Product placement, advertising and sponsorship of TV and film are approaching soap-opera levels of intensity. The frenzy surrounding the new James Bond film, Die Another Day, is perhaps the most powerful example of this, with the suave Mr Bond ditching his usual brand of vodka for one with a larger advertising budget.
The quintessentially English spy (as played by a Scot, an Australian, an Englishman and an Irishman) now faces enemies driving the equally English Jaguar XKR - although in the TV ads for the car, the Simon Callow voice-over tells us that the version available in the showrooms will not carry the full range of murderous extra features found in the Bond film. The implication is clear, however: the man driving this racing-green sports car has an underground complex filled with boiler-suited minions plotting his takeover of the planet - possibly in response to the introduction of congestion charges in London.
Sales of Jaguars rose sharply in the US this year in the wake of spoof-Bond Austin Powers's endorsement of the Shaguar, and the subsequent Jaguar ads there played up the English theme, The Clash's "London Calling" blasting out as the Jag cruised through the adscape and transformed US streets into English scenes.
The marketing of cars has long been linked with cinematic images and conventions. This amalgam was stirred in 2000's Ford ads, which remixed footage from the 1968 movie Bullitt with Steve McQueen to show him driving the latest model of Puma. This summer, however, a Mercedes advertisement twisted the relationship further in a deliberate confusion of media and message. This ad didn't admit to being a car advert at all - instead, it disguised itself as a trailer for a (non-existent) film, entitled Lucky Star, featuring Benicio Del Toro, star of the drugs-trade blockbuster Traffic (no pun intended - car adverts strive to deny the existence of such quotidian realities). The advert was a precise replica of a film trailer, right down to the repeated product placement shots that are now such a feature of the Hollywood experience. As so many American films these days are little more than overlong adverts, and as the trailers for these firework displays show all the biggest bangs, the advertisers thought: "Why bother sponsoring an entire feature when we can get the same impact with just a trailer?" They persuaded cinemas to show the ad during the film previews, rather than with the product advertising - and even on TV it looked extremely plausible - with car chases, dark-lit angles and a closing screen crammed with tiny and irrelevant credits.
The fact that no cinemas received requests for screenings of the imaginary film may lead some to think that the ad itself showed the weakness of advertising, but far from making action films redundant, the relative failure of this advert merely highlighted the power of genuine cross-media promotion.
Ian Fleming's literary use of product placement helped locate and define the original Bond character, and the film series is now returning the compliment by selling its aura of substantiality, sexual confidence and Britishness. Literary critics applaud Bret Easton Ellis's use of the technique and condemn Bulgari's sponsorship of the novelist Fay Weldon, but the movie world seems happy to ignore the differences of approach. Is it not only a matter of time before we hear the immortal lines, "Why Mr Bond, with these Cheesy Peas you are really spoiling us"?
Even if Lucky Star turned out not to be the apotheosis of film-and-product interplay and helped shift fewer cars than Austin Powers's japes, the toys for boys being promoted as part of the latest Bondfest show that marketing will continue to blur media boundaries in the attempt to leave us shaken, if all too rarely stirred.