Has Hollywood product placement gone too far?
We've seen so many brands integrated into film storylines and backdrops that by now we're almost inured to it. Which is one of the points made by Morgan Spurlock and a number of talking heads in "Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," the documentarian's playful but tough look at product placement that was a hit at the Sundance Film Festival and opens in theaters Friday. Brands have become so present that companies must keep ratcheting up the volume, which in turns makes them even more pervasive.
Although Spurlock uncovers plenty of outrageousness in his new movie, the filmmaker who gave us "Supersize Me" told 24 Frames that very little of what he found surprised him or made him (more) depressed. "I'd say I'm about as jaded now as when I started," he said in an interview. (Come back Friday at 10 a.m. for a live chat with Spurlock.)
Still, Spurlock said he was hoping to achieve a socially conscious purpose with the new film which, among other things, also shows the encroachment of advertising into classrooms and school buses. "A certain amount of marketing is OK," he said. "But the question is where you draw the line. Because the line continues to be erased. I was at a subway station the other day that was named after a brand. They're selling advertising in schools, and schools are supposed to be sacred."
Spurlock also shows a number of blatant instances of product placement in shows and movies, including one case of "90210" cast members flogging Dr Pepper in the middle of the show's narrative.
Those who engage in the practice say that, if done properly, product integration can be unobtrusive and even beneficial. "Marketing is just a part of life," said Hollywood product placement expert Norm Marshall, in a profile about him in today's Times. If a brand is placed organically in a movie or show, he said, it can serve the character and storyline. (Marshall also estimated that actual paid placement at no higher than one-third of all brand appearances.)
Spurlock suggests that the practice has become more insidious, and that if consumers don't take an aggressive stance advertising in movies and other editorially driven venues will will soon become overwhelming. "It seems wrong not to push back," he said. "That's the only way to slow it down."
-- Steven Zeitchik
Photo: Morgan Spurlock stumps for "Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold." Credit: Sony Pictures Classics