Uncovering a world of advertising: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

Thursday, November 24, 2011

  • Does exposure to constant advertising impair your well-being?

    Does exposure to constant advertising impair your well-being?

This week’s Thursday night Docurama film held a very ambitious title. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, directed by Morgan Spurlock, is a satirical project uncovering the world of advertising and, specifically, product placement. Spurlock, who is best known for creating Super Size Me, the documentary where he sacrifices his health to reveal the effects of a McDonald’s diet, aims to produce a movie about product placement and advertising, completely funded by corporate sponsors. The documentary follows him in his journey to find companies to sponsor him, showing the various reactions from the brands he confronts. The ironic twist in the film is that the movie Spurlock is shown to be advertising in the documentary, IS the documentary. Jimmy Kimmel, in his interview with Spurlock on his late night talk show which appeared in the documentary, described it best as “The inception of documentaries”. Once the viewer gets their head around this concept, the movie proves to be quite intriguing.

Spurlock uses his usual dry humour to mock the marketing world and its dishonesty. The beginning of the project shows him calling numerous companies to ask for sponsorship for his movies, with a montage of all his rejection phone calls and letters from companies. He finally convinces about 20 companies, such as Old Navy, Pom Wonderful, Hyatt, JetBlue, and Ban to support his movie, presenting them with the promise of elaborate advertisements and excessive product placement in his movie.

Further research on the marketing industry is shown in the film when Spurlock interviews several different people. Investigating the idea of “brand personality”, he stopped people on the streets and asked them to describe their personality as if it was a brand name, to which the most memorable reply was “failed alcoholic writer”.

Pedestrians weren’t the only people Spurlock spoke to. He included some very well-known people such as Noam Chomsky, Quentin Tarantino, and Donald Trump, who weighed in on their view of product placement and advertising. While many of the people he interviewed thought poorly of the advertising world, particularly with regards to both its dishonesty and the way it blurred the distinction between art, such as quality film, and commerce, Trump offered a different perspective. He claims that it does not hurt one’s image to partake in commercials, and some of the people he sought who turned him down were “crazy not to take the money and run”.

Another interesting part of the film was Spurlock’s trip to Sau Paulo, Brazil. This city has banned all billboards and posters, wanting to clear its area of “advertising pollution”. Shots of the urban area and surrounding buildings with absolutely no ads gave viewers a sense of how much advertisement North American streets are filled with.

Again, this director puts himself in the heart of the experiment when he is given an MRI to detect his brain activity while receiving an intense exposure to many commercials. The doctor explained the high levels of brain activity in his results, including the release of dopamine, which can lead to addiction. The effect of advertising has a strong biological influence, even if we aren’t fully aware of it when it happens.

Spurlock’s previous documented experiment, Super Size Me, was topped by this movie in many ways. The Greatest Movie Ever Sold offered a more entertaining and humorous perspective, as well as providing various methods of getting information across. From interviews, filmed board meetings, voice-overs of flashing ads on the screen, or just speaking to the audience directly, he keeps the viewers entertained by not sticking to one aspect of the topic of marketing. This movie has the advantage over Super Size Me by offering different perspectives on the issue, instead of just talking about the unhealthy aspect of McDonald’s for an hour and a half.

Next week’s Docurama film is titled Louder Than A Bomb; it is about high school kids finding their voice by doing poetry slams. It will be shown on Thursday, November 24th.

Kimberly Northcote is a student and the University of Guelph and a dedicated volunteer at thecannon.ca

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