The Greatest Movie Ever Sold – Documentary or Mockumentary?

My morning started off very early and I had time to watch a documentary on Netflix before getting ready for work. I settled in on watching The POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold; a documentary on product placement in movies and corporate advertising in general by Morgan Spurlock.

I do like Morgan Spurlock. I like his style and the topics that he chooses to work on. Unlike Michael Moore, he’s pretty entertaining in his approach; but like Michael Moore, his documentaries are made with a biased view. But we all know that. That’s not why I’m blogging about this film (to do a general review that is). I’m blogging about it because the message delivered was confusing. But maybe that’s because we have a conflicted view on advertising in general. But before I get to that, here’s the film’s trailer:

So there is the jist of it, if you haven’t seen it (the movie is 5 years old at this point, so it’s not new). From the beginning you pretty much know that he’s going to hone in on the evils of advertising; specifically the ‘in your face’ approach of product placement in movie and TV shows. When you realized that Mr. Spurlock was going to make things interesting by funding the documentary with corporate sponsors, I became hooked in to see where that would go. And it honestly was interesting to see the process and the consideration made by all of the key players in the film and advertising industry, both on the side of the movie creators and the marketing departments of the products. But by the time the movie concluded, I realized that the entire thing ended on a sour note.

In order to make his point, Mr. Spurlock pitched the film to the corporate sponsors in a a very innocuous way and it seemed pretty evident that some of his audience was more familiar with his exposé approach to making documentaries than others. This really seemed to undermine the point of not being deceptive and being straight with your audience (unless your ‘audience’ are corporate sponsors). I pulled the following quote from this article on the film:

Ralph (Nader) told me that you have to be careful with satire because you could literally spoof yourself out of your objective,” Mr. Spurlock said. “I think we did the job of walking that line, being questioning, being critical, but not spoofing ourselves out of our objective.

Well in my humble opinion, you did in fact spoof yourself out of the objective. But it was a noble effort overall 🙂 .

Advertising has always had this air of negativity surrounding it, especially when referred to by the anti-capitalist/anti-consumerist camps. But it is a necessary evil…especially being that we function in a capitalist economy. The best way to ensure the success of your product or your service is to make potential customers aware of it. Sure, the modern landscape of marketing is changing and consumers are weighing information and ‘pulling’ from companies and vendors so to speak. But ‘push’ marketing, or advertising is still very important. And it will be for some time.

ET Drew Barrymore Reese's Pieces

If you’re an 80s kid like me, then you remember Reese’s Pieces product placement in the movie ET: The Extra-Terrestrial. However with me, it had a negative effect because I thought ET was so ugly, I wanted nothing to do with him, or anything he liked; and that included Reese’s Pieces!

With that being said, the film failed to make a strong case against product placement in films. In spite of the documentary’s dubious premise, Mr. Spurlock was able to get the $1.5 million dollar budget of the film covered by sponsors. During the film’s premiere, Spurlock boasted that since the film’s costs were already underwritten, profits would start being made from opening day. But then that throws a question to the integrity of the pitch given to POM that they would only need to pay their $1 million in sponsorship money if the film grossed $10 million or more at the box office.

6 months after it’s release, it grossed just under $700,000. 🙁

And that’s why I came away from this with negative feelings. The film was promoted for the sake of the film; not to give any real advantage to the corporate sponsors. And even the promotion of the film seems to be haphazard. The film’s Facebook page is flimsy. The movie’s website has not been updated to reflect offerings via streaming services or ways to purchase the film. I’m sure they were all covered legally in terms of monetary loss (as POM seems to have been). But still, if the film were promoted more, if the sponsors were seen as true collaborators and not just the butt of a joke, it would have been better. I really give kudos to all the companies (I’ll link the ones I recall below) for even taking a chance to participate in this film. But I’m concerned that in the future corporations will hunker down and shy away from important documentaries like this, because in the end, it ultimately yields them little benefit.

Mane 'n Tail

Spurlock poking fun at Mane ‘n Tail products; in spite of them being pretty decent (my family used them for years)

So kudos to:

Sheetz, Mane ‘n Tail, Mini Cooper, Ban, Hyatt, JetBlue, Amy’s Kitchen, Merrell, Old Navy, and all the others who opened yourselves up to this documentary. I hope that you didn’t feel that you were all made to look like fools. I personally saw all of the companies as being innovative, out-of-the box thinkers in terms of marketing. Make no apologies for what you do. Just remember, “Haters gonna hate”, and that’s just how it is.