Licensed to trend: What do Bond films teach us about consumer values?

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The changing tone of Bond films can teach us about shifting consumer values and herald the benefits of ‘soft research’, writes William Higham

The changing tone of Bond films can teach us about shifting consumer values and herald the benefits of ‘soft research’, writes William Higham

As a consumer futurist, my job is to predict how consumers’ behaviour and needs are likely to evolve. As a result, I’m always on the lookout for signs of change.

Much of this comes from hard data: stats, surveys and such. But soft data can help. Consumers typically vote with their wallets, so I keep an eye on best-seller lists, TV ratings and box-office receipts. For instance, the popularity of TV shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Great British Bake Off at the expense of The X Factor and Big Brother could herald a more positive, encouraging attitude among consumers. It’s not enough evidence on its own, of course, but it hints at something that can be checked via hard data.

The James Bond franchise has frequently been a bellwether for change. The first Bond film, Dr No in 1962, for instance, was very different from the gloomy Cold War cinema of the 1950s, a colourful and glamorous world of futuristic technology and exotic locations. Its enormous success was early evidence of a new 1960s consumer who would embrace hi-tech cars, hi-fi and kitchen products, elect Harold Wilson on a platform championing “the white heat of technology” and adopt air travel and package holidays.

Bond films can predict attitudinal as well as behavioural change. Sean Connery’s embodiment of a disenfranchised hero was an early example of 1960s social mobility, as evidenced with The Beatles, Michael Caine and David Bailey. The success of Pierce Brosnan’s rebooted Bond in 1995’s GoldenEye gave us a glimpse of the lads-mag attitude that would dominate the late 1990s. By Brosnan’s last film Die Another Day, the mood had shifted: to win back the post-Sex and the City independent female audience, Daniel Craig’s Bond has taken a more caring, ‘new man’ approach.

Soft research is no substitute for hard data, but it can provide clues to change. Maybe business leaders looking to drive greater in-company innovation should consider a staff outing to see Spectre.

William Higham is founder and chief executive of consumer trends consultancy Next Big Thing

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William Higham

William Higham

William Higham is the founder and CEO of consumer trends consultancy Next Big Thing.

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