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Seven Marketing Lessons From 007 Villains

Posted by Adam Leiter on November 8th, 2012 at 9:08 am

Much has been written about the simple mistakes that Bond villains make in allowing the nominal spy to escape and foil their evil plans. But along with recommendations to overcome previous superspy-killing bungles, there are marketing lessons to be learned.

With the film franchise’s 50th anniversary and the new James Bond movie, Skyfall, out this week, there’s a lot of excitement around the legacy of everything Bond. Beyond the drinking, fighting, intrigue, women, gadgets, fast cars, and espionage, there are the villains. What purpose would Bond and MI6 have if it weren’t for the deviant masterminds of nuclear, drug-related and generally destructive plots?

Aside from their schemes, these criminals are often successful entrepreneurs or high profile public figures who are bona fide geniuses. Much has been written about the simple mistakes that Bond villains make in allowing the nominal spy to escape and foil their evil plans. But along with recommendations to overcome previous superspy-killing bungles, there are marketing lessons to be learned.

In that spirit, here are seven marketing tips from 007 bad guys that can apply to your brand.

  1. Don’t give away your secrets to the competition: The classic Bond villain mistake. Things seem like they’re going in your favor, so why not have a little loose talk including your plans, tactics and weaknesses? These days especially, “transparency” is a virtuous attribute for companies to have, but there is still a line between being transparent in your actions and engagements, and keeping certain things proprietary. Don’t be like Francisco Scaramanga in The Man with the Golden Gun; keep information about your “secret weapon” to yourself. A sense of mystery can positively provoke curiosity in your audience while guarding against being scooped by the competition.
  2. Stick to your core competencies: Too many Bond baddies stray from or manipulate the businesses that gave them their wealth. Had Elliot Carver stuck with his core competencies, he wouldn’t have incurred the wrath of 007 in Tomorrow Never Dies. It’s wise to stick with what you know – both on and off the screen.
  3. Never assume that everything will go according to plan…prepare for failures and setbacks: The hubris of Bond villains is often their greatest weakness. As detailed and focused as they are, it’s surprising that there are hardly ever any fallback plans. Gustav Graves didn’t plan on James Bond secretly boarding his cargo plan in Die Another Day, but perhaps he should have. If my colleagues in the public relations group always banked on getting a client in The New York Times without paying attention to hundreds of other worthy media outlets, their myopic approach wouldn’t benefit anyone.
  4. Keep up with trends and technology: Don’t get outsmarted by a competitor using tools that are ahead of the curve. Villains may have had billions for infrastructure, rockets, submarines and henchmen…but Bond had Q and the latest forward-thinking nimble gadgetry. He outwitted enemies because he took advantage of items that were essentially in “beta” testing. As Q states in the new film Skyfall, “Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled.” That new monitoring service, influencer algorithm-based database, or sweepstakes app could be the difference between drawing attention to your brand or being ignored.
  5. Go for strategies that are proven, rather than elaborate tactics: New, untested tools may be one thing, but there’s no substitute for sound strategy. There’s no need for something as convoluted as Goldfinger’s “Operation Grand Slam,” which involved killing members of the mafia, breaking into Fort Knox, nerve gas and a nuclear bomb. If your brand needs to engage with your audience, don’t create obstacles that they must “like” and “share” in order just to participate with you…act like a human and just have a conversation.
  6. Let situations play out/stay calm: The prime juxtaposition to any Bond villain’s tediousness in attempting to kill a superspy is their overzealousness in giving away their secret hideouts. Had Bond not been attacked by helicopters when near SPECTRE’s base in You Only Live Twice, perhaps it would not have been discovered. Not jumping the gun on social media has its benefits many times as well. Reputation management is crucial, but if someone posts a negative comment or opinion about your brand on your Facebook page, give your advocates a chance to respond on your behalf before getting defensive. What you may find is that your supporters will come to your aid before you even need to stick up for yourself.
  7. Make quality hiring/staffing decisions: You’re only as good as your team members, and if they are inept or can’t be trusted, like Kamal Khan in Octopussy, find a good headhunter ASAP.

If you can learn from the mistakes of others, you won’t be crying bloody tears like Le Chiffre. The Bond franchise can teach us a lot about business and marketing, especially when you look at the characters’ failures along with the successes.

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