"Greatest Movie Ever Sold" Sure Hit on Madison Avenue and Beyond

At one point in Morgan Spurlock's new documentary that promises to have Madison Avenue buzzing, advertising guru Bob Garfield becomes so wowed by Spurlock's work, he declares the film: "Evidence about how f*cked up marketing is!"

Weird as it may sound, the film has Garfield speaking about the film, while appearing in it. It's at the core of what makes "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" an ingenious conceit.

The crazy-like-a-fox Spurlock, known best for his McDonald's-assaulting turn in "Super Size Me," dreamed up the idea after pondering a far-too-overt Nissan integration in NBC's "Heroes." He set out to make an exposé about product placement, financed entirely by product placement.

"The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" becomes a film within a film about how films get made (well-described by The Wrap). From Sony Pictures Classics, it follows Spurlock's efforts to persuade a series of brands to foot the $1.5 million he needs for production.



Spurlock has some ups and downs on that trail. Coke and Pepsi don't return his cold calls. But others are open to hearing his pitch. Cameras in his meetings with Ban deodorant, Sheetz Convenience Stores and POM juice offer some of the film's highlights. Others, come later once Spurlock has inked deals and "delivers" for those sponsors.

As his journey is chronicled, Spurlock mixes in commentary about the product placement ecosystem. Developing that material likely led him to Garfield, the former Ad Age columnist, who thought how profound: Having marketers pay for product placement in a film pointing out the absurdity of product placement?

As Spurlock sought wider insight into the business, he turned to current Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg (making his big-screen debut), who recounts how marketers are no longer showing a soda can in the background, but actually inserting brand mentions into a show's dialogue. "It's forced," Steinberg says. Spurlock laughs and couldn't agree more.

Other scenes about the pervasiveness of advertising have Spurlock offering a sort of "this is your brain on marketing" demonstration about neuroscience being used to drive consumer interest. There's a look at how eager a Florida school district is for cash that it offers some disturbing opportunities for marketers to reach students. And, a trip to Sao Paulo -- which has banned all out-of-home advertising -- shows a sort of post-apocalyptic city that's disorienting with no billboards or taxi-top signs.

For a broad audience, the film promises to be a strong draw. The combination of the sheer mashuguna found in marketing, with Spurlock's good-humored personality and underhanded way of jabbing makes for a hilarious brew.

Along Madison Avenue, there's a chance to gain from an outsider's insight; engage in some self-reflection; and chuckle at oneself. Plus, watch some of their brethren in neat and revealing bits.

One of Spurlock's first stops in pursuing sponsors for the film is a meeting with MediaLink and its head Michael Kassan, a priest who marries brands and programmers. Kassan tells Spurlock, there's a need first to figure brands that would be a good fit. "I can help you," Kassan says. But later, comes a "Turn the camera off." Spurlock thinks that means time for some serious deal-making, but the discussions don't lead anywhere.

Later, agency founder Richard Kirshenbaum helps Spurlock get a meeting with one of his clients, the Ban deodorant team. The executives are intrigued, saying their brand is a smaller one and could use some help. Spurlock feels the sniff and pitches title sponsorship of the documentary for $1 million.

Kirshenbaum wonders how Ban can be sure that Spurlock's super-sized controversial approach won't embarrass the brand. Spurlock somehow allays the fear and Ban comes on board for $50,000.

More than once, Spurlock struggles with whether to give sponsors final review of the content and some approval rights. Former NBC executive and product placement trailblazer Ben Silverman, says heck no, stand up for what you believe in.

After Spurlock lands Ban as a sponsor, he feels inspired, though there is still work to do. There's a meeting with the Sheetz Convenience Store chain and Spurlock tells the group he loves their stores. "Are you blowing sunshine up our ass?," he gets asked. Spurlock: Yes. But, he promises to hold some of the film's interviews at Sheetz locations, and work together on film-branded collector cups.

Sheetz is skeptical. Let us get this straight: How do we know our brand won't be hurt by a film that accuses Americans of being idiots and falling for product placement? Yet, Spurlock somehow answers right and Sheetz offers up $100,000.

Some of Spurlock's most captivating meetings with potential sponsors are with POM Wonderful, the juice company. Co-owner Lynda Resnick is a compelling figure with her skepticism of Spurlock's antics - including a possible POM promo showing an erection. But she's sharp and confident enough not to take herself or her business too seriously. POM ultimately signs on as the title sponsor, though whether it paid the $1 million asking price is unclear.

Once Spurlock has his sponsors lined up, he goes to work plugging them with over-the-top parodies. While interviewing director Quentin Tarantino about product placement's effect on artistic genius, the camera draws back to show a Ban stick on the table.

At a grocery store, Spurlock demonstrates POM's superiority to competitor Minute Maid.

Spoiler alert: Turns out Spurlock got his full $1.5 million and sponsors appear happy with their roles.

How could they not be? In one scene, Spurlock blends two of them, filling up a Mini Cooper at a Sheetz store saying he's thrilled he's "not driving some piece of sh*t Volkswagen right now."

1 comment about ""Greatest Movie Ever Sold" Sure Hit on Madison Avenue and Beyond".
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  1. Mike Mcgrath from RealXstream PTY LTD, March 10, 2011 at 8:40 p.m.

    Considering that this guy's last movie influenced McDonald's to introduce salads, (a significant change of credo) so it will be interesting to see what changes he catalyzes in the product placement industry.

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