Spurlock Takes on Branded Content

'Super Size Me' creator discusses latest film project

“Super Size Me” may have triggered interest among marketers in Morgan Spurlock’s latest film—“Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”—but it also scared plenty away. In fact, nearly 600 companies spurned Spurlock’s offer to make them sponsors in exchange for financing the film.

Twenty-two brands did sign on, however, including Hyatt, JetBlue, Mini Cooper and Pom, which paid $1 million to be title sponsor. In all, the 40-year-old first-person filmmaker will take in $1.5 million, provided he meets certain box office, sales and media impression goals. His one regret? That he didn’t include provisions to get paid more if he exceeded the goals.

Sipping coffee and wearing a navy blue version of the logo-laden suits he dons to promote the film—which opens April 22—Spurlock sat down with senior editor Andrew McMains to discuss his meta-journey through the world of branded entertainment.

ADWEEK: The specter of “Super Size Me” seemed to put fear in the eyes of many people you interviewed.

SPURLOCK: “Super Size Me” is what got us in the room in a lot of places, what got call-backs and maybe more out of like for fear of not calling back (what could happen). Then, once we would get into the room, that was also the same thing that turned people off of not wanting to do it.

Kind of like my job. Everyone is always thinking, “What’s his angle?”

One was the angle and I think two, was control, because ultimately we wanted to retain control of the film. And that’s a scary thing for a lot of people to let go of.

You had agreements with the sponsors but were you tempted to push it a little bit because it might make for interesting friction?

We wanted to push it up to the edge in a couple of places. In my Hyatt contract, I couldn’t have an illegal firearm in the building, but I could have a legal firearm. So, I was trying to get a gun sponsor, so I can have like “the greatest rifle.” I wanted to be cleaning my legal firearm in my hotel—which was legal in my contract—but we couldn’t get a company to be the greatest rifle you’ll ever own.

What was your impression of branded entertainment going in?

Most of the branded content I’ve seen has been so completely blatant and in your face. It feels so retro and not forward thinking in a lot of ways. It feels like we’re trying to do the same thing we’ve done in the past, rather than try to do something different.

Is that mostly on TV?

It’s mostly TV, because I don’t think there have been a ton of branded entertainment films. Mountain Dew made a ski movie.

Did that impression change the more you learned? 

The more you talk to people who work in writers’ rooms and in Hollywood, (you realize that) the influence that brands start to have over the creative process is problematic in a lot of ways. It takes away from what ultimately should be a creative endeavor. It turns into a commercial.

David Lynch refers to product placement as “total fucking bullshit.”

Yeah, the way that most of it’s done is terrible. In the middle of a shot, somebody goes, “Yes, I agree.” Zoom in on someone drinking diet soda can.

He objects to it on principal. He doesn’t want their money; he doesn’t want their product.