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Morgan Spurlock Brands Branding.

Posted by jorogrady on July 19, 2012

At today’s TED talk, Morgan Spurlock, of “Supersize Me” fame, discussed his newest film.  The film, which premiered just two weeks ago, has already had over nine hundred million media mentions, despite not yet being publicly available.  Why is this movie garnering such media attention?  As Spurlock himself admits, partly due to his own prior fame.  This prior fame even plays a role in the film, as Spurlock researches his own personal brand.


Spurlock investigates not only his brand, but also the brands of other companies: companies he courts to get funding for this movie.  But what is the movie about, you ask?  Exactly that.  Branding.  Spurlock recognizes that brands are a part of our everyday life, and in his new film, he seeks to press our faces up to the mirror, to force us to come to terms with this fact.


Throughout his TED talk, Spurlock’s concept seems basic enough.  Brand placement, blatant or subtle, will play a role in every aspect of the film.  And Spurlock visits over 500 companies to ask them to pay handsomely to have a role in his movie.  Companies could buy the rights to name the movie, to have their product placed throughout the movie, the possibilities for brand visibility were endless. 


For the companies and their marketing agencies, there was only one problem: Spurlock is unpredictable.  We all know what he did to McDonald’s.  He prides himself on “examining society…in an interesting way.”  How many companies would want to open themselves up to the unknowns that exist in Spurlock’s offer? 


The answer: 17.  Seventeen companies were open to Spurlock’s concept and secure enough in their own brand to give him access to do with it what he would.  And from the few clips from the film that he showed in his TED talk, those 17 companies were rewarded well for their willingness to be, as Spurlock puts it, transparent.


Interestingly, Spurlock’s concept is not entirely new (something about which Spurlock is not transparent.)  A movie made up entirely of product placement has already been done…by MTV, of all companies.  In the late 1990’s MTV sponsored a tongue-in-cheek movie that poked fun at the entertainment industry and its not-so-subtle sponsorship by brands such as McDonald’s and Coca-Cola by doing exactly what Spurlock proposes to do: brand placement everywhere.


But Spurlock’s film does not appear to be tongue-in-cheek.  Based on the organizations that agreed to participate in his film (the Center for Intelligent Research; the City of Sao Paulo, Brazil; and EMC2, to name a few) the lessons we can learn from Spurlock’s movie are quite different than what pre-teens might have taken away from MTV’s movie over a decade ago.


So what can we learn from Spurlock’s TED talk?  In today’s world of social media, information at the speed of light, and before and after photos that expose the magic of airbrushing, the sexiest thing we can search for right now…is transparency.


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