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POM Wonderful™ presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

May 1, 2011
POM Wonderful™ presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Famous for Supersize Me and the television series 30 Days, Morgan Spurlock is back with POM Wonderful™ presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. This time he takes on product placement and advertizing, and he does so in his own, inimitable way.

Specifically, he decides to talk about product placement in movies by making a movie. The movie, in turn, will have product placement, sponsors, and brand partners. In fact, it will be entirely funded by money he can raise from advertising sponsors. And the bulk of the movie’s footage will consist of the process of making the various deals that go into raising exactly this money.

In fact, as we start out he’s just shopping around a set of storyboards, including a theater marquee displaying Brand X presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. As he closes the deal with POM Wonderful, though, all other beverages are blurred out, and iconic POM Wonderful bottles are on prominent display for the rest of the movie. After the deal with Mini, Spurlock prominently drives around in seven Mini Coopers, including one emblazoned NASCAR-style with all of his sponsors’ logos. After the deal with JetBlue, Spurlock flies around in JetBlue, conducting interviews on their planes and in their travel lounges. And every sponsor’s product becomes “the greatest” drink, car, commercial airline, or what-have-you.

It’s not just Spurlock using the products; he actively shills them. Three thirty-second commercials are inserted directly into the film itself. He regularly turns his monologue up to a pitchman’s patter. He even pushes the sponsors’ products on his interviewees, as when he tells Ralph Nader that a pair of Merrell shoes are made in America, even though a caption pops up saying they’re actually made in China.

Of course, these placements come with restrictions. Even if the contract doesn’t specifically say he has to avoid other beverages, it wouldn’t look right if Spurlock were to forego his million-dollar-sponsor’s product. Interviews with other filmmakers and people involved in product placement reveal other stories about sponsors exerting their influence over the creative process.

It doesn’t stop at product placement, though. Brand partnerships are the other leg of the symbiotic relationship between advertisers and the film industry. Hyatt prints the movie logo on the back of their keycards; Amy’s Kitchen pizzas include a picture of Spurlock posed with a pizza on their boxes; and Sheetz produces the first line of collectible plastic cups for a documentary. These serve to drive up “media views” for the movie, which help increase attendance and ticket sales, which increase the number of people who see the products’ placement, and around and around we go.

On top of these views, Spurlock must find ways to advertise the movie itself, from posters to a street art campaign to talk show appearances to buying ad space from the cash-strapped Broward County, Florida school district. Along the way, he digs even deeper into the extent to which advertising and product placement is everywhere in our culture. There are egregious examples we all recognize, but in practice they just mask the subtler ones we don’t notice, but are nonetheless affected by.

The biggest question of all is what any of this means. Is advertising and product placement an insidious influence, or generally benign and even helpful? When using product placement to fund a movie, is a filmmaker buying in or selling out? Spurlock manages to be remarkably equivocal on this count, but without coming off as mealy-mouthed.

The truth is, advertising has been with us since the dawn of mass media, and mass media probably couldn’t exist without it. With a certain modicum of transparency, it has its well-deserved place. Sure, there are some areas in which advertising becomes problematic, like the young captive audiences on school buses and in classrooms, but on the whole the issue is much more grey than the black some would use to paint it.

Yes, advertisers are significantly more savvy than they were sixty years ago, but audiences have become savvier as well, which somewhat mitigates the effects. It’s movies like Spurlock’s that help promote the mindful attention necessary to survive in this world, as advertising moves into more and more as-yet untouched areas.

Advertisers: let’s talk.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: if it even applies to documentaries, fail.

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