Just a couple of decades ago, product placement in films was considered such an undeniable evil that critic Roger Ebert spent much of his “At the Movies” review of Bill Cosby's “Leonard Part 6” excoriating Columbia Pictures for its artless and brazen Coca-Cola shilling — and that was not even the worst part of that misbegotten 1987 comedy. But now, product placement is practically expected. Almost every gadget, car or consumable in films such as “Iron Man” is monetized these days. If it isn't, viewers wonder if a deal fell through.
This phenomenon, in which studios and compliant filmmakers search for ways to make everything pay in a movie, prompted sardonic documentarian Morgan Spurlock (“Super Size Me”) to conduct an ingenious experiment: He would make a documentary about product placement and finance the entire project through selling product placements to all comers. The result, “Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” offers sharp insight into this practice while diving headfirst into the revenue stream.
At first, Spurlock is spurned by both marketing agencies and advertisers, mainly due to his reputation as a wise guy, but then he proves to be a savvy pitchman for himself. Spurlock ultimately sells placement and mentions for Mini Cooper, JetBlue, Hyatt, Merrill shoes, Sheetz convenience stores, Ban deodorant and, most bizarrely, the horse-and-human shampoo brand Mane 'n Tail. He even creates commercials that run during the film and, as the coup de grace, he sells naming rights to health juice company Pom Wonderful — hence the title.
This all sounds like a feature-length stunt, but Spurlock excels at taking a concept that feels like a short subject and sifting through every possible ramification, usually to engrossing and sometimes hilarious effect. He speaks to Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader about the moral implications of his project, and then successfully gets Nader interested in some Merrills. Spurlock brings in directors Quentin Tarantino, Peter Berg and Brett Ratner to discuss the subject, and all are extremely forthcoming about the use of product placement to offset production costs.
“Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”