POM Wonderful presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
Release Date: August 11, 2011
You may remember director/presenter Morgan Spurlock from his off-the-wall investigation of the fast food industry, Supersize Me, in which he commits to eating nothing but McDonalds for a month – with disastrous results. Now Spurlock is applying his acumen to examining the hold the advertising industry exercises over the movie business in POM Wonderful: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.
The guiding principle is pretty simple: attempt to make a film through sponsorship alone, and consider the limitations imposed as the production goes along. Spurlock explains from the outset that ‘co-promotion’ or brand-placement is, “… the holy grail of advertising.” Through it’s use companies channel billions of dollars into Hollywood productions for the privilege of associating their brand with the biggest names. James Bond’s Aston Martin and Omega watch are examples of the principal at work, but only the tip of the iceberg. The real money flows in when the heroes feature in the brand’s own promotions. Spurlock reveals that Iron Man 2 had twelve separate advertising partners that involved the metal clad superhero appearing in restaurant ads while Robert Downey Jnr drove his way through Audi commercials. If he’s going to produce the next ‘doc-buster’ he’ll have to understand every step that leads towards that river of gold. And so the quest for sponsors begins…
It only takes a look at the film’s title to realise that one big fish Spurlock manages to land is POM, the pomegranate juice drink with the signature bulbous bottle. POM pays a million dollars for the naming rights to the film. Are its executives worried that they’ve just aligned themselves with a documentary maker creating an expose of the very practise they’re benefiting from? “Well,” says the firm’s CEO, “I wouldn’t be a Jewish grandmother if I didn’t have concerns.” But POM’s contract seems to provide plenty of security: no images of any other drinks anywhere in the film, no disparaging remarks about the brand, at least 600,000 impressions of their label in advertising and $10 million dollars at the box office before they hand over a single cent. Oh, and of course there are the three 30-second ads for POM presented by Spurlock that must be included before the credits roll. Watching how he fits them in is reason enough to pay the admission price.
But what’s the cost of all this integration? How much space can a producer rent before the integrity of his message also goes up for sale? It’s a question that has implications for more than just members of the movie industry. Peter Berg, the director of The action flick Hancock, is philosophical:
“If there’s a car in the movie, why not make sure that it helps you reach your budget?”
But consumer expert Ralph Nader suggests the liaison between advertising and movie messages can be a dangerous association. Advertising promises fulfilment but the products seldom delivers. What actually makes us happy is not the product but what the advertising is pointing to. And so advertising has the potential to corrupt whatever positive lessons a film might impart by inserting a soft drink can in the hands of those lovers or a fast food meal between mother and son.
Spurlock: Is there any truth in advertising?
Nader: Yes, advertising is telling the truth when it says it’s lying.
And that’s where the moral behind POM Wonderful: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold should hit home for Christians. The title alone is a deliberate parody of The Greatest Story Ever Told, the 1965 classic about a sacrifice that should be front and centre in our minds. So often the sign posts to happiness can be substituted for happiness itself. It can be obvious like the desire for a leather bound Bible or ‘just the right translation’ looming larger than regularly reading the scriptures. At other times it’s more subtle, like emphasis on a type of worship that makes the form more important than the focus. And when we begin to insert advertising into our evangelism, like the benefits Jesus can have for your finances or even how happy He can make you, we dilute the real good news: that God has provided a payment for our sins. Spurlock takes a trip to Sao Paolo to see the city that banned outdoor advertising, and it only takes one look to see how powerful an uncluttered message can be.
Its’ appropriate that POM Wonderful: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold features the song Run On by the artist Moby. His album Play was the first ever to have all of it’s tracks licensed for use in movies, TV shows and commercials. The deals greatly increased the visibility of the artist but they also led to accusations of selling out. Every proclamation of the Gospel has to be considered in the light of how much it adds to or detracts from the great work God has done through Christ. And I’m contractually obliged to mention at this point that He is one storyteller who takes the integrity of His work very seriously.