Perhaps some element of the vocal opposition to product placement in James Bond films is based in a fear that it subjects audiences to subconscious manipulation.
“Does Subliminal Persuasion Work?” asked the title of an article featured in the September / October 2009 Skeptical Inquirer. Subtitled, “It Depends on your Motivation and Awareness,” authors Brandon Randolf-Seng and Robert D. Mather assert that recent psychological research provides more answers about why and when subliminal information can influence people’s preference and behaviors.
Foundationally, they note that subliminal processing is “simply a consequence of the way we are cognitively built.” In other words, if we had to otherwise process activities such as how, mechanically, to walk, or make decisions about lunch menus from among all information gathered up to that point in our life, we’d be slowed to a crawl. Thus the argument of influence. Offsetting this, “person’s current motivations at the time of being exposed to subliminal information and a person’s awareness of being exposed to subliminal information will determine in part whether subliminal persuasion is possible….”
James Bond all-but defines a motivation under this formula. As cited here previously, Kingsley Amis argued that fans “want to be Bond” (my emphasis). Now add context, which established product need — as opposed to mere association, which is the limitation of a commercial interruption, or tack-on before and after the feature film.
In Tomorrow Never Dies, 007 waits to see who Eliot Carver will send to his hotel room. There’s anticipation, anxiety for the audience as we watch. Bond drinks vodka in straight shots; we empathize. What brand does he drink? Smirnoff. Will have to remember that.
The Art of Bond (2006) provides rather a fascinating illustration of this. Introducing the section on Bond vehicles under “Bond Worlds: sets, locations, gadgets and cars,” a well-known Holywood personality dominates the page, leaning against his own personal choice for transportation. The caption reads, “‘My favorite Bond film is Goldfinger. I own a DB9 Aston Martin and the only reason why I have it is because of James Bond.’ Steven Spielberg.”
That is power.