This year, it seems that activist-lead documentaries are running rampant. In fact, there were many choices when it came to seeing a documentary at SXSW this year. So much so, that it actually trumped over many narrative features running through the festival. One of the bigger documentaries playing at SXSW was Morgan Spurlock’s latest feature about advertising called Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. That’s quite a title, and it is explained in the film, because this is the first film of it’s kind. It was completely funded, branded, and controlled by advertising.
Spurlock is one of the better documentarians of our age as he is always able to stay completely unbiased, while still entertaining us with important facts that we can take home. His newest venture aims to point out how prevalent advertising is in our lives now a days; we may not even notice some of it now. Everyone knows that Times Square wouldn’t be the same with out all the advertising for food, clothing, movies and anything else pasted all over it’s buildings. We are also becoming annoyingly aware of the advertising taking advantage of our television screens and computer monitors when we are trying to watch a program. They are flooding the bottom with dancing icons, while the top serves to remind us how this show was brought to us and so on and so on. To most of us, this is really annoying. Spurlock wanted to not only point out it’s relevance to our country, but also see what it would take to become the first “Doc-buster”. Movies like Iron Man are not scared to use tons of advertising in the film as long as those companies, such as Burger King, would reciprocate the love and advertise the film on their products.
Spurlock had to market himself as a brand in order to fund this project, and the first part of the film is centered on teaching us what it takes to do so. There was “Brand Collateral” or what are you bringing to the table, and “Brand Personality” which is basically what helps your brand relate to the world. There were some pretty interesting inside tips as to what it takes for a juice commercial to sell itself to you. One thing that served to be a pretty funny jab at advertising companies was Spurlock showing most of them looking dumbfounded when it came to originality. They seemed completely unimaginative when he approached them about ideas of how to promote their product in his film. Instead it was he that was throwing out idea after idea. They may have been more on par with what Old Spice is doing now, but hey, it worked for them, didn’t it?
One of the most interesting parts of the documentary was seeing Spurlock pitch his ideas to company after company about a film that we were already watching. It was like we were in a weird alternate reality loop or something. If they said no, well, they still appeared in the doc. If they said yes, then all of a sudden, Spurlock would start using that product in excess. It was humorous how excessive he was with things like an entire cabinet full of deodorant, because they were the first sponsor. The reason that the film is called Pom Wonderful Presents: is because Pom was the biggest contributor to the film. The top three sponsors also got to have handmade 30 second spots by Spurlock in the film of that company’s product. There were Pom Wonderful, Jet Blue, and Hyatt spots that appeared in different parts of the film and all were pretty hilarious. After all the contracts for the various companies had been drawn up, he was in a predicament about only using their products in the film. For example, he could only stay in Hyatt hotels and fly Jet Blue and each time someone is seen drinking something in the film, it had better be a Pom Wonderful.
He started to become worried that the film would never get made with all the restrictions with in the contracts. He also had to make sure that he would never show any of the ads in a negative light, so his jokes had to be very carefully crafted. The second part of the film talked to more people about advertising. Ralph Nader was for some reason one of these people. He chimed in on quite a few things about advertising and laws. Spurlock also spoke with a few musicians and bands, because they too have become brands now. Bands like OK GO, Big Boi, and Matt and Kim were all interviewed about the state of the music industry and if it’s considered “selling out” to sell your song to a car commercial, for example. They had some interesting points to make. Their biggest concern had to do with maintaining identity and abstaining from being labeled a brand. At least one thing that I could say about selling your song to a commercial: it makes the commercial a lot less annoying. I don’t really think of a band as “selling out” when it sells a song to a commercial, because bands are already so broke that it’s a great starting point for their career if they can sell to a commercial.
This film was far less controversial than his previous films and that could have been due to all the contracts he was under for the film. There was really only a small bit covered about truth in advertising. I wish they could have spoke more in depth about it though. In my opinion, there is an obvious line of where truth ends and advertising begins anymore these days. For example: mascara is mascara. It has basically been the same product for fifty years. All they have really managed to change is it’s consistency and color. However, any mascara commercial seen now a days always shows some Victoria’s Secret model proclaiming that this product made their eyelashes the length of a horse’s eyelashes. They fully believe that we will buy their product thinking we too can have lashes that are unnaturally long and thick. I can’t even find fake lashes in stores as ridiculous as those, except for Halloween stores, that is.
Perhaps all the real truths in advertising will be saved for the special features of the Blu-ray. One thing he was happy to announce: before opening this film in any theatres, the amount made was already in a surplus. So, perhaps this is where film will head next. We may have to live through a little annoying advertising in the film, but at least then, everyone will go home with a paycheck.
I give Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold 4 “Mane ‘N Tail Shampoo” out of 5
If it’s good enough for horses, then it’s good enough for humans.
by Angela Davis