Last Sunday, Mr. M (who doesn’t like his pseudonym but refuses to think of a better one) and I went to see a move. ‘Going to a movie’ for us usually means seeing something that will make us think as much as it means something to entertain us, and this trip was no exception. I can barely sit through a whole movie anymore — I always thought it was so weird when my mom used to say that — so I’m picky with my selections. Mr. M suggested we see Morgan Spurlock’s (of Super Size Me fame) latest, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. At first I was skeptical, but we had nothing better going on. The mention of a Noam Chomsky cameo clinched the decision.
Despite my reservations, the movie definitely got me thinking. Though more of the focus seemed to be on Spurlock’s hijinks rather than actual content, I was really intrigued by the subject matter. I’ve been exploring the possibility of entering the field of marketing and branding, so a film about product placement was right up my alley. I got a first-hand view of this creative subculture — in all of its glory and failures. There was a particularly poignant moment when Spurlock was pitching his idea to a table of marketing execs at Ban. When he asked them how they would describe their brand in a few words, the room went silent. I don’t know if the camera froze them up, but this seemed like something this people should know immediately as a common question. As disappointing as this oversight was, it gave my confidence in my own future that there’s definitely still room for growth in the industry.
Another thing that I was encouraged by was the vision of the brands that got on board with Spurlock’s unconventional idea. Though many of the larger brands that he contact had no interest in being involved with a project that puts a critical eye to marketing practices, several “innovative,” let’s say, companies thought that his project fit with their brand vision: quirky, unique, creative thinking. And I think that this took a lot of courage and vision on the parts of these brands. It shows that the direction of the industry is not altogether subversive and conservative, but in some ways really headed in a positive direction. It was really great to get a glimpse into this world of creative analysis.
Thirdly, I was intrigued by the idea of ‘identity’ versus ‘brand.’ Spurlock seems to use the terms interchangeably, which I think is a easy thing to do, considering that he was comparing his own self to a company. He was becoming a ‘brand.’ However, they are not necessarily the same thing. I like this explanation from Beauty Before Brand:
Think of it this way: The brand is the skeleton that supports, the muscles the move, the organs that sustain. Identity is the flesh, face, makeup and clothing of the brand. Both are essential but they are not the same thing. Brands are made of differentiation, products, supports and attributes. Identity is the visual expression of the brand. So while both are important, a brand must exist first to create the guidelines for the creation of the identity.
As a consumer the conflation of brand with identity startles me. Under law, corporations are construed as humans, individual entities. I won’t get into the sociopolitical ramifications of this, but let’s just say that I don’t think that this is a good thing that large, omnipowerful companies are given the same protections as the individual human being (especially when some human beings are not given the same protection). And yet, from a creative business standpoint, its a very progressive development that companies are given the same grounds for expression and selfhood as an individual person. We can see this trend in the development of company Facebook pages and twitter accounts, wherein business develop their identities as people do, and interact with “friends” as an individual would.
As I attempt to enter this corporate world, it’s important to me that I maintain my convictions — of social justice and conscientious livelihood that are so apart of my identity — as well as work for the betterment of the company I work for. This dichotomy is parallel to the battle that Spurlock faces throughout the film, and with his insights — however shallow — I begin the long contemplative journey of what a corporate profession existence might mean.
And even if this isn’t an existence that you’re considering, I still recommend The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Product placement is everywhere, and if anything, this movie — at a succinct 88 minutes — makes you aware of that fact. Though I wanted this to be a piece of liberal propaganda, I’m almost thankful for its lack of analysis. It does exactly its purpose: to make viewers conscious of the undercover processes that dictate our existences without judging these existences. So head to your local indie theater and CHECK. IT. OUT.