Spurlock's 'Greatest Movie Ever Sold' is still selling

Morgan Spurlock's latest documentary, "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," was released in January, but the film is still going strong. By Bill Lynch

"We're doing a lot of film festivals," he said. "It's going to start making its way into colleges and with different kinds of business programs."

Marshall University is one of the colleges Spurlock's film about commercial branding and product placement is reaching. The university is hosting an evening with Morgan Spurlock on Sunday. At 5:30 p.m., Spurlock will screen "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" and then participate in a discussion with the audience.

The film follows Spurlock as he attempts to use product placement, marketing and advertising to finance a film about product placement, marketing and advertising.

Among the unusual ways Spurlock financed his film was by selling the film title to POM Wonderful, the pomegranate juice makers, and enlisting Mane n' Tail shampoo to supply products. As part of the film's publicity, Spurlock was occasionally accompanied by a miniature horse named Tom-Tom.

Both Spurlock and Tom-Tom used the shampoo.

The event kicks off Marshall's Fall International Film Festival, which Spurlock is glad to be part of.

"It all coincided with when I was coming back to West Virginia. So, when they asked me, I jumped at it."

The former Beckley resident was also co-emcee of Saturday night's West Virginia Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony at the Culture Center in Charleston and will try to fit in some time with his family in Beckley.

"I'm bringing along my son," Spurlock said. "He turns 5 in December, and I want him to spend as much time with his cousins as possible."

Getting back home to see family isn't always so easy for Spurlock, who lives in New York and seems to have one project after another simmering. Aside from "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," Spurlock has active television and Web projects, plus his film is starting to screen in Europe and Asia.

"I'm spending a lot more time out of the United States than here right now," he said.

Spurlock explained that product placement, the practice of placing consumer products in key positions in movies and television or even having characters on the screen subtly or not-so-subtly plug these items, is taking off overseas.

"Product placement is starting to make its way into TV shows all over the world," he said. "For example, the United Kingdom: they just passed a law in February allowing product placement there."

The reason for the growth of product placement overseas is the same reason why it's become big business in the U.S.: The way people view television has changed. For years, advertisers have relied mostly on commercials. Television programs were free or very inexpensive for the viewer because they were paid for by commercial support.

Over the years, technological innovations like TiVo have eroded the effectiveness of commercials. Viewers can skip right through the commercials, which is a problem for television networks and television fans.

If advertisers don't get results from television, they pull their support, regardless of the ratings.

Product placement is a way for advertisers to pitch their products without the viewer being able to fast-forward through the commercial. However, product placement is often more subtle than a straight-out commercial pitch -- most of the time you're not even aware that you're being encouraged to buy something.

Overseas, Spurlock agrees, "The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" could be seen as a cautionary tale in some parts, a warning in countries that have not fully embraced product placement.

However, Spurlock doesn't see himself as anti-commercial or anti-advertising.

He said, "There's a role for advertising, especially when there are things we don't want to pay for, like TV. So, if you get your TV free, you have to understand that there's going to have to be some level of sponsorship."

The question is how to balance the sponsorship with the entertainment so it doesn't become one long commercial.

Spurlock is proud of his film and, like his other work, hopes it encourages conversation, discussion and examination. He's not tired of it yet. He still drinks POM pomegranate juice and says he keeps in touch with Tom-Tom, the miniature horse.

They talk about their hair.

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