‘The Greatest Movie Ever Sold’ Remains A Poignant Documentary for Marketing Agencies

Documentarian Morgan Spurlock began an arduous trek into the advertising industry when he began a project entitled, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold. Infamous for his 2004 Academy Award Nominated film, Super Size Me, Spurlock was spurned by over 500 industry executives. The film was ultimately funded and released to widespread critical acclaim at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival through the partnership of 17 consumer brands.


In a TED Talk hosted by Spurlock titled, The Greatest TED Talk Ever Sold, the documentary filmmaker duplicated his initial meta-film project with a similar tactic. That is, auctioning off the title rights to the TED hosted event; the highest bidder was EMC2.

Those in the advertising industry who understand the nature of documentary filmmaking may initially think the film’s content cringe worthy. Rightfully so, as these film’s often seek to frame stories with a journalistic aspect exposing both the good and bad.

However, unexpectedly Spurlock uncovered an important social norm concerning advertising and marketing. In a shocking reveal, advertising exec’s at Ban deodorant were initially left with quizzical expressions on their face as they searched themselves for terms by which to define their brand. It’s not a difficult question, but one that is more often that not met with the rebuttal, “I have a logo, so my brand is fine.”

Watch below as the marketing directors struggle to come to terms with how they define themselves to their consumers.

“What are the words you use to describe Ban? Ban is blank.” What was the first answer given? “Technology.” A bit of a sophisticated term for a deodorant stick. As the board struggles to affirm their brand meaning, it only becomes more clear that even advertising executives struggle with the term.

At TalenAlexander we focus heavily on brand development specifically through our Brand Creation Process which draws you closer to understanding this identity. If you’re struggling to identify who you are as a business, more often than not you will also struggle to define the target market that has  a need for your services/product.

We often have to reiterate to clients that a brand is more than a logo, color scheme, and tagline. These are essentially branding collateral and while are all components of a successful brand they cannot serve as standalone as representation of your identity, culture, and mission.

In Spurlock’s continued quest to understand the term brand he heads to the streets positing the same question to the “Average Joe” of whom is the target of advertising campaigns. Watch below to see what they have to say.

Whether or not his intentions were to stump the everyday consumer, Spurlock manages to do so. At best, most of the interviewees were able to provide a physical description of their clothing style while a few provided some rather illusory metaphors.

Having stumped the boardroom and the courtyard, Spurlock decided to field his branding question to experts. In choosing to undergo what we call the Brand Engagement process, Spurlock is subjected to an onslaught of questions probing to conclude what’s his brand.

After going through an intensive brand engagement process, Spurlock is greeted with the information regarding his personal brand identity and given a short list of example companies of which his brand closely mirrors. While the process appears to leave Spurlock in a whirlwind of thoughts, it is a necessary evil in extracting your brand.

Layers upon layers of pre-programmed responses exist in our minds as a sort of
“defense mechanism.” It’s not that we are consciously controlling our responses, but we become conditioned to do so through patterns of our everyday responses which is called, self monitoring.

The purpose of mindful communication is to protect ourselves and the roles in which we find ourselves during communication; it is relational.

For example, it can be in the form of the male-to-male or male-to-female dichotomy and/or group conversations. Mindful communication comes into play when we are talking to our elders, adolescents, family, superiors, and peers as well, all for the purpose of maintaining our role within the relationship.

You wouldn’t talk and joke with your superior the same way you would with your infant child, would you? You also wouldn’t conduct yourself in the same manner with an authority figure as you would with a peer. Regarding self monitoring, some folks tend to fall in the high end of the spectrum while others are at the lower end.

The overall purpose of the brand engagement exercise is to retrieve answers regarding your personal, or professional, brand with the lowest degree of self monitoring possible. We saw in the last clip that Spurlock underwent what appeared to be an interrogation, but there is a method to the madness.

You may or may not have heard the expression that a little white lie never hurt anyone and many of us are guilty of having told one at some point or another in our life. However, the truth is that the first person you must convince in telling a lie is yourself, making self deception a common act.

In order to break past rehearsed scripts on a job interview or inquiry, interviewers often ask the same question, phrased differently, repeatedly amidst unrelated questions in order to increase your cognitive load. Here’s an example,

Interviewer 1: How did you like the lobby music?

Interviewee: It was fine. I liked it.

Interviewer 1: Did you find the music satisfactory?

Interviewee: It was cool. Relaxing…It didn’t bother me.

Interviewer 2: What did you like about the music?

Interviewee: It was alright. Not the best music I ever heard…I mean it’s not something I would have on my iPod, but it works for the lobby. Can’t have people getting too charged up before the interview, right?

Interviewer 1: Good. Were you alright with how long it played?

Interviewee: I mean, it grew a bit repetitive. That was one song, right? Yea, I don’t think it changed at all, so it started to wear on me a bit.

Do you see how the interviewee’s responses became longer and more honest? While this is a very simple example, the ultimate purpose is to glimpse the science behind his reasoning.

Scientists have conducted this type of research measuring an increased cognitive load on subjects. While more precise studies exist, these principles are applied in the screening of job applicants, but more importantly in terms of marketing, they are used in brand engagement.

All that said, we’ve learned that the greatest common mistake in branding is a lack of understanding. We tend to think of a brand a singular piece of front facing material, but it is much harder for an emblem to define who you are, as a person/company.

A better way to look at branding collateral is as an extension of you who you are: your philosophy, character, work ethic, passion, and style. These elements are much harder to find when looking from the outside in, so instead, look within and let your true self speak out for itself. Once you understand who you are as a company, non-profit, or person, everything else will fall in line.