Boil on

Saw Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold yesterday*. Brilliant work. I like the way Morgan Spurlock is both respectful and gently mocking of all points of view toward the movie’s subject: product placement in movies. That approach is why I prefer his movies to Michael Moores. Spurlock explores moral conflicts by living through them and sharing the process with his audience. Moore has a moral agenda, and grinds his axes right down to the handle. Moore also has a cruel streak, while Spurlock does not — except, perhaps, toward himself (for example with Super Size Me). Moore’s treatment of the senescent Charton Heston in Bowling for Columbine. still makes me wince.

* I started this post with the paragraph above on April 24, but didn’t finish it until now. In the meantime it just scrolled down out of sight in my outliner, below a pile of other old unposted items. I just found it, so now I’ll finish it.

The remarkable thing for me now is that The Greatest Movie Ever Sold kinda went nowhere. Walking out of the movie, I said to my wife, “This is the turning point on product placement.” But now, three months (to the day) into the future, I’m sure it’s not.

I see here that the movie grossed $629,499, as of July 17. Super Size Me, Spurlock’s hit from 2004, made almost that much on its opening day in May of that year, and passed $11.5 million in the U.S. alone by late September.

Why did Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold tank? Mixed reviews didn’t help. Nor did ruining a great title by selling it to Pom Wonderful.  (Even though the story behind that was a big part of the movie.) But I think the biggest reason is the topic itself. Nobody gives much of a shit about product placement. First, it’s beyond obvious, and has been ever since Blade Runner pioneered the practice, decades ago (for TDK, Atari, Pan Am, The Bell System and other future fatalities*). Second, advertising itself is now beyond ubiquitous. Today, for example, I opened an urgent notice from the U.S. Post Office that contained (in addition to actual information) a home improvement promotion from Lowe’s. The United States Postal Service, brought to you by Lowe’s.

So yeah: we are saturated in advertising. Why would boiling frogs want to see a movie about how they’re being cooked?

* The original link for this turned into a 404. On 5 August 2014 I changed it to a Google Books link to a passage in The Intention Economy that makes the same point.

8 comments

  1. Chip’s avatar

    Doc, I think that product placement goes way back

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_placement

  2. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Good point, Chip. But I think a case could be made for excessive product placement starting with Blade Runner.

  3. Andrew Leyden’s avatar

    When product placement starts to appear in prayers, then you know you are entering a strange new world:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J74y88YuSJ8

  4. Chip’s avatar

    Doc, point taken, but I will also note that I love Ridley Scott’s work in “Brade Runner” … he came from the world of shooting commercials, and the breakthrough was his ability to pack every frame with detail. This movie had incredible image density.
    Daughters gave me “director’s cut” and book on “making of Blade Runner”

    And I took the “product placement” as attempt to cast it as “believable future” vs the Star Wars stuff …

    BTW : hope you are still rockin, I’m slammed and busier, hopefully productive as I was decades ago.

    Oh … and happy birthday (just past or soon, from memory)

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Thanks, Chip. I turn 64 (cue the Beatles song) on the 29th, fwiw.

    Love Blade Runner too. A friend of mine back in the day, Evans Wetmore, worked with Ridley Scott on it. (As something of an inside joke, Evans’ was also the name of the big evil company in Brainstorms, that movie during which Natalie Wood inconveniently drowned.)

    It’s one of the best in both the noir and sci-fi genres. And I agree with Harrison Ford that Deckert wasn’t a replicant.

  6. Chip’s avatar

    Doc
    Early Happy Birthday, you are about a month behind me (6/21) and I will lift a glass for you.

    BTW : busier at this age than ever, but mostly happily busy…

    Keep up with the good work(s)
    Ciao
    Chip

  7. Ardash Muradian’s avatar

    that last line – a gem.

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