I recently viewed the latest (April 2011 release) Morgan Spurlock film The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Here are a few thoughts about this film which could be a nice conversation starter for a number of sociology courses.
1. If you know of Morgan Spurlock and his “formula” (Supersize Me, the TV show 30 Days), you won’t be surprised by how this film goes as Spurlock tries to finance his documentary about product placement (“brand integration”) by having corporations pay to sponsor it. Even though the process may not be a surprise, the movie still feels fresh in a way that many documentaries can’t match.
2. At the most basic level, this film is about raising awareness regarding advertising. It treads some familiar ground about how companies are really selling images or aspirations and how Americans are bombarded with these ideas. While Spurlock doesn’t offer much of a solution at the end (go out into nature for a little?), he certainly is drawing attention to an issue worth paying attention to.
3. Here are a few of the more intriguing sociological insights I picked out of the film:
3a. Spurlock wants to pull back the curtain on product placement and marketing but interestingly, the big companies don’t want to participate. In the end, he catches the attention (and money) of mostly smaller/challenger brands who don’t have the big marketing budgets. From a Marxist perspective, we could suggest that the big companies want to continue to “hoodwink” consumers while the challengers are really interested in doing anything to get product exposure, even exposing their marketing tactics.
3b. Spurlock spends some time in Sao Paulo, Brazil, a city that recently banned outdoor advertising. The mayor and residents talk about how this helps eliminate “visual clutter.” Could we imagine this ever happening in an American city? How many of our famous spaces, like Times Square or Las Vegas, would no longer be famous spaces if advertising was not present?
3c. One marketer suggests Spurlock could play off religious imagery, perhaps portraying himself at the Last Supper surrounded by a bunch of companies who want to use him or to show Spurlock carrying a cross covered in advertising stickers (like a stock car in NASCAR). While the marketer suggests this might be considered blasphemous, it would also get a lot of attention. Later in the film, another insider says to Spurlock regarding marketing his film that “the path of salvation” is to “Sell! Sell! Sell!” in America. What does this commentary suggest about the role of religion in marketing and selling “Christian products”?
4. Spurlock leaves us in a tough spot: can we do marketing with integrity? Can one really “buy in” without “selling out”? The answer is unclear but Spurlock provides us an entertaining venue for starting to think about answers to these questions.
(The movie received fairly good reviews from critics: it is 71% fresh, 77 out of 109 reviews were fresh, on RottenTomatoes.com.)