POM Wonderful presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Saw Morgan Spurlock’s new documentary over the weekend. Interesting/funny concept, not so sure about the execution.
The basic premise of the movie is that Spurlock is going to make a movie about product placement in films and television; and to prove some sort of point, the entire documentary is blatantly and completely funded by a plethora of sponsors. It almost works as an informational piece on how product placement ends up in films in both subtle and obvious ways. It also almost works as a meta concept film, where the whole point of the movie is just to get the movie made. But in actually there is no movie to make. Because… the making of the movie itself… is the movie…? Or something like that. But when it tries to work both angles, it ends up just hurting itself overall.
It is entertaining and funny, and very lighthearted for the most part. The fun atmosphere makes it a mildly worthwhile experience. I mean, I don’t know, I liked it for the most part, but what was the point of it all…? It doesn’t do anything to indicate whether or not advertising in films is a good or a bad thing. While it’s funny to see Spurlock insert actual commercials into the middle of his own film, I thought one of the most riveting parts was when he interviewed film directors like Quentin Tarantino, Brett Ratner, and Peter Berg and they gave very real opinions and stories on how product placement affects their work (did you know Tarantino wanted the beginning of Reservoir Dogs to take place in a Denny’s?). It only lasts about three minutes though, then Spurlock goes back to getting companies to sponsor his plotless film about nothing.
I guess that’s my only real complaint, actually. There just wasn’t really a point to it all. Or maybe it just seemed that way because of how Spurlock attempted to pull it off. Again; interesting concept, poor execution. And even though I normally like crazy concept films, I felt the strongest parts of The Greatest Movie Ever Sold were when it was being straightforward. Maybe product placement is an interesting enough topic by itself, that it just didn’t need the extra Spurlock twist to it?
Fast Company Magazine (I generally do not buy this, it simply appears by magic in the men's room at work)did an article last month about the movie, but also mocked the advertisers, or something. The article was a bit confusing, and sounds like this movie according to Scott's review. The magazine editors and sales staff sold ads to companies mentioned in the article (and presumably in the movie) but made their ads in such a way as to call attention to the fact that the ads were blatantly related to the article (something that is done in a less overt way in other magazines - we used to see a review for a Sony camera in a trade mag, followed on the next page by an ad for that camera, for example).
I guess advertisers would rather be mocked and get publicity than be ignored. Perhaps Pom and others who bought into this movie understand the irony and are happy to mock themselves if it means publicity.
It is a bit absurd when dramatic film and television depicts a character consuming a name brand foodstuff in an obvious way, or when Jack Bauer and every other character he works with all have shiny new cars from the same manufacturer, and then the next season from a different manufacturer. Homeland Security does not switch brands of cars for each new crisis. But you've gotta pay for those explosions somehow.
Spurlock's popularity after Supersize Me (interesting read and watch, but not as nausea-inducing as Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation or, gasp, Alicia Bat$h!t Silverstone's Kind Diet - both books inform the reader how food gets from the farm to our tables) led to his brief tv show in which he conducted a social experiment for a week. A good concept. We don't have too many activists with prime time shows. Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution is a similar concept - although he has not been as successful in reforming America's school lunch program as in the UK. American's seem to have the attitude "don't tell me what my kids should eat." Mrs. Obama is getting the same treatment.
Ok, a bit off topic, but inspired by Spurlock.
[Mike Cohen] "I guess advertisers would rather be mocked and get publicity than be ignored. Perhaps Pom and others who bought into this movie understand the irony and are happy to mock themselves if it means publicity."
I think that's exactly it. One of the more featured companies/products in the film is Mane 'N Tail shampoo. if you don't know what that is, (and I'm serious here) it's a shampoo that can be for both human use, and for use on your horse... Spurlock does almost nothing but childishly (and humorously) belittle the product as something of a joke.
But there is a scene where The Spurlock is talking to the CEO or owner or whatever of Mane 'N Tail, and asking them to be a sponsor of the film because he basically thinks their product is funny. The CEO/owner guy says something along the lines of "We have a great, real product that's been around for decades, and we are very proud of it. But we know that people like to have fun with us. We would love to put ourselves out there for your film about marketing, and do whatever you want with our stuff, as long as it gets featured. Make Mane 'N Tale the official shampoo of your film."
I don't know how many people are going to eventually see The Greatest Film Ever Sold, but because they bought their way into the film, a bunch of companies got a fairly decent amount of exposure. And even though the film may or may not be mocking them, they probably win in the end. I now know what POM Wonderful, Sheetz convenience stores, and even Mane 'N Tail are and what they do, just from going to see this movie. Never heard of them beforehand. I guess these companies figured it was like buying advertising space in a cool, niche market: The documentary film crowd...
And to be honest, I didn't purchase a bottle of POM Wonderful, but after I saw the film, I kinda wanted to try it. Maybe Spurlock did prove some sort of point! Spuuuuuurrrrrllllooooccckkkk!
[Scott Roberts] " POM Wonderful, Sheetz convenience stores, and even Mane 'N Tail"
I knew POM and Sheetz. I love Sheetz, and am completely hooked on pomengrate juices, even though I don't care for the fruit. In fact, I think I bought some POM in the Sheetz on Wendover, right near the highway in Greensboro, NC. Anyone who's been to the area knows I'm not kidding.
While I wasn't familiar with Mane 'n' Tail, I am familiar with Bag Balm and Udder Cream, which you can buy in many drug stores - and farm feed stores. Same deal - heavy-duty moisturizers that are great for human heels, or for overstretched udders. (See Kind Diet and others for details - and Mike, it works. :-) I've been doing something similar for a dozen years, and am daily amazed.)
Scott, I'm certain you're right that ALL of these companies were along for the ride. Spurlock isn't sneaky about what he does, and I'm sure that all these guys figured that it was going to be the cheapest product placement they ever bought, and would show up in a lot of reviews and places like this that Snapple or the Ford Focus never will, for much extended exposure.
Guys with companies like Mane 'n' Tail get laughed at by their relatives, at the post office, at their churches or lodges - they either embrace it or go insane, and most embrace it heartily, if without a sense of irony. And why should they? It's a quality product from a company that treats its people right. Besides, what's not to love about a name that makes you smile every time you say it - like Creative COW.
I was also rolling my eyes with a small company owner about the labels on NASCAR cars, and he said, the reason why big companies do this is because it works, and that he'd give anything to be able to afford to be the smallest sponsor on the slowest car.
Hey, lots of labels, sized by budget, and there because it works - that's ALSO like Creative COW. :-)
Spurlock didn't get into this too much, but more than a few films have relied on product placement to get their movies made. Longtime Companion was one of the first movies to deal with relationships in the early days of AIDS, before even the New York Times was willing to acknowledge gay relationships. Miller Lite famously gave the production money to complete the film, and when the bottles appeared on screen, the audience cheered.
This whole thing came up nearly 3 years ago in Creative COW. In response to a post from our very own Mike Cohen, I wrote a lengthy essay on product placement, including the technical tools for measuring its success, some especially creative and entirely self-conscious ways of using it, and as above, times that it has been used with larger goals in mind.
Especially having seen the movie, I think you'll dig it. It's one of the better things I've ever written I think. You'll recognize it by it's ridiculous length and ridiculous detours. At the very least, visit for the before and after pictures of Axl Rose.
Check it out here.
Good reading Tim. I neither recall writing my original 2008 post nor reading your response, nor writing my own response to your blog (which I must have done post-reading).
Regarding the "ticker" - I all but ignore the ticker. After it debuted after 9/11 I literally taped black construction paper across the bottom of my tv set for several months.
Remember when we called them "tv sets"?
There was a funny scene in "Grown-Ups."
Ok, the scene in question (and in fact the only funny scene) featured Adam Sandler's kids asking what was in the back of the old tv at the lake house. Sandler replied "the rest of the tv."
Wow, tangent. Anyway, I don't mind product placements, because they are usually done so blatantly that it cannot be a coincidence. While I despise Rachael Ray, to her credit her TV kitchen features made-up food brand names with artistically created packages.
This entry brought to you by Purina Dog Chow.
That was a great post, Tim. That Eureka story was both hilarious and frightening! But great job on their part to turn what most would consider a complete creative shutdown by a corporation, and making it entertaining. I don't know how long Eureka lasted on the air, but I assume if you're having entire episodes centered around deodorant, the end is nigh, regardless of how well they can spin it.
I guess I don't really care about advertising being forced down the audience's throats on "free" television (well, maybe not free if you have Comcast). That's how those channels pay the bills and put on quality programming. I see it kind of as a, from the audience standpoint, take what you can get situation. I don't really care if they are eating at Subway on The Office, and they show blatant shots of the food wrapper and they make a joke out of how they are eating Subway or whatever. Keep giving me that show (or any show I like, maybe The Office should actually end), and I'll deal with the in-show ads. I just HOPE that for the most part they do something fun or clever with it, like Tim mentioned with the Sarah Connor Chronicles in his post.
But when I have to pay a premium for things like HBO or films, keeps ads out of it please. I'm paying extra for this stuff, and because of that, I don't think they should be jeopardized or cheapened creatively with blatant advertising. It's like we are paying for the product ourselves, they shouldn't need as much advertising support (in the show/film). If Coke wants to pay money for a can of soda to subtly appear in a Treme episode, whatever, go for it, just don't write it into the script. I'll only start getting mad if I'm watching Dexter and during a kill scene he stops and says "Ohhhhh, I would have never been able to kill you without the proper bone saw. That's why America's favorite serial killer ONLY uses the Sagetra Sanelli 146250 Carbon Steel Bone Saw! Available at all Home Depot stores, countrywide. Now you die, scum!"
That might take me out of the moment...
In similarly related advertising in film news, I was messing around on the Thor movie web site yesterday, and of ALL the options of ALL the backgrounds they had available, they chose this one:
But I'll admit, it would have been great if that robot thing was actually drinking a Slurpee.
[Scott Roberts] "But when I have to pay a premium for things like HBO or films, keeps ads out of it please. I'm paying extra for this stuff...."
But it has never worked like that, ever, anywhere. You subscribe to a magazine, you get just as many ad pages as a free magazine -- and probably more. The fact that people are willing to pay for the magazine mean that it's riper ground for placing advertising.
Same for TV. There's not exactly any such thing as free anymore. And you try buying a ticket to a concert or sporting event? There are ads on the freaking ticket to get you into the Quicken Loans Arena. Why? Because now that you've spent money, you're the most desirable customer there is.
I love how a show like Chuck is overtly playful with their Subway product placement, lavishing hand-model attention on a breakfast burrito or something, and it doesn't bother me a bit when a DP "has" to zoom in on a car logo to pay the freight. The object is to make it look good - sun glinting off the trunk, a cloud of dust as the car slams to a stop.
I don't care how much McDonald's paid to be in Pulp Fiction. "Royale with cheese" is one of the most memorable scenes from the movie, in a really wonderful, elegant way. And if Quentin didn't get them to pay for the placement, he should have. THAT's how you do it.
re: Eureka, it's one of the network's highest rated shows, and consistently the highest rated cable show of its night -- but different people produce it and air it, and thus have different bills to pay. As I mentioned, I take my hat off to them for creating a separate, suspended world where sponsorship takes place.
And because I hate hat hair.
Shining a light on product placement, exploring how it really works, discussing its impact on the creative process -- THAT would be kind of a cool movie. Or you can read the book I wrote. :-)
[Tim Wilson] "But it has never worked like that, ever, anywhere. You subscribe to a magazine, you get just as many ad pages as a free magazine -- and probably more. The fact that people are willing to pay for the magazine mean that it's riper ground for placing advertising."
But the ads don't creep into, like, the content of the article, do they? They just hang out on the side, or at the bottom, or take up their own page. Kind of more like a television commercial. You know they are there, but you can "skip over them". It's like skipping calories on your breakfast cereal. You can do it if you try, you just have to eat Special K. If a magazine or newspaper slyly fit ads into the text, pretending it was part of the content, then it becomes a problem.
See what I did there? :)
I was more just complaining about the thought of paying for blatant advertisements. Creatively intrusive advertisements. I mean, I really don't care if Old Navy funds an entire TV series, and all the characters have to wear Old Navy in every scene. I only care when it gets in the dialogue, and writers and directors are forced to compromise their creativity for the sake of a product. This appears to happen a lot on basic cable/network TV. A lot of writers are smart enough to make it clever, and I think that point has been made several times during this thread.
But the thing is, I don't really ever see any blatant advertisements on HBO or Showtime. I'm not saying they don't get clothing companies to buy their wardrobes in exchange for screen time, or characters eating lunch at certain restaurants, but I never really see them having to compromise in any kind of severe way, like basic cable and network TV do (unless you count Entourage, but that's kind of about getting all the greatest, coolest brand name products and driving expensive cars). But it never gets close to anything like this:
I don't know, I feel like I've got to assume that's because they are getting paid directly by the customer as opposed to getting pressured by sponsors. This is from an article from USA Today in 2002, but I expect it to be the same current philosophy for HBO:
"Commercial-free HBO doesn't pocket a penny from the cars, phones and soft drinks seen in such shows as The Sopranos, Sex and the City and Curb Your Enthusiasm. The 34-million-subscriber pay channel also prohibits paid placements in its original movies.
"We're not a network that accepts advertising. And product placement is a form of advertising," explains HBO spokesman Jeff Cusson. Adds Ilene Landress, executive producer of HBO: "We could pay for the whole show that way. But we don't."
The creators of the HBO shows do accept free use of cars and other goods. It cuts costs and adds realism. The days of TV characters drinking generic "beer" are over. Sopranos creator David Chase and his team of writers frequently write brand names into scripts to add reality to the show, which is averaging 10.8 million viewers per week, according to Nielsen Marketing Research. Jersey boy Chase is a stickler: When Carmela Soprano reaches for milk, he demands it be a brand distributed in New Jersey, says Landress."
Full article: http://www.usatoday.com/money/advertising/2002-12-02-sopranos_x.htm
See, I don't consider that a problem. At all.
Now, I don't watch Chuck, but even if they do good things with it; having to insert Subway ads into the dialogue compromises the original vision, doesn't it? They didn't come up with the idea of the show, knowing that they wouldn't be writing Subway ads into every episode. I take it they have fun with it; and maybe they even evolved it into one of their favorite recurring jokes to come up with in the writer's room, but that couldn't have been the original idea. Writing Subway joke ads into the show is a direct result of Subway buying into their show and requesting it. But then again, after all that, it probably comes down to a basic choice:
Would you rather have Chuck with Subway ads, or no Chuck at all (because without the ads they can't afford the show)? I assume most fans of Chuck would rather just watch the show with sandwich jokes.
But the Tarantino thing, there is no way McDonald's paid for the "Royale with cheese" scene. Not a chance. Or at least, they didn't pay him to come up with it because they were a sponsor of Pulp Fiction or something like that. He may have had to pay them to get the rights to use the actual names of the food, who knows? But that was just Tarantino being Tarantino. He writes about pop-culture and everyday things into all his dialogue. In Kill Bill there is a verbatim quote from a TV commercial "Silly rabbit... Trix are for kids..." I highly doubt Tarantino was trying to schlock cereal in the middle of sword fight. That's just how he writes.
Like I said in an earlier post on this thread (from the Spurlock movie), Tarantino actually wanted the opening scenes to Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction to take place in a Denny's restaurant, simply because Tarantno spent many days of his youth hanging out in Denny's. But Denny's said "No way!". Hence no Denny's. Tarantino is a product of American pop culture, and he isn't shy about using real, relatable products if it benefits his writing. But that's totally his choice. That's why it's different than the TV insert-a-Ad problem.
Think about it this way, the Royale with Cheese/ Le Big Mac scene would have never worked if they didn't use a real burger for comparison. That wouldn't have made sense to the audience. "Do you know what they call (some fake burger you've never heard of) in France?" And the audience is going "well, I didn't even know what they called it to begin with, it's a fake burger", and it just doesn't work. The audience can immediately relate with McDonald's, and the joke works perfectly (especially with the punchline on Burger King at the end).
But if McDonald's bought into the film; then why was 5 minutes after that dialogue about McDonald's, the Brad character not eating a Big Mac before he got shot to pieces? Instead of chowing down on the fictional Big Kahuna Burger?
I see it less as the companies using Tarantino, as he is completely using the companies.
In the Tarantino example, they actually created a fake brand of hamburger, complete with packaging. The Kahunaburger scene. Where Jules eats the guys hamburger, and drinks his Sprite, as part of some intimidation just before he kills him.
I liked the Wayne's World product placement
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"I mean, we're looking down on Wayne's basement. Only that's not Wayne's basement. Isn't that weird?"
"Yeah, that's really weird. Garth! That was a haiku!"
Scott, I can't get POM out of my since I read this review. Sccoooootttttttttttt! Would you say it is a Redbox movie?
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Yeah, I'd say it's worth Redboxing. Especially if you liked Super Size Me, because it's got the same Spurlock tone to it. But it will make you want to drink pomegranate juice!