The Greatest Movie Ever Sold

I was working for Coca-Cola when the first Harry Potter movie came out. Coca-Cola had a tie-in agreement with the producers of the film. They had big cardboard displays up in supermarkets with pictures of the films’ characters and the words, “Taste the Magic”. The idea was, apparently, that just by drinking a bottle of Coca-Cola, you could experience the magical world of Harry Potter. Nobody seemed bothered by the obvious absurdity of this. It seems that people have become so used to the ludicrous claims of advertising, that nobody even thinks twice about them any more.

Morgan Spurlock set out to make a film that would be funded entirely by corporate sponsorship. His aim was to explore the effects that advertising have on our world. There are scenes of advertising executives sitting around with straight faces spouting bullshit terms like “brand collateral” and “brand personality”. Some film directors make candid admissions about the use of product placement in films. (An advertising executive boasts to Spurlock about how he once forced a movie studio to re-write a scene that showed Alka-Selzer in an unflattering light.) There’s a creepy segment about “neuromarketing”. People are placed in MRI machines, and their brain activity is studied as they watch various commercials. Spurlock visits a cash-strapped school in Broward County, Florida. The school administrators are desperately trying to raise funds by placing advertisements around the school grounds. (Spurlock gives them a list of his sponsors. They seem very grateful.)

There’s an interesting segment in which Spurlock visits Sao Paulo, Brazil, where the city government has banned outdoor advertisements. Interestingly, nobody seems to miss the old billboards. I couldn’t help but contrast this with the scenes in New York’s Times Square, with its clutter of distracting advertisements. Would our lives be any poorer without this visual noise? I don’t think so.

Throughout the film, Spurlock keeps his tongue firmly planted in his cheek. He hints to us that he may have sold out. (He prefers to say “bought in”.) In one scene, he even tries to get Ralph Nader to buy shoes from one of his sponsors. I found this film amusing to watch, but it lacked any sense of urgency. Spurlock failed to make me feel that I should care about this topic.

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