Six months after buying in to art of selling out with his film Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, Morgan Spurlock is using his newfound expertise to help other filmmakers get in on the action.
Spurlock has partnered with the Grey New York agency on a new service called Launch PAD, which aims to match filmmakers with sponsors and product placement deals.
The media-savvy filmmaker called Launch PAD, featured on a panel taking place Wednesday at the Doc NYC festival, "a unique opportunity for both brands and filmmakers to benefit from the other's expertise."
It might revolutionize independent filmmaking, or it might crash and burn… like the numerous other product placement matchmaker services that came before it. But one thing is for sure, Morgan Spurlock will get paid.
To contrast Launch PAD with what's gone before, last year saw the launch of Product Place Me. That service aimed to "make product placement better" by "making it less painful for the viewer, a better fit for the production, and easier for everyone to get involved." PPM collects placements "from producers (anyone who creates entertainment media) and condenses them into a weekly e-mail, which is sent out to promoters who have signed up for the list."
Product Place Me saw a niche to offer what other services which promised to bring together advertisers and filmmakers had failed to deliver. Filmmortal's website appears to be operating, although nobody responded to our inquires (and with some dubious listings, who knows). There is no such uncertainty with StoryBids, whose website has disappeared completely.
PPM's founder Rex Riepe spoke with us about what went wrong. "It started out with a healthy trickle of incoming users but it's got the classic startup issue: The chicken and egg problem. You can't have a successful product placement service without a critical mass, and that mass is really hard to build," he said. "I'll most likely be shutting PPM down soon, unless I can find funding or a business partner with better connections among entertainers."
Of Spurlock's gambit with Grey, Riepe told us, "He might be high-profile enough to really make it work." Of course, Spurlock has an advantage bigger than his own profile. He has an established ad agency. A big one. In fact, it's possible Grey New York is using Spurlock as Launch PAD's first test case.
One of Grey's agencies that will benefit from Launch PAD is Alliance, a branded entertainment shop specializing in product placement and "non-traditional, multi-platform marketing and public relations campaigns that enable brands to engage with their target audiences through entertainment, pop culture and lifestyle activities."
Alliance's projects include tie-ins such as pairing Pringles with kids movies like Madagascar. Also now on offer: "Get on board now to be a part of the second and third installments of Avatar, the highest grossing film of all time! Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information."
While it's too early to tell, it seems like Spurlock is helping to create a PR film service for brands looking to make high-end branded content posing as indie docs.
For an example, consider the 2008 movie Drive and Deliver, which presented an emotional look at the lives of long-haul truckers, the toll the job takes on families and the triumph of the human spirit and the gleaming trucks owned by those human spirits. The $5 million budget of the film was supplied by Navistar International, a manufacturer and marketer of medium and heavy trucks and mid-range diesel engines.
The film's website even features a "Customize your own LoneStar" truck feature.
By hiring Academy Award-nominated Brett Morgen to direct the project and hitting the film festival circuit, the film appeared to most audiences as a run of the mill documentary, not a bought and paid for piece of PR and advertising. This is not to say the film was bad or misleading, it's just an example of the kind of projects one might expect to come out of Launch PAD, especially given its alliance with Alliance.
But wait, here's the twist ending: One more reason to wonder about Spurlock's endorsement of Grey's new "help" for filmmakers is that in all of the mention of Launch PAD's launch, there is a failure to disclose Spurlock's existing financial relationship with Grey. While it's true Alliance helped Spurlock arrange sponsors for his Greatest Movie Ever Sold movie, both failed to disclose that the relationship has continued since then.
In March, Grey New York became the agency of record for Ally Financial. In September, an Ally Bank commercial directed by Morgan Spurlock made its debut. It would seem Launch PAD got an early start bringing together filmmakers and financiers, with The Greatest Sell Out its first big beneficiary.