a review by Nalini Haynes
I requested this movie with the intention of writing an article discussing product placement in movies with particular reference to Demolition Man and the Fifth Element but The Greatest Movie Ever Sold shows the audience nearly everything I wanted to say. Morgan Spurlock sets out to make a movie about product placement with funding from product placement. Boldly going where no hipster has gone before, Spurlock’s irony has irony for added flavour.
Spurlock goes through a process, including showing his learning curve in Movie. He consults agents, learns how to sell himself, engages with issues of creative control, copyright and contracts. Through the movie we see Spurlock being knocked back, learning, being groomed and clothed and fed by his sponsors. The movie includes scheduled ‘ad breaks’ as part of the sponsorship package; these were so authentic for a TV feel that I nearly got up to make myself a coffee when they came on.
Taking this process one step further, Spurlock visits a school whose budget has been slashed repeatedly while the school is trying to cater to the needs of the students. He discusses the issues with the principle who explains the difficulties of a school displaying advertising. Spurlock’s movie is then a product that is placed or advertised within the school.
The only issues I wanted to discuss that Spurlock omits are firstly the extent to which TV and movies are facilitating product placement these days. Demolition Man may have removed ‘Taco Bill’ and dubbed ‘Pizza Hut’ over Sandra Bullock’s original dialogue – without replacing the food on the plate in the version I’ve seen – but today films are made with white objects to allow for ease of later product placement to co-ordinate with all distribution regions.
People don’t like to feel that they’ve been conned or manipulated. Some people – Russell Howcroft from the Gruen Transfer, for example – admit to undisclosed manipulations in order to sell products; they claim that everyone knows and everyone realises and everyone accepts what seems to me to be any extreme in advertising. Boxcutters discussed how, in some countries, a little logo comes up in the corner of the screen to indicate that paid product placement is happening – this is a commercial, folks! – so people are aware of what they’re being manipulated towards. The net result is that there has been huge demand for some items for which no paid product placement contract exists. This demand has resulted in a company making a particular coat that had ceased production, because of the demands from Sherlock Holmes (BBC version) fans.
Product placement is a fact of life, with advertisers and film makers extending themselves into new territory in their endeavours to engage the interest of potential consumers, however there are flow on effects from this, sometimes unforeseen. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold does an excellent job of documenting the product placement industry, engaging with a lot of the issues involved. This is an entertaining and thoughtful look at the industry as it is, even if a couple of issues have been overlooked. Highly recommended.
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