With the new theme song released for Spectre, it's a fitting time to look at the strongest brand in the world. Move aside Nike, Apple and Coke because here comes the real thing:
A brand is often described as a promise, which makes more sense when you look at the so-called birth of branding thousands of years ago. It started quite literally as marking livestock with a hot branding iron to identify ownership, but that quickly begins to imply a promise once customers get involved: "Look for my mark, because my cattle are fed on the best grass".
So what happens when you find out that your favorite mark of cow is actually fed on dodgy grass? The brand is wounded. The promise has been broken. Is that a Volkswagen reference? Yes, it is.
But back to James Bond, because as a brand it has come to promise so, so much. I would even say so much that the promise can no longer be kept. Yet we all know instinctively what that promise is, and whenever a new 007 film is released we watch and listen in anticipation.
I can think of no better example of complete branding and none as memorable and instantly identifiable. Bond proves beyond anything that branding is more than a logo, more than a color, more than a font. You wouldn't get away with just slapping the 007 logo onto the new film poster; you would need the right color tones, the right sense of fashion, the right pose, the right car, the right actor... it's about creating a feeling, an experience. Bond has a licence to brand and he doesn't seem to miss a thing.
A silver Aston Martin DB5. Martini, shaken not stirred. Silhouettes of nude women. Bond, James Bond. This sound. The view through the barrel of a gun. This suit.
The network of products, symbols, sounds, images and associations is vast and impressively cohesive. As a brand it puts even Coca Cola to shame, which has been around since 1886, giving it a head-start of roughly 70 years.
But with the promise of James Bond comes the inevitable let-down of James Bond. Every new film feels like maybe it just wasn't quite bondy enough. The song never quite lives up to the tremendous expectation.
Roger Moore was too soft, Daniel Craig too brutal, Pierce Brosnan too ________ .
007 is like a faint star in the night sky; try and look directly at it and you can't see it. The promise of Bond far outreaches any one single reality of Bond.
That to me says something bigger about branding itself. Great branding doesn't just reflect the reality of a company, it actually goes beyond and motivates everybody in that company to do better. The execution of a brand isn't just an outward facade to an external target audience, it's equally much an inward rallying call.
And there is no call more compelling than that of 007. Ask me to create the look & feel for the next Bond film and I know exactly what's expected, I know exactly what to aim for, and I feel a tremendous weight on my shoulders.
I also know I would never succeed 100%.
95% if I'm lucky.
And that's not because I suck at my job. It's because the promise is too much to ever deliver on, not just for me, but for anyone. It's what makes the Bond so great, and what would make it the best branding job in the world to tackle.
So next time you're facing a branding challenge, don't think "what would Nike do?" or "what would Apple do?".
Ask instead: "What would Mr. Bond do?"