POM Wonderful? The courts disagree

Morgan Spurlock's marketing film failed to question sponsor.

by Jennie Kermode

In a bid to explore the dynamics of product placement and other forms on big screen advertising, Morgan Spurlock put every aspect of his 2011 documentary up for sale - even the title. POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold was an enjoyable romp through the world of marketing, with an important message. But Spurlock notably failed to question the hype behind his headline sponsor.

Now US Federal Trade Commission judge D. Michael Chappell has ruled that POM Wonderful - the juice drink consumed in huge quantities when the film headlined last year's Sheffield Docfest - is not so wonderful after all. Specifically, he has ruled that there is no evidence to substantiate its claims that it can “treat, prevent or reduce the risk heart disease, prostate cancer or erectile dysfunction.”

Spurlock was certainly aware of concerns about the company's marketing when he made his film. He told the New York Times “We were deep into editing at that point. We could have examined it as part of the movie, and we made this conscious decision not to. I just felt personally I didn’t want to open a door we couldn’t close.”

Why did Spurlock make that decision? Did he really not think it was important, or was he worried that angering his sponsor could lead to crucial support for the film being withdrawn?

POM Wonderful is likely to face a fine of $16,000 for each specific breach of the US' federal advertising code. Whilst it will be obliged to drop the contested health claims, the company maintains that its product is a healthy choice.

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