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11/21/2012 10:13 am ET

James Bond And 'Skyfall's' Business Lessons

Many critics are calling Skyfall, the 23d film in the series, “the best Bond yet.” And audiences seem to agree--the film’s ticket sales hit $669.2 million a few days ago, making Skyfall the top grossing film for the entire James Bond franchise.

Few brands have been maintained as well or as long as the 007 series. Business and marketing minds can learn a lot from its evolution.

Of course, the appeal of each new Bond flick is obvious. With a fresh batch of beautiful women, sociopathic villains and high-tech gadgets, each film feels more stylish and punchy than the last. But Skyfall represents one of the greatest leaps of brand evolution in the series.

While Daniel Craig’s Bond is as sleek, brilliant and impossibly dapper as he’s ever been, the film begins with a portrayal of Bond at his most vulnerable. After a near-fatal failure on assignment in Iran, 007 crawls back to MI6 months later. He arrives in M's living room weaker and more depressed and disillusioned than we’ve ever seen him. "Well, you sure as hell aren't staying here!" she tells him after explaining that his apartment has been emptied, his worldly possessions put into storage. The rest of the film is devoted to Bond's resurrection. It's the darkest and most intimate film of the series yet.

So what’s the brandmaker’s lesson here? Consider the 50 years since Sean Connery first brought Bond onto the silver screen in Dr. No. A lot has changed since then and Bond and his villains have evolved accordingly. Today, that means your typical Bond villains are more of the data mining web hacker variety. (You won’t see Craig’s Bond sipping Vespers with the mistresses of Eastern-bloc war criminals in Skyfall. That would be so passe.)

The series filmmaker, like any brandmaker, walks a line between maintaining a brand and keeping products fresh. Because as every Bond director from Terence Young to Sam Mendes knows: you can’t sell sequels to cult audiences on flash alone.

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