the contextual life

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What to Watch: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

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The unconventional documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, best known for his film Super Size Me, an account of what happens when you eat only McDonald’s for 30 days, explores the advertising industry in his latest production. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, now available on DVD, is an inside look at the ubiquity of advertising today. Spurlock pulls back the curtain to expose how product placement makes its way onto our television screens, into our Hollywood films, and even onto the fields of our high school football games.

In a humorous, meta-twist Spurlock seeks to finance the project with ads, auctioning off screen time in exchange for start-up money. A camera crew follows him as he meets with potential investors, pitches the idea, and hashes out the contracts.

As companies step forward, some of them major corporations with images to protect, and make their demands, Morgan worries about his integrity; however, his concern has the feel of a clever charade, a playful way to include critical voices. Morgan meets with cultural commentators such as Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader as well as successful film directors J.J. Abrams and Quentin Tarantino. In their interviews, the former discuss corporate power and its influence on the general public while the latter share their firsthand experience with advertising in the film industry.

Pom Wonderful, the pomegranate juice company, winds up paying the largest sum, 1 million dollars, and their name, as part of the deal, is placed on the marquee. In fact, the full movie title is “Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”. Their financial support also means that whenever Morgan is in a meeting, Pom’s pomegranate juice is on the table. Similarly, wherever other drinks are present, those other company’s logos are out of focus. There are even a few commercial breaks featuring Spurlock as the star. Jet Blue, another major backer, gets the special treatment with an interview taking place in one of their terminals.

As the advertising industry’s marketing departments mingle with science, their tactics are honed to perfection. Using manipulation, these companies are able to steer customers away from the competition and toward their product. Morgan visits a neuroscientist who scans his brain in an MRI machine while he watches advertisements featuring images meant to inspire fear, induce cravings, and rev up the hormones.

In his trip to Sao Paolo, Brazil, where public advertising has been banned, the audience is given a glimpse of urban life without a barrage of images, a stark contrast to the scenes shot in New York City and Los Angeles.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold benefits from Spurlock’s wit and charm. As the New York Times says in their review, “Mr. Spurlock has Mr. [Michael] Moore’s prankster’s instincts, though not his sense of outrage.” It’s this lack of outrage that makes an otherwise damning movie downright amusing. No one comes out looking like a villain but viewing audiences will walk away better educated.

This film is perfect for those who appreciate sarcasm and those concerned with endless advertising in our lives—and everyone in between. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold shows that a lighthearted approach to a serious topic can be just as thought-provoking as a dogmatic one. After watching Spurlock’s on-screen antics, you’ll never miss those faced-out soda cans on your favorite prime time show again.

::[Links]::
The Greatest Story Ever Sold official website
Morgan Spurlock’s TED Talk for The Greatest Story Ever Sold
Morgan Spurlock on KCRW’s The Business
Morgan Spurlock on NPR’s Talk of the Nation
Morgan Spurlock on Funny or Die (opens with sound)
Interview with Morgan Spurlock at AdWeek
Rogert Ebert’s review
New York Times review
AdWeek dives deeper into the MRI

What’s On the Shelf?
The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard
“The Hidden Persuaders is Vance Packard’s pioneering and prescient work revealing how advertisers use psychological methods to tap into our unconscious desires in order to “persuade” us to buy the products they are selling.

A classic examination of how our thoughts and feelings are manipulated by business, media and politicians, The Hidden Persuaders was the first book to expose the hidden world of “motivation research,” the psychological technique that advertisers use to probe our minds in order to control our actions as consumers. Through analysis of products, political campaigns and television programs of the 1950s, Packard shows how the insidious manipulation practices that have come to dominate today’s corporate-driven world began.” [via IndieBound]

Consuming Kids: Protecting Our Children from the Onslaught of Marketing & Advertising by Susan Linn
“[P]rovides instead a measured, but ultimately devastating, critique of consumerism and American childhood.

Children influence some $600 billion in annual spending, and marketers, as Linn amply documents, will stop at nothing to harness this kiddie-consumer juggernaut. Of the head-shaking stats and anecdotes Linn supplies, perhaps the most repulsive is the “nag factor study,” which identified the parents most susceptible to ‘pester power,’ whose kids thus make the most profitable advertising targets.” [via Mother Jones]

Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy by Martin Lindstrom
In Buy-ology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy, author and marketing guru Martin Lindstromtakes us on a behind the scenes look at what sells and why we are lambs to the slaughter when it comes to buying ‘stuff.’ . . .  Using one of the largest neuromarketing studies, Lindstrom attempts to look past what we say and figure out why we do what we do and how our brain responds to all of the incoming stimuli.” [via Interview with TreeHugger]

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer
“Jonah Lehrer’s engaging new book, “How We Decide,” puts our decision-making skills under the microscope. . . . [Malcolm] Gladwell’s book [Blink] took an external vantage point on its subject, drawing largely on observations from psychology and sociology, [to study the boundary between reason and intuition] while Lehrer’s is an inside job, zooming in on the inner workings of the brain. We learn about the nucleus accumbens, spindle cells and the prefrontal cortex.” [via The New York Times] Watch Jonah discuss his book on Fora.tv (opens with sound).

No Logo by Naomi Klein
“Klein’s writing caught the wave of anti-globalization protests that swept across the planet a decade ago, beginning with the massive and violent demonstrations against the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in November 1999. Almost immediately, wherever world leaders gathered—international economic conferences, G8 summits, trade negotiations—they would be met with street protests and a parallel meeting of the planet’s angry marginalia, including counterculturalists, environmentalists, socialists, labor organizations, and human rights activists. No Logo was quickly adopted as the movement’s bible and, along with Nalgene water bottles and khaki cargo pants, became an essential part of the general-issue battle kit for campus lefties.

What are we to make of No Logo a decade on? It remains a passionate and ambitious snapshot of the newly globalized youth and consumer culture at the end of the 20th century. It is also an often infuriating work of agitprop that marries old Marxist prejudices about the market economy to a paranoid and conspiratorial account of the business of advertising.” [via Reason]

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Written by Gabrielle

December 9, 2011 at 5:54 am

2 Responses

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  1. Great review. I will definitely have to see this.

    Joe Bunting

    December 9, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    • thanks! i love his approach. he trusts the viewer and spares them a lecture.

      Gabrielle

      December 9, 2011 at 2:18 pm


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