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'Super Size Me' Director Tackles Product Placement in Movies

  • Penelope Poulou

Morgan Spurlock in his latest documentary, 'Pom Wonderful: The Greatest Story Ever Sold,' which focuses on product advertisement in film and television.

Morgan Spurlock in his latest documentary, 'Pom Wonderful: The Greatest Story Ever Sold,' which focuses on product advertisement in film and television.

Morgan Spurlock examines whether such agreements undermine artistic integrity

In his new documentary "Pom Wonderful: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," director Morgan Spurlock satirizes corporate product placement in film and television, showcasing the process in which filmmakers help fund their productions by making deals to place products in their films.

Spurlock, who subsisted for a month on a McDonald's diet for his previous movie "Super Size Me," believes that, in making these kinds of deals, filmmakers put their own credibility at risk.

Spurlock decided to zoom in on product advertisement in films and TV series after watching an episode of "Heroes," his favorite TV show.

"In one episode, Hayden Panettiere, the cheerleader, comes out of school. Her birthday is coming up and her dad says 'Honey, your mom and I were really proud of you.' And he reaches in his pocket and as he does he pulls out a set of keys. It cuts to the front of the car, passes the Nissan logo, back to her, the keys are held in front of her face, the focus on her face as she goes 'Ah! The Rogue? The Nissan Rogue? Oh my gosh! I can't believe you're giving me the Rogue! It's the Rogue!’ I was so completely dumbfounded because it was like 'Wow. That just happened. I really watched a commercial in the middle of the show right now.'"

Spurlock decided to make a film all about product placement, marketing and advertising where the entire film is funded by product placement, marketing and advertising. With his usual dry humor, Spurlock takes viewers along as he meets with marketing directors to get funding for his latest film. Even though Spurlock offers to place products in his documentary, he's repeatedly turned down.

In the documentary, Spurlock asks an advertising executive, "Is it a tough sell because of the film or because of me?" The executive answers, "Both."

"The companies were saying 'Listen, I already saw what you did to that company,'" says Spurlock, referring to McDonald’s in his movie "Super Size Me." "'Why do I want to help you with this movie?' It was an uphill battle."

Spurlock finally strikes a deal with juice manufacturer Pom Wonderful. Once Pom Wonderful forked over funds, other companies followed. The film is funny but it also throws light into the dark corners of contemporary marketing.

"They put people in MRIs and they show you commercials. They see how your brain reacts to the commercial," Spurlock says. "Then, they re-edit the commercial so it hits very targeted desire centers of your brain that will respond to fear or craving or sex, whatever they may be."

According to Spurlock, most films get some of their funding from product placement. He says, for example, the blockbuster "Ironman" showcased more than 100 products throughout the film. However, he warns such agreements can undermine artistic integrity.

"You start dealing with studios and network television and ultimately these companies are in the writer’s room. They are telling you what the dialogue should say."

Spurlock says he maintained creative control of his film. He doesn't discourage filmmakers from striking agreements with corporations as long as they do the same.