Transcript – The Greatest TED Talk Ever Sold by Morgan Spurlock at TED
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Morgan Spurlock – Filmmaker
I have spent the past few years putting myself into situations that are usually very difficult and at the same time somewhat dangerous. I went to prison — difficult. I worked in a coal mine — dangerous. I filmed in war zones — difficult and dangerous. And I spent 30 days eating nothing but this — fun in the beginning, little difficult in the middle, very dangerous in the end.
In fact, most of my career, I’ve been immersing myself into seemingly horrible situations for the whole goal of trying to examine societal issues in a way that make them engaging, that make them interesting, that hopefully break them down in a way that make them entertaining and accessible to an audience. So when I knew I was coming here to do a TED Talk that was going to look at the world of branding and sponsorship, I knew I would want to do something a little different.
So as some of you may or may not have heard, a couple weeks ago, I took out an ad on eBay. I sent out some Facebook messages, some Twitter messages, and I gave people the opportunity to buy the naming rights to my 2011 TED Talk. That’s right, some lucky individual, corporation, for-profit or non-profit, was going to get the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity — because I’m sure Chris Anderson will never let it happen again — to buy the naming rights to the talk you’re watching right now, that at the time didn’t have a title, didn’t really have a lot of content and didn’t really give much hint as to what the subject matter would actually be. So what you were getting was this: Your name here presents: My TED Talk that you have no idea what the subject is and, depending on the content, could ultimately blow up in your face, especially if I make you or your company look stupid for doing it. But that being said, it’s a very good media opportunity. You know how many people watch these TED Talks? It’s a lot. That’s just a working title, by the way. So even with that caveat, I knew that someone would buy the naming rights.
Now if you’d have asked me that a year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that with any certainty. But in the new project that I’m working on, my new film, we examine the world of marketing, advertising. And as I said earlier, I put myself in some pretty horrible situations over the years, but nothing could prepare me, nothing could ready me, for anything as difficult or as dangerous as going into the rooms with these guys. You see, I had this idea for a movie.[(Video) Morgan Spurlock: What I want to do is make a film all about product placement, marketing and advertising, where the entire film is funded by product placement, marketing and advertising. So the movie will be called “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.” So what happens in “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” is that everything from top to bottom, from start to finish, is branded from beginning to end — from the above-the-title sponsor that you’ll see in the movie, which is brand X. Now this brand, the Qualcomm Stadium, the Staples Center … these people will be married to the film in perpetuity — forever. And so the film explores this whole idea — (Michael Kassan: It’s redundant.) It’s what? (MK: It’s redundant.) In perpetuity, forever? I’m a redundant person. (MK: I’m just saying.) That was more for emphasis. It was, “In perpetuity. Forever.” But not only are we going to have the brand X title sponsor, but we’re going to make sure we sell out every category we can in the film. So maybe we sell a shoe and it becomes the greatest shoe you ever wore … the greatest car you ever drove from “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” the greatest drink you’ve ever had, courtesy of “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold.”
Xavier Kochhar: So the idea is, beyond just showing that brands are a part of your life, but actually get them to finance the film?[MS: Get them to finance the film.]
MS: And actually we show the whole process of how does it work. The goal of this whole film is transparency. You’re going to see the whole thing take place in this movie. So that’s the whole concept, the whole film, start to finish. And I would love for CEG to help make it happen.
Robert Friedman: You know it’s funny, because when I first hear it, it is the ultimate respect for an audience.
Guy: I don’t know how receptive people are going to be to it, though.
XK: Do you have a perspective — I don’t want to use “angle” because that has a negative connotation — but do you know how this is going to play out? (MS: No idea.)
David Cohn: How much money does it take to do this?
MS: 1.5 million. (DC: Okay.)
John Kamen: I think that you’re going to have a hard time meeting with them, but I think it’s certainly worth pursuing a couple big, really obvious brands.
XK: Who knows, maybe by the time your film comes out, we look like a bunch of blithering idiots.
MS: What do you think the response is going to be?
Stuart Ruderfer: The responses mostly will be “no.”
MS: But is it a tough sell because of the film or a tough sell because of me?
MS: … Meaning not so optimistic. So, sir, can you help me? I need help.
MK: I can help you.
MS: Okay. (MK: Good.) Awesome.
MK: We’ve gotta figure out which brands.
MS: Yeah. (MK: That’s the challenge.) When you look at the people you deal with ..
MK: We’ve got some places we can go. (MS: Okay.) Turn the camera off.
MS: I thought “Turn the camera off” meant, “Let’s have an off-the-record conversation.” Turns out it really means, “We want nothing to do with your movie.”]
And just like that, one by one, all of these companies suddenly disappeared. None of them wanted anything to do with this movie. I was amazed. They wanted absolutely nothing to do with this project. And I was blown away, because I thought the whole concept, the idea of advertising, was to get your product out in front of as many people as possible, to get as many people to see it as possible. Especially in today’s world, this intersection of new media and old media and the fractured media landscape, isn’t the idea to get that new buzz-worthy delivery vehicle that’s going to get that message to the masses? No, that’s what I thought.
But the problem was, you see, my idea had one fatal flaw, and that flaw was this. Actually no, that was not the flaw whatsoever. That wouldn’t have been a problem at all. This would have been fine. But what this image represents was the problem. See, when you do a Google image search for transparency, this is — This is one of the first images that comes up. So I like the way you roll, Sergey Brin. No. This was the problem: transparency — free from pretense or deceit; easily detected or seen through; readily understood; characterized by visibility or accessibility of information, especially concerning business practices — that last line being probably the biggest problem. You see, we hear a lot about transparency these days. Our politicians say it, our president says it, even our CEOs say it. But suddenly when it comes down to becoming a reality, something suddenly changes. But why? Well, transparency is scary — like that odd, still-screaming bear. It’s unpredictable — like this odd country road. And it’s also very risky. What else is risky? Eating an entire bowl of Cool Whip. That’s very risky.