Dr Andy Palmer was the CEO of Aston Martin between 2014-2020.
No Time to Die, the 25th Bond movie, treats viewers to an automotive feast as the Aston Martin DB5, V8 Saloon, DBS Superleggera, and Valhalla all grace our screens.
In other words, it’s clear that Aston Martin is James Bond’s favourite luxury-car brand. He’s the type of customer you can be sure owns the Aston-branded keyring, baseball cap and umbrella too!
As a former CEO of Aston Martin I know the power of the association with Bond and it’s a partnership that has undoubtedly helped market Aston Martin over the years. In No Time to Die Bond is not only marketing Aston Martin (and the franchise’s many other brand partners), but the entire cinema industry as filmgoers emerge from a period of intermittent lockdowns back to the silver screen.
And the pull is obvious. For many, James Bond is considered the ultimate hero. He embodies intelligence, strength, perseverance, as well as arguably the most saleable trait in the 21st century: sex appeal. Naturally when a brand is associated with such a character, it too starts to benefit from a link to those attributes.
What makes Bond such an attractive marketing prospect is that he isn’t your usual hero. Comic book super heroes, most notably the Marvel kind, tend to appeal to youngsters. That’s all well and good, however there’s just one problem: the young don’t have disposable income to spend. And therefore it goes without saying that associating Aston Martin with a hero that appeals to a more mature generation, many sharing Bond’s discerning tastes, makes sound business sense. If you’re going to associate your brand with a character, it’s best that character appeals to an audience that can afford your product.
But that’s not to say the intrinsic association between Bond and Aston Martin hasn’t had its downsides. For a start, although many men and women idolise or admire James Bond, not everyone is able to afford an Aston Martin. Other brands associated with James Bond, such as the watch brandOmega, whilst not cheap, are arguably within most of the middle class’ budget. The same cannot be said for Aston Martin cars.
Many may ask whether marketing a product that only appeals to a slender segment via a mainstream platform, such as the Bond films, is wise. Perhaps for Aston Martin, the company is better off using hyper-targeted digital marketing methods to target potential customers, rather than the scattergun approach that the Bond films provide. As media marketing methods became more sophisticated, it’s a question I asked myself whilst CEO of Aston Martin between 2014 and 2020.
When I took over the reins at Aston, I was well aware this was a company that went through seven bankruptcies in its 108-year history. To ensure I wasn’t overseeing the eighth, I embarked on a painful, but necessary, cost-cutting programme and yes, it was considered whether the association between Aston and James Bond was providing the return on investment required for a company that hadn’t made a profit since 2010.
Shaken but not stirred, I returned the business to a profit in 2018 – with the Bond association still intact, but the headline writers certainly had fun at the company’s expense, using Bond puns at every opportunity to highlight the company’s challenges. Perhaps another mild irritation of the 007 link.
The reality is, James Bond and Aston Martin is a partnership that works perfectly, and I fought hard to ensure the link-up remained intact. Just as Bond is a ‘brute in a suit’, so is an Aston. It’s an association that feels more natural than most other marketing partnerships between Bond and brand. When Daniel Craig was briefly seen behind the wheel of a Ford Mondeo at the start of Casino Royale, it just didn’t seem right.The partnership between Aston Martin and James Bond isn’t just about selling cars, it’s about building a brand that speaks about something more than just four wheels and an engine. It’s about creating a special feeling when you get behind the wheel of an Aston.
There are rumours that the latest film could see the end of the association, as the auto market transforms, and new players enter the market. In fact, it’s quite likely that Q will have Bond trade in his roaring V12 engine for an electric car by the time the next film is released – no bad thing, in my view. Nevertheless, the partnership between Britain’s favourite spy and its most famous car brand certainly has No Time to Die just yet.