007's seat Bond, James Bond. I sit on Interstuhl

The small German Mittelstand firm Interstuhl has placed 70 chairs it designed in three James Bond films. Sit on that.
Protagonist, bottom right. Credit: picture alliance / ZUMAPRESS.com

In 1997, for “Tomorrow Never Dies," James Bond abandoned his trademark Aston Martin DB5 grand tourer, which was equipped with a champagne cooler and a fax machine, and swapped it for a BMW 750iL. The film was shot in Germany, the carmaker's home base. But the real reason for Bond’s change of heart was that BMW had paid for product placement in the film.

These in-film advertisements are becoming more common. They are used by brands ranging from Omega watches to Belvedere vodka. And now even smaller firms are paying to place their brands. Notably good at it is a small German company that makes furniture, called Interstuhl. It has managed to sneak 70 of its modernistic chairs into a total of three different Bond films.

It was important to us that the film works internationally. Helmut Link, co-owner, Interstuhl

Interstuhl is a picture-book example of Germany's vaunted "Mittelstand" of medium-sized firms. It is located in a picturesque landscape near the Black Forest and is family-owned, run by the brothers Helmut and Joachim Link. But the firm used to have a staid and stuffy image. So, 15 years ago, the Link brothers started designing avant-garde models, above all a sleek, all-aluminum office chair called "the Silver." It's as pricey as it is chic: between €2,500 and €3,500.

The Link brothers then began their campaign to get the Silver and other models onto the big screen. So Interstuhl tapped Andreas Waldner, an adman in nearby Nürtingen who specializes in product placement. Mr. Waldner knew the makers of the Bond films because he had also placed the BMW cars in their films in the 1990s.

"The Silver model chair was unique in the industry. It was therefore clear to me that it was worth trying to introduce the chair to the film’s marketers," Mr. Waldner says. The set designers also liked the look of the Silver series, and gave them their film debut in “Quantum of Solace.” But Interstuhl had to step back and give complete control to the filmmakers – their brand name was not even shown once.

In “Quantum of Solace” the head of MI-6, the aristocratic M (played by actress Judi Dench, pictured above) sits on Interstuhl’s Silver. In “Spectre,” the series’ last outing, henchmen working for villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, lounge around on another Interstuhl model, a KINETICis5 705k “standing aid,” a cross between a chair and a stool.

"With over 40 percent of sales coming from abroad, it was important to us that the film works internationally," says Helmut Link. “We could never reach so many people through regular advertising.” Joachim Link adds that they capitalized on the publicity by organizing events in which dealers and customers attended showings of the movies together. Neither brother disclosed how much the placements cost the firm.

While producers can be choosy about what items they accept, there is also a huge payoff for the filmmakers. It has been estimated that two-thirds of the €230 million ($280 million) production costs of “Spectre” were met by promotional fees from product placement alone.

For a medium-sized company like Interstuhl, appearing in a James Bond film can mean the difference between fame and oblivion. A large corporate customer might buy 300 chairs in a single order for its headquarters building. But, the Link brothers say, the cameo of their Silver in a James Bond film was invaluable. As Joachim likes to say: "My name is Link – Joe Link."

Martin-Werner Buchenau covers the covers the diverse economy of Baden-Württemberg for Handelsblatt and Anja Müller Anja Müller covers small to mid-sized as well as family-run companies for Handelsblatt. To contact the authors: [email protected] and [email protected].