The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

This blog post does not have any sponsor – yet

with 12 comments

Recently I wrote a post about product placement and how it irks me if it’s too obvious. I illustrated it with a screenshot from The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, so I reckon people just assumed that I had watched it and become inspired. I hadn’t. I just stole the picture.

But as it happened, it turned out that the documentary had been broadcasted on Swedish television only a few days earlier and it was available to watch for free on the public television’s website for a few more days.

Such a coincidence couldn’t be neglected, especially since I’m professionally as well as privately interested in marketing (while also a bit appalled by it). So I watched it, and good for me I did.

More than making fun
This is exactly the kind of documentary I fall for, with a delicious mix of intelligence and humor. I was properly entertained, but it was more than just someone making fun of the product placement phenomena. Seeds were sown and I’ll never watch movie advertising the same way again.

I’ve always known it was present of course and I complained about that it sometimes is just too obvious in my blog post. But I didn’t see the full extent of it, how big the business has grown with companies specialized in finding suitable partnerships. I didn’t see what influence the sponsors may have through the contracts that are written; I didn’t realize how brands and movies go into long-term partnerships, boosting each other for mutual winning. Not until now, after this hands-on-lesson where Morgan Spurlock gives us access to places, people and conversations I never imagined existed.

The concept of the film sounds a little bit nutty. Spurlock decided to go not just make a film about product placement: he also financed it with product placement. We see him chasing for sponsors, which is a little bit hard to begin with. But lo and behold, finally a juice sponsor turns up. And woops – from that moment and onwards, all other drinks are blurred out from the screen.

A balance act
It’s a tricky balance act. On one hand you contracts with sponsors, which Spurlock needs to honor. He can’t afford putting them in a bad light. On the other hand; this is a documentary, and in that genre credibility is essential. Documentary makers aren’t necessarily journalists, bound to follow a professional code of conduct. But they’re damned close. Spurlock has his own brand to think of here. If we start thinking of this film as too much of a sell-out, his credentials will fall and we’re less likely to be interested in what he has to say in his future.

Does he pull it off? Yes, absolutely. I didn’t feel as if I had been tricked into liking the product placed companies, but I don’t think they have anything to complain about either. They got good exposure for their investment.

What also makes me love this film is that he never goes preachy. Spurlock doesn’t require anyone to hate or to love the product placement. What he does is to make us more aware of it, while giving us quite a few laughs at the same time.

I’ve never watched any other of his documentaries, but after this first encounter I’m definitely up for more.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (Morgan Spurlock, US, 2011) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

May 18, 2012 at 1:00 am

12 Responses

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  1. Spurlock does a lot of fun work. About the only documentarian (not a word, but maybe it should be) I watch.

    Kierbuu

    May 18, 2012 at 2:47 am

    • I don’t watch that many documentaries either, but everyone I see one I think to myself that I should watch more of them. The best one I’ve seen over the past year was Exit Through the Gift Shop, which was even funnier and more thoughtprovoking than this one. Highly recommended! Other documentaries I’ve loved and written about here are Senna, Bobby Fisher Against the World and L’Amour Fou about Yves Saint Laurent. All of them are well worth seeing.

      Jessica

      May 18, 2012 at 7:25 am

  2. But before blatant product placement from companies, there were the military or FBI or… It seems like at least Hollywood always have had a more or less ambivalent relation to outside influences which might be help as well as hinderance (is that even a word?)

    Sofia

    May 18, 2012 at 9:03 am

    • Hehe… Yeah. Good for us in Europe that our film industry says a firm “no” to anyone trying to influence movies. 😉

      Jessica

      May 18, 2012 at 9:05 am

  3. After your tip that it was available om SVT Play I managed to watch it before it was removed. I would only give it a grade 3 but what I really liked was how all was good in the beginning when the sponsors started coming. Then Morgan realised after a meeting with one of sponsors that he now in some way was under their control.

    Jojjenito

    May 18, 2012 at 11:38 am

    • Yeah, I love the way he’s debating with himself and sharing all those contracts. Imagine if all movies had that transparency in let’s say the text credits. That would be kind of revealing, wouldn’t it.

      Jessica

      May 18, 2012 at 1:24 pm

  4. I was impressed with the way Spurlock approached the whole idea. Let’s not forget that the “sponsors” knew exactly what they were getting into- Morgan himself is a brand. The interplay between the two sides, and the final satirical, yet respectful presentation shows that Spurlock is much more balnced than Michael Moore. I’m sure these companies would have not sponsored a Moore film.

    And I laughed my tuckus off too…that’s always a plus!

    Karl Kaefer

    May 18, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    • I was a bit charmed by several of the companies that jumped on the bandwagon, including the head of the juice brand. I think they definitely got a fair deal – and yet the movie revealed a great deal to me about the business and definitely didn’t make it more in favor of it. Very well balanced. And fun.

      Jessica

      May 20, 2012 at 6:26 pm

  5. Great post, Jess! I really want to see this as I’m interested in the topic and I really liked Spurlock’s “Super Size Me”.

    fernandorafael

    May 21, 2012 at 4:34 am

    • Thanks! If you love Spurlock and are interested in the topic, I think this will be very much to your liking.

      Jessica

      May 21, 2012 at 8:26 am

  6. Really can’t stand obvious product placement. There was this one shot in The Avengers where they showed the back of a car which really stood out to me, but there are movies out there that are far worse (for example The Island or I, Robot). The Spurlock documentary was fun, although in the end I was waiting for the movie to start…which was a bit weird 🙂 Spurlock’s stuff is usually very entertaining. You should see the already mentioned Supersize Me.

    Nostra

    May 24, 2012 at 6:18 pm

    • I know what you mean about waiting for the movie to start. It was so weird that it was this movie about making this movie. Very meta. I need to see Supersize me.

      Jessica

      May 24, 2012 at 9:44 pm


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