In his new movie, gadfly Morgan Spurlock sells his soul to make a point about product placement.
Morgan Spurlock, the affable gadfly who documented his monthlong Big Mac diet in 2004's "Super Size Me," concedes that his new movie about product placement in films is no stop-the-presses exposé.
"By the way, have you heard fast food's bad for you?" he joked. While product cameos are common knowledge, Spurlock says they've become an annoyance worthy of satirical scrutiny. "Pom Wonderful Presents the Greatest Movie Ever Sold," in a bit of conceptual jiujitsu, raised its $1.5 million budget by filling its running time with blatant paid plugs.
So far, so good. Over a Pom at the Minneapolis Hyatt (the hotel chain is another sponsor), Spurlock reported that his film already had exceeded the number of "media impressions" required to trigger additional payments from his top sponsors. Now it's up to audiences to determine whether his grand experiment achieves his goal.
"It's enlightening to look at how ad creep has begun to penetrate our media and public space, our personal space, schools," he said. "If you allow ad-supported programs like Channel One," a daily 12-minute news program for teens broadcast to thousands of high schools, "you're telling the kids that their education wouldn't happen except for these corporations. You're putting a value on corporations that's equal to education. Do you want your kid going to Red Bull High School? There is no sacred space anymore."
The human billboard
Spurlock was a walking billboard for his argument, wearing a smart blue blazer embroidered with dozens of his advertisers' brand logos. "As Ralph Nader says in the film, the more tastefully and artfully it's done, the more insidious it is, because you don't pay attention to it. We are so advertised to every day that it becomes like noise."
After literally becoming a corporate suit, did he feel that his artistic integrity was co-opted? Not exactly. Spurlock, like many feature film directors, has dabbled in TV commercials. He says the film doesn't question the necessity of advertising, but it does challenge ad overkill.
"I went to São Paulo a few years back and it was like 'Blade Runner.' You couldn't walk anywhere without there being signs and posters and billboards. Then in 2005 they took them all down. And now that they're gone, it's a pretty inspiring, beautiful place," a transformation dramatically illustrated in the film. The ad ban didn't hurt local businesses but made them get back to the basics of pleasing customers, whose word of mouth became the most valuable endorsement around. "The only jobs it killed was putting up posters," he said, and in five days of on-the-street interviews not one person said they wanted the advertising back.
Of course, Spurlock's visit to the Twin Cities was all about advertising. He introduced his film at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival. "When you don't have the money to buy national ad spots, ultimately the people in the city become your commercial. So you need to go there, talk to them, and start having champions on the ground in every market you can."
Colin Covert • 612-673-7186