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Ali Hart headshot

Transparency in Advertising, Brought to You by Morgan Spurlock

By Ali Hart

Morgan Spurlock's POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold is a film about product placement, funded by product placement. Hence the title. This meta documentary follows Spurlock as he woos advertisers to support his project. It took him nine months to secure the first sponsor - Ban Deodorant - and the reported budget is $1.5M but he won't get the final installment from POM until the film meets contractual targets for media impressions, downloads and box office sales. (The film has already surpassed 900,000,000 media impressions.) In the film, Spurlock takes us into pitch meetings with advertising companies and brands, into interviews with filmmakers, to a school in Broward County Florida that sells advertising space on its property to stay afloat and to Sao Paulo, Brazil where the government has implemented the Clean City Law, restricting advertising on buildings, buses, taxis, everything. All the while, he drinks only POM, eats only Amy's Kitchen frozen pizza, uses only Ban Deodorant...you get the picture.
The truth is, product placement is nothing new and this isn't a feat of muckraking. It would have been fascinating if Spurlock had lured advertisers to fund a film about innovative ways to get a movie made without relying on advertisers, thus bucking the system on their dimes. But alas, there probably aren't many other alternatives just yet. However, in its current format, the film seems to be reinforcing a few foundations of sustainable business.

In a recent Q&A session in San Francisco, Spurlock spoke of the film's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. He relayed that one audience member said she would buy more products from these companies because they sponsored this movie but that she was conflicted about this because she knew that was the point. In essence, she wants to reward the brands associated with this film for their transparency about advertising. And that seems to be what these sponsoring brands had in mind. Did Spurlock accidentally prove that transparency and authenticity, even in the unlikeliest of conditions, truly do resonate with audiences?* Only time - and sponsor product sales - will tell.

Fortunately, we might be able to get that information. At the same Q&A, I had the opportunity to ask Michelle Erbs, Marketing Manager of Amy's Kitchen, a few questions about her brand's experience with the film.

You mentioned that Amy's Kitchen didn't pay to be in The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, yet your frozen pizza was heavily featured. Can you explain your brand's involvement with the film?

Amy’s is very excited to be featured in the Greatest Movie Ever Sold. In exchange for our involvement in the movie, we agreed to make a donation to a food bank (we chose bayareahunger.org) rather than do a traditional payment for product placement. Additionally, we agreed to promote the movie on our website, Facebook and Twitter pages as well as our customer e-newsletters.

You also indicated that Amy's Kitchen doesn't advertise. Why did you choose to associate your brand with a movie about advertising? What was the decision-making process like?

Amy’s has never had a Marketing Budget in the traditional sense. Because our meals are made by hand using high quality, organic ingredients, we have exceptionally high margins. We only do product placement when the movie is right AND there is no cost involved. (Once in a while a prop master will call us and ask us if we can send boxes or cans for a specific movie or scene. We have never paid for this and only send product if we have read the script and it seems like a good fit for both the product and the movie.) Our hope is that this movie will show how difficult it is to partake in traditional advertising when there are so many bigger companies with much bigger budgets.

Knowing Morgan Spurlock and his controversial relationship with McDonald's in Super Size Me, what did you expect this film to be like?

We knew that Morgan is a fan of Amy’s and we were confident that he would only show us in a good light.

How do you feel about the way your brand is represented?

It’s great!

How do you think your partnership with the film will impact your business?

We hope that more people will learn about Amy's and will check out our pizzas as well as our other meals and soups.

Would you mind if I check in with you a bit after the film's release to hear about the effect it's had on Amy's Kitchen?



POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold opens this weekend in select cities. If you see it, let us know how it's impacted your opinion of these brands and your buying habits by commenting here.

*Interestingly, POM and Fiji Water owners Stewart and Lynda Resnick are not known for their transparency.

Ali Hart is a sustainable communications and engagement strategist with a passion for life’s essentials: food, water and storytelling. Her background in the Entertainment industry, penchant for humor and MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School are Ali’s secret weapons in her quest to master the art of behavior change and to make sustainability inconveniently fun.
Ali Hart headshot

Ali Hart is a media strategist and content producer helping change agents harness the power of humor. From developing creative TV and web concepts to managing comedians to strategizing grassroots campaigns, she has devoted herself to exploring which messages and messengers inspire behavior change for good. Ali holds an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio Graduate School in San Francisco, where she currently laughs.

Read more stories by Ali Hart