Morgan Spurlock's take on product placement, "POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold," may have struggled at first to attract sponsors, but its marketing woes are officially over.
In between the movie's successful Sundance Film Festival screenings in January and its opening in some cities this Friday, "Greatest Movie" has lined up yet more marketing partners, including Old Navy, Trident gum, Petland Discounts, Carmex lip balm, promotion site GetItForFreeOnline.com, production company PRG and poster company KDF, all of which will help promote the film in coming weeks.
Those new brands join a lineup that already includes presenting sponsor POM Wonderful, which committed to fund $1 million of the film's $1.5 million budget as long as Mr. Spurlock and the film meet certain public relations and box office targets, as well as Jet Blue Airways, Hyatt Hotels & Resorts, Sheetz Convenience Stores, Merrell Shoes, Amy's Kitchen, Thayers Natural Remedies, Seventh Generation, Ban Deodorant, MovieTickets.com, Carrera Sunglasses/Solstice Sunglass Boutique, The Original Mane 'n Tail shampoo and Aruba Tourism Authority.
Several of the film's new marketing partners already made incidental appearances in the film, so getting their sign-off as official partners wasn't too difficult, Mr. Spurlock said. In an early scene, Mr. Spurlock holds up a tube of Carmex as he scours a pharmacy for brands to pitch, while Petland and Trident logos are also visible during key scenes.
Old Navy, meanwhile, came on board as the film's official clothing partner after the film first screened at Sundance, and was able to film a new scene that has since been inserted into its final cut.
Mr. Spurlock said the new partnerships were a mix of paid and unpaid promotions, or "soft money" deals, as he calls them. Trident and Old Navy offered up cash for marquee placement at the film's premiere in Los Angeles on Wednesday, where they will support the event's red carpet and after-party, respectively. Other brands helped out through in-kind donations of production resources and in-store promotions.
"For most of this, the whole goal was to focus on getting the word out," Mr. Spurlock said. "It becomes a marriage of ideas more than anything. If you look at all the people we have now, we have access to 15 million to 20 million people through all the brands. That's insane."
Mr. Spurlock made over 600 different calls to different brands and agencies to lend their support for the movie, which explores product placement largely by documenting his quest to land and execute deals with sponsors. It wasn't until agency pros Richard Kirshenbaum and Jonathan Bond joined the effort that Mr. Spurlock was able to snag his first sponsor, Ban deodorant, as seen in the film. But off-screen, Hyatt's former senior VP-marketing, Amy Curtis-McIntyre, also played a key role in not only getting the hotel chain to sign off on the film, but also introduced Mr. Spurlock to other brand partners such as JetBlue and Mini Cooper. She was later named marketing chief at Old Navy, where she was able to turn the company's former "no" into a green light.
"I joke with Morgan that he should call me the Greatest CMO Ever," Ms. Curtis-McIntyre said. She was able to eventually sell the company on participating based on the film's message of transparency between business partners as well as consumers. "Morgan makes a point of working with playful, mindful brands. Being in that set is good for Old Navy."
John Wallis, Hyatt's global head of marketing and brand strategy, and Ms. Curtis-McIntyre's former boss there, also trusted Mr. Spurlock's brand filter. Having spearheaded a series of brand integrations for Hyatt in films such as "Love Happens," "Lost In Translation" and "America's Sweethearts," Mr. Wallis is keenly aware of the mechanics of a favorable product placement deal and appreciated that the film called out more egregious examples from other marketers.
"One always has to respect the customer and what you're trying to show," Mr. Wallis said. "Today's consumer is far more sophisticated than ever before. What the movie actually portrayed was a fair assessment of product placement and its effectiveness."
Guests at any Hyatt hotel for the coming weeks will be greeted with branded room key cards and a message from Mr. Spurlock on their hotel room TVs.
But the filmmaking process wasn't completely transparent when it first crossed the desk of Linda Resnick, co-founder of POM Wonderful. "The way it was pitched to me was that we were Morgan's first choice, which was very flattering; it just wasn't true," she said. "But that's OK and he wasn't embarrassed because he was sitting right next to me during the pitch."
"If you would say, 'What's the one word about POM?' I would say transparent," Ms. Resnick said. "He didn't realize those [other] companies are tied up with stock prices and boards. We had the freedom and flexibility to take advantage of this opportunity."
In addition to product placement's role in entertainment, "Greatest Movie" also addresses school districts' growing interest in trying to sell ad space on their vehicles, school fences and the like as they try to offset government budget cuts. This is where the film's narrative finds a conflict closest to the one portrayed in "Super Size Me," his hard-hitting 2004 McDonald's documentary. Mr. Spurlock said the film can be divided into two segments: art vs. commerce and public space vs. corporate space. His job is to show where the lines are drawn.
"[When you] draw the line between corporate space and public space it comes down to conversations of, 'Where is the sacred space that we have?'" Mr. Spurlock said. "Now that marketing and advertising are coming into schools -- New York City is selling naming rights to playgrounds -- where do we draw the line? Do we need to live in a world where everything is brought to you by some sponsors?"
New York is reportedly considering selling naming rights for various parts of Brooklyn Bridge Park.