Licensed to sustain

University of Birmingham study breaks down key to Bond franchise’s longevity.

A major academic study of the James Bond franchise has shed a unique light on how cinema’s longest-running series has maintained its appeal for more than half a century.

The University of Birmingham’s Professor Finola Kerrigan examined the brand’s evolution in the fifty-plus years since Dr No to determine the reasons for 007’s survival and success. Her in-depth analysis hails the Bond canon as a classic illustration of how longevity in any commercial field stems from the right combination of stability and change. The study comes ahead of the release of Bond 25 – the 25th film in the series – and amid constant speculation that a black or female actor could one day play Bond.

Finola Kerrigan, a Professor of Marketing and Consumption at Birmingham Business School, said: “Any serial brand continually needs to re-engage its audience. This is a trick the Bond franchise has managed to pull off again and again – at least to some degree – and it’s important to understand how this has been achieved. The key, as our research explains, is that these films have more often than not succeeded in striking an effective balance between core continuity and selective reinvention.”

Professor Kerrigan conducted the study with Dr Chloe Preece, of Royal Holloway, University of London, and Dr Daragh O’Reilly, formerly of the University of Sheffield.

Their analysis incorporated every Bond film and original Ian Fleming novel, as well as press reports, reviews, marketing material and other sources of sociocultural context. The findings highlight a number of major turning points in the history of the series, beginning with Sean Connery’s exit and his replacement by George Lazenby.

This signalled a switch to a darker and less gadget-driven Bond – a short-lived move that quickly gave way to an era in which the franchise followed rather than set trends. In the 1970s, with Roger Moore as 007, the films seized on fads such as Blaxploitation movies, the Bruce Lee-led kung fu craze and even the Star Wars phenomenon.

The earlier entries from this period, most notably 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun, also marked a low point in the stereotyped representation of women. In 1989’s Licence to Kill, with Timothy Dalton as Bond, the series embarked on another change of direction by introducing numerous topical references to politics and society.

Developing attitudes increasingly eroded the gender clichés of the ’70s, culminating in Judi Dench assuming the role of Bond’s boss, M, in 1995’s GoldenEye.

And in 2012, following the disappointing box-office performance of Quantum of Solace, Skyfall set about firmly re-establishing the relevance of several classic Bond components.

This shift included the reintroduction of Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5 – first seen almost 50 years earlier in Goldfinger – and the debut of a younger, more tech-savvy Q.

The study also stresses the influence of the Broccoli family, whose members have served as producers on every film and still act as the series’ “guardians at the gate”.

Finola Kerrigan said: “Bond has undoubtedly flirted with disaster from time to time and certainly can’t claim to have been ahead of the sociocultural curve since day one. Overall, though, the brand has skillfully retained its historically established elements while constantly reshaping them in line with fans’ and wider society’s expectations.

“It’s hard to think of another entertainment franchise that can match this feat – and there really aren’t many comparable examples in other spheres of business either. This is why Bond offers a valuable lesson for marketers and managers who recognise the importance of sustainability – not just within the movie industry but in any sector. The mere fact that the possibility of 007 leaving behind the era of ‘male, pale and stale’ is no longer dismissed out of hand is testament to the brand’s proven ability to adapt.”

Finola Kerrigan and her co-authors will host an event in Birmingham on November 4th to discuss their findings and the Bond franchise’s continued success. More information can be found here.