TED Radio Hour
9:21 am
Fri May 9, 2014

A Movie About Product Placement — Paid For By Product Placement?

Part 1 of the TED Radio Hour episode Brand Over Brain.

About Morgan Spurlock's TEDTalk

Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock dives into the mysterious but influential world of brand marketing, on his quest to make a completely sponsored film about sponsorship.

About Morgan Spurlock

Morgan Spurlock is a director and producer. His first film, Super Size Me, premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004, winning Best Directing honors. Since then he has directed, produced and distributed multiple film and TV projects, including the FX television series, 30 Days, and the films Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?, Confessions of a Superhero, and POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Spurlock is also the host of CNN's Inside Man.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So there's a book that Andy Warhol put out in 1975. It was explaining his philosophy on life. And he had a very simple explanation for why he thought America was a great place. This is what he wrote in the book. In America...

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: We'll return after these messages.

RAZ: ...You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Singing) I'd like to buy the world a home and furnish it with love.

RAZ: And you know that the president drinks Coke, that Liz Taylor drinks Coke. And just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke, he wrote, and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMERCIAL)

WOMAN #1: (Singing) I'd like to buy the world a Coke and give...

RAZ: So here's a question then - why do we feel that way about Coke, but not Shasta or RC?

MORGAN SPURLOCK: Yeah. We didn't have a ton of money. And, like, my dad grew up in a house where they drank Royal Crown Cola. So Royal Crown was, like, always around.

RAZ: This is filmmaker Morgan Spurlock. And he has thought about this question as well.

SPURLOCK: Whenever I got to have a Coca-Cola, it was, like, the greatest thing ever 'cause it was the Ferrari of sodas. And it's not - I don't know if they taste better, but it's just, like - they just taste better.

RAZ: But why, or why do we think they do? Well, that's our show today - why Coke has that pull, why we go for Bayer aspirin over generic, why Apple computers make us believe we're creative, why brands have so much power over the brain, and how we assign value to a million different things every single day without barely a thought.

So a few years ago, Morgan Spurlock had just shot a documentary called "Super Size Me." You might remember it. He ate McDonald's every day for a month. Anyway, sometime after that, he wanted to turn his attention from the food to what makes us want the food. And so he came up with a new film project.

How did you decide to make that film - the greatest movie ever sold - "POM Wonderful's Greatest Movie Ever Sold"?

SPURLOCK: "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."

RAZ: Right. Sorry.

SPURLOCK: That's the official title. Thank you, POM Wonderful, for paying for that. No. The whole idea of that film - you know, my producing partner, Jeremy Chilnick and I, for years had talked about making a movie that looked at the world of advertising. And we'd never kind of - we were always like, well, what would - how would our end be, how would we do it differently than someone else? And we had watched an episode of "Heroes."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SPURLOCK: And I loved "Heroes." But it was, like, the first episode of the second season. And, like, Hayden Panettiere, the cheerleader, had moved to a new town.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HEROES")

HAYDEN PANETTIERE: (As Claire Bennet) All the electives I wanted filled up last semester.

JACK COLEMAN: (As Noah Bennet) Come on. It's your first day. You should be excited.

SPURLOCK: She was coming out of school, and she was all upset. And, you know, she was mad 'cause it was her birthday. And she didn't have any friends in the new school. And she was so mad.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HEROES")

PANETTIERE: (As Claire Bennet) I don't have one friend. I'm shark bait.

COLEMAN: (As Noah Bennet) You're going to be fine.

SPURLOCK: And her dad's like, awe, honey, cheer up.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HEROES")

COLEMAN: (As Noah Bennet) Your mother and I were going to surprise you on your birthday next month, but...

SPURLOCK: And he reaches in his pocket. And as he does, the camera cuts to the front of this car and dollies past this Nissan logo. And it cuts back to him holding the keys in front of her face. And, like, the camera racks focus from the Nissan keys to her face and then back to the keys. And she smiles, and she goes...

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HEROES")

PANETTIERE: (As Claire Bennet) Oh, my gosh. The Rogue?

SPURLOCK: The Rogue? You're giving me the Rogue? Oh, my God, Dad. I can't believe you're giving me the Nissan Rogue? It's a Rogue.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "HEROES")

COLEMAN: (As Noah Bennet) I know. I know.

SPURLOCK: And so here in the middle of this show that was so beloved to me was this terrible, awful commercial. And I was just dumbfounded by it. Later on in the show, you know, now she's got friends 'cause of the car, and it's great. And she's leaving a party. And she's like, come on guys, to the Rogue. And I was like, oh, come on. That's enough. I was so mad.

RAZ: So the next day, Morgan called up Jeremy, his producing partner.

SPURLOCK: And I said, you know what we should do? I said, we should just make a whole movie about product placement where the whole thing's just funded by product placement. And it was like - and at that moment, we just both looked at each other, and we were like, that's the idea. That's the film. And so out of that came "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."

RAZ: And within weeks, they started to film the process of making that documentary, first pitching the idea to a bunch of ad execs to see if they were interested. This is a clip from the movie.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD")

SPURLOCK: So what happens in "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" is that everything from top to bottom, from start to finish is branded from beginning to end. So maybe we sell a shoe and it becomes the greatest shoe you ever wore, the greatest car you ever drove from "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold." You know, the greatest drink you've ever had, courtesy of "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold."

RAZ: You were like, OK, this shouldn't be a problem. Like, I'll just go to all these companies and say, hey, I promise you I'm going to make a film. I'm not - it's not going to disparage your brand. And I'm going to, you know, have, like, little commercials for your brand in the movie.

SPURLOCK: That's right. We were like, what brand is going to say no to this? This is great.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

SPURLOCK: None of them wanted anything to do with this movie. I mean, I was amazed.

RAZ: Here's Morgan Spurlock on the TED stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

SPURLOCK: They want absolutely nothing to do with this project. You know, I was blown away because I thought the whole concept, the idea of advertising was to get your product out in front of as many people as possible, to get as many people to see it as possible, especially in today's world, this intersection of new media and old media and the fractured media landscape. Isn't the idea to get that new, buzzworthy delivery vehicle that's going to get that message to the masses? You know, that's what I thought.

Now, when I started talking to companies, you know, and telling them, you know, we wanted to tell this story, and they said, no, we want you to tell a story. We want you to tell a story, but we just want to tell our story.

See, when I was a kid and my father would catch me in some sort of a lie, he would say, son, there's three sides to every story. There's your story, there's my story, and there's the real story. Now, you see, with this film, we wanted to tell the real story.

I said, you know what? I'll just cold call the brands myself. And I got on the phone and just started cold calling every CMO that I could get on the phone.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD")

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Thank you for calling Target Corporation.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: We're just unable to participate.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I mean, it doesn't sound like a movie that I'd be excited about going to.

SPURLOCK: Right.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4: Goes against everything that we do.

SPURLOCK: From the time we got the idea to do the film to when the first brand said yes, it was nine months of us cold calling brands.

RAZ: There's this amazing scene in your film that you show on the TED stage where you get a meeting with the executives from Ban, the deodorant company.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD")

FRANK: We are a smaller brand, much like you talked about being a smaller, you know, movie...

SPURLOCK: Yeah.

FRANK: ...We're very much a challenger brand. So we don't have the budget...

RAZ: And then you asked them - you say, so how would you describe the Ban brand?

SPURLOCK: Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD")

SPURLOCK: What are the words that you would use to describe Ban? Ban is blank.

Ban is blank. And then it's literally silence in the room. Nobody says anything. They're all just sitting there. And then, like, the CMO at the time, like, the vice president of the company goes...

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "POM WONDERFUL PRESENTS: THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD")

FRANK: That's a great question.

SPURLOCK: ...Oh, that's a great question. You know...

(LAUGHTER)

SPURLOCK: ...It's amazing. It was amazing. But here's the incredible thing about Ban deodorant - as soon as Ban said yes, we started calling other brands up. And they'd say, OK, well, who else - who has said yes so far? And I said, well, Ban deodorant said yes. And suddenly, there would be a pause. And people on the other end would be like, well, you should come in and meet with us then. If Ban's doing it, then we've got to talk about this. Like, Ban deodorant became the linchpin. And so once they said yes, JetBlue, POM Wonderful, Hyatt said yes. And then once Hyatt said yes, then it was done.

RAZ: And then there was a brand that Morgan really wanted as a sponsor - Mane and Tail. They make a shampoo.

SPURLOCK: But it's not just - no. It's not just a shampoo. It is a shampoo that is made for both horses and people.

(LAUGHTER)

SPURLOCK: It's true because think - but think about how many times have you been in the shower with your horse...

RAZ: (Laughing) Yeah.

SPURLOCK: ...And said, why can't there be a shampoo for both of us? Now there is. Now we can both have the same shampoo and conditioner. Thank you, Mane and Tail.

RAZ: So you went to them, and you said, look, I'd, you know - I'd love to work with you. And...

SPURLOCK: And I stalked them. I, like - I stalked them for the film. Like, every other day, I'm calling the company, calling the company, leaving a message, leaving a message.

Finally, the CEO calls me back and says, so I just want to hear about this. I get it. You're making this product placement film. Sounds funny. So how would you - how do you envision our product being in the film?

And so I say to him - I say, OK, picture this - you're in the bathroom. There's a close-up of the bottle of Mane and Tail. And now the camera just starts pulling back. And as the camera pulls back from the bottle of Mane and Tail, you see me washing my little boy's hair. And as the camera keeps pulling back, it keeps pulling back, you see me washing my own hair in the tub. And the camera pulls back further and pulls back further, and as it does, you see me turn to my left as I'm washing my Shetland pony.

(LAUGHTER)

SPURLOCK: Silence. There's no response. And then finally he goes, that's the greatest product integration I've ever heard. It was amazing. And then he goes, oh, man. Oh, that's great. I thought you were going to do something weird with the product. No. That's OK.

(LAUGHTER)

RAZ: I recently went on their website - on the Mane and Tail website, and...

SPURLOCK: Yeah.

RAZ: And I don't know if you know this, but they are the official shampoo for the Ellen DeGeneres greenroom.

(LAUGHTER)

RAZ: That's a fact. So the thing about the movie is you went into it, like, being really pissed off about this thing that happened on "Heroes."

SPURLOCK: Yeah.

RAZ: But then, like, after you went through the process and you met with all these people...

SPURLOCK: Yeah.

RAZ: ...And you learned about it, like, what did you think?

SPURLOCK: Well, I mean, I think that from my standpoint and with what we did, I mean, we were very fortunate because we got brands who basically were willing to come on board and give up kind of their brand equity and kind of, like, just literally put it in our hands and say make what you want.

But the amazing thing was, was after the film premiered at Sundance, the lights came up, I came down front, was doing a Q&A. And I invited all the brands that were in the audience to come down front. And people - standing ovation. Like, people were, like, woo, yes. Ban deodorant, thank you so much. And then - best line ever is there was a woman in the front row who said, I want to thank all of you brands for making this movie, for making this film. And I want you to know I'm going to buy more of your products because of it. She says, I'm - and then she says - she goes, I'm not going to feel good about it, but I'm going to do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TED TALK)

SPURLOCK: Over the course of this film, we had 500-plus companies who were up-and-down companies saying, no, they didn't want any part of this project. They wanted nothing to do with this film mainly because they had no control. They would have no control over the final product.

But we did get 17 brand partners who were willing to relinquish that control, who wanted to be in business with someone as mindful and as playful as myself, and who ultimately empowered us to tell stories that normally we wouldn't be able to tell, stories that an advertiser would normally never get behind.

Today more than ever, a little honesty is going to go a long way. And that being said, through honesty and transparency, my entire talk, "Embrace Transparency," has been brought to you by my good friends at EMC, who, for $7,100, bought the naming rights on eBay.

(APPLAUSE)

SPURLOCK: EMC, turning big data into big opportunity for organizations all over the world. EMC presents "Embrace Transparency." Thank you very much, guys.

(APPLAUSE)

RAZ: Nice one, man. So you sold this to the highest bidder.

SPURLOCK: It's true.

RAZ: Here's a question for you - even though, like, we know that so much of advertising is deceptive, right, I mean, why are we still so seduced by brands?

SPURLOCK: See, that's the multimillion-dollar question. But, you know, and I don't think we're just seduced by brands. I think we're seduced by the imagery that surrounds that brand. It's that these pants are going to make you slimmer. This drink's going to make you hotter. This perfume is going to make you sexier. It's like everything that comes with that brand and the messaging around it.

You know, we buy into the dream that surrounds that product much more than we buy into the product. And then once we start using it, we start to believe in the dream of what that product does for us in a lot of ways. You know, I still believe Guinness gives me strength every time I drink a pint.

RAZ: Morgan Spurlock. He hosts "Inside Man" on CNN. Check out Morgan's full talk on the TED stage. It's called "The Greatest TED Talk Ever Sold." Find it at ted.npr.org. In a moment, the psychology behind why we like certain things. Stay with us. I'm Guy Raz. And this is the TED Radio Hour from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.