Eating nothing but McDonalds is bad for you; the U.S. government, with all it’s resources, hasn’t found terrorist boogeyman Osama Bin Laden; the prevalence of advertising in our daily lives has gotten out of hand: File these in the “No Duh!” section of most of our collective brains. If you arrived at these conclusions on your own, but could use an affirmation and maybe a little bit of evidence to support your arguments, then rejoice! Morgan Spurlock is back to affirm things you already knew! At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Spurlock trots out his new movie, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. It is a documentary about advertising and product placement in films, which he financed entirely with revenue from product placement–how meta. Find out more about the latest experiment in irony from the mustachioed doc director, after the jump…
If you’ve ever watched a movie with a budget upwards of seven figures (don’t worry, you have), then there there is a 99.9% chance that there is advertising embedded in the film. For example, the Transformers franchise is a giant ad for Chevrolet, among several other things, as are any number of blockbusters like Iron Man, X-Men, The Fast & the Furious, and all of James Bond flicks (Remember when Pierce Brosnan specifically orders a Smirnoff martini in one of the latter Bond flicks he was in? You’d think he’d be classy enough to go for at least Stoli, or something). This product integration is rarely subtle, due to the fact that advertisers are paying through the nose for the privilege to have their wares featured among the movies that are guaranteed millions of eyeballs.
But what are the implications of this? Are people even aware they’re being advertised to? Do the morals of this ever come into play for the artists involved? How much influence do these advertisers hold over the final products being made? These are some of the questions explored in Morgan Spurlock’s new film, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Once again, Spurlock throws himself directly into the middle of the issue at hand, and attempts to create a movie about product integration, funded entirely by corporate sponsorships in exchange for the opportunity to be featured in it. He takes meetings with ad agencies and corporate PR representatives, and has to sell himself and this project to them as relentlessly and hyperbolically as they advertise their goods and services to consumers. These pitch meetings provide great insight into the development of a commercial idea, and shed some light onto the decision making process that leads to sponsorship.
And Spurlock nails it. He is so articulate, enthusiastic, and well prepared for these encounters that a great number of the people he meets with jump on board. His infectious enthusiasm garners him sponsors like Jet Blue, POM Wonderful, Mini Cooper, Amy’s Organic Pizza, Hyatt Hotels, and Sheetz (an east coast gas & food station chain). He has the perfect response for any questions they raise over the course of the meetings, and his confidence and humor endears him to both the advertisers and the audience. Hence, the film is made, viewed by audiences, reviewed by news outlets, and therefore advertised to you, the public. Woah! That’s happening right now!
But what does that mean for the potential criticism of advertising in general? It seems logical that the impetus for such a project would be just that. Why would he point out to the world that we are being advertised to at just about every waking moment if you didn’t feel that it has some negative effect? This is certainly the case in his earlier film, Super Size Me (I wonder if he even bothered to pitch the idea for this film to McDonalds). But with the same corporations he’d be criticizing putting up the money for him to do this, how does he keep himself from coming off as a hypocrite, and out of the sights of their enormous legal departments? Simple. He lets other people do it. The film features interviews with linguist Noam Chomsky, politician Ralph Nader, film director Peter Berg, and scores of individuals on the street whose opinions he cannot deny. He visits an urban planner and the mayor of Sao Paolo, Brazil, where outdoor advertising has been outright banned. All of these guests point out the insidious nature of advertising, and express a general public mistrust towards its practices.
Incidentally, the most satisfying moment of the film comes from director Brett Ratner proclaiming, “Artistic integrity? Whatever.”
But Spurlock maintains his trademark sense of humor throughout, and the film focuses more on the actual production of the film than this social criticism. He also takes care to get sponsorships specifically from companies whose products he enjoys and believes in, softening the blow of the notion that he’s compromising his values as an independent filmmaker by accepting their money. However, it definitely feels like he’s only scratching the surface of a much larger issue. With the exception of a scene in which they analyze brain activity through an MRI while he is being inundated with ads, as well as a segment in which he sponsors a school district to help advertise the final product of his film, there is nothing especially revelatory about the ideas being presented. But The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is an energetic, funny, and generally enjoyable glimpse into the minds of marketers and their collaborators.
P.S. Don’t worry, I am aware of the irony of writing a piece critical of advertising for a blog which contains, quite possibly, the greatest number of ads I’ve ever seen on a website.
Check out Mali Elfman’s interview with Spurlock for his film below…
Video edited by Laura Aguirre