your Eyes Only – Know your target audience

Part of the reason that 007’s criminal masterminds often come so close to success leaving Bond in a pickle, is due to the fact that their ideas are well targeted. They know exactly who their victims are – Max Zorin (Christopher Walken) specifically focuses on the Californian microchip industry in A View To A Kill[iv], for example – and this makes it easier to realise their dastardly schemes.

When devising your campaign, it’s important to know your target audience and devise an idea (hopefully less diabolical) that plays to your strengths. A firm knowledge of both what you do, and exactly who you’re trying to reach can help focus your idea, resulting in engaging content that successfully drives sales.

The World is Not Enough – Own the white space 

In each film, the main villain hatches a plan totally unlike anything James Bond has faced previously (obviously). This means that each rogue exists in their own white space; Elliot Carver (Jonathan Pryce) in Tomorrow Never Dies[v], for instance, is the villain that attempts to use a stealth boat to create global war and obtain exclusive media coverage of the conflict.

No other Bond villain has ever attempted anything similar to this plan, coupling the idea with his persona as a villain and helping to further differentiate him from other villains in the series. In the competitive world of B2B, finding the white space in the market is the key to implementing your idea.

It must be admitted that the roster of Bond villains have a collectively awful track record when it comes to the execution of their ideas, in each and every case being thwarted by 007 – probably for the best! But, if you forgive the at times tenuous link, what counts is that their ideas stand out as unique, relevant and differentiated. They may have a lot to learn from the school of villainy, but as marketers, we can certainly take inspiration from the way they make an impact!

[i] Skyfall, Sam Mendes, Sony Pictures International, 2012

[ii] Live and Let Die, Guy Hamilton, United Artists Corporation, 1973

[iii] Goldfinger, Guy Hamilton, United Artists Corporation 1964

[iv] A View To A Kill, John Glen, United International Pictures (UIP), 1985

[v] Tomorrow Never Dies, Roger Spottiswoode, United International Pictures (UIP), 1999


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