Films on Advertising

Generation Like

Documentary Frontline 2014 TV-PG 53m. Author Douglas Rushkoff explores how social media is attracting teens but also exposing them to corporations who see them as young consumers. This film demonstrates a new way for persons savvy in technology and “social media” (YouTube, Facebook) to create economic opportunities that are relatively rare in this era. “Generation Like” can help persons of all ages to “get with the times” and become successful 21st century entrepreneurs. It is indeed empowering for young people, as they are learning marketing tools. There was a dream…years ago, you remember it, right? It was called the Internet and it was going to be a miracle that was going to change our lives for the better, forever. But then…the corporations got a hold of it. The marketing scum “discovered” it and now we’re all much poorer…and stupider for it. Oh what could have been! A gathering place for ideas, education, a place that would have made our lives rich and easier. A universal library that would have let to a golden age. But what did we end up with? The dreck, the absolute dung that this program is showing. Remember kids, the most important thing you do in a day is CONSUME. Oh and don’t forget to OBEY. FOLLOW. RETWEAT. LIKE. This is a quality documentary which shares some important insight into what is happening with the young generation and the media of today. This is not much fun to watch, but it can be beneficial to look at our vacuous consumer culture every once in a while.

Art & Copy

Documentary 2009 NR 90 minutes. Filmmaker Doug Pray explores the fascinating and mysterious world of advertising in this compelling documentary, which includes interviews with the talented minds that created famous taglines such as “Where’s the Beef?” and “Just Do It.” It reveals the work and wisdom of some of the most influential advertising creatives of our time — people who’ve profoundly impacted our culture, yet are virtually unknown outside their industry. Exploding forth from advertising’s “creative revolution” of the 1960s, these artists and writers all brought a surprisingly rebellious spirit to their work in a business more often associated with mediocrity or manipulation: George Lois, Mary Wells, Dan Wieden, Lee Clow, Hal Riney and others featured in ART & COPY were responsible for “Just Do It,” “I Love NY,” “Where’s the Beef?,” “Got Milk,” “Think Different,” and brilliant campaigns for everything from cars to presidents. See Full Review

Mad Men

Drama Series 2007-2014 NR 7 seasons / 83 episodes. Set in 1960s New York City, this AMC series takes a peek inside an ad agency during an era when the cutthroat business had a glamorous lure. When the cigarette smoke clears and the martinis are set down, at the center of it all is ad man Don Draper (Jon Hamm). Meanwhile, his marriage suffers as his wife, Betty (January Jones), recoils from his womanizing ways. Garnering numerous awards, the show also stars John Slattery and Elisabeth Moss.  This is an incredible show. I actually worked in NYC during the 60’s and saw this type of behavior.  I worked in an ad agency – my first full time job – as a young woman, and while it wasn’t as dramatic as this (remember, we are watching an entertainment show) it was bizarre to me, and these behaviors were everywhere. Draper is a condensed composite of ad men (and others) who let their egos run wild. He’s fascinating as are all the partners and supporting staff.  The characters are richly developed and some of them are hilarious, each one having his/her own issues come out as the series progresses. The main female characters are also richly developed, and the 60’s were the beginning of change for them, especially in advertising and other creative industries.  Business women then were not able to be as liberated as now, although they certainly tried, and offices of this type were predominantly White.  The set design is perfect. Costumes and social references are perfect. Drinking and smoking? This is what many people did in highly competitive creative businesses. I remember long business lunches and extreme expense accounts. The writers have magically woven the political history and social culture of the times through the story line, and I think this is what I enjoyed most. It made it real for me.

Killer at Large:
Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat

Documentary 2008 NR 1hr44m. This probing documentary explores the ever-expanding issue of obesity in America from individual, political, scientific and cultural perspectives. Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the US today. But how did 60% of the country get so fat?  2 in 3 adults are considered to be overweight, with 1 in 3 adults considered obese. Childhood obesity has become an ever-more serious medical issue in the United States. The film includes touching video self-portraits by young people who belong to the almost 17 percent of children and adolescents, ages 2 to 19, who are considered obese. There are poignant moments, such as a 12 year old girl having liposuction. The film gives a range of reasons why we have this issue regarding obesity in America: school junk food, too much sugar, lack of information about high fructose corn syrup, portion sizes, television, intense advertising aimed at children, cozy cartoon characters hawking sugar, parents, food companies, politics, lobbying, greed, and economics. See Full Review

Miss Representation

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 30m. Explore how the mainstream media’s often disparaging portrayals of women contribute to the under-representation of females in positions of leadership. This film presents startling facts and gives you information that you may have known on some level, but that also needs to be brought to the forefront for anything to change. Men should see this film to help realize how engrained sexism is in our society and how to change it, and women should watch this film to help empower themselves. Everyone should see this film to understand how to treat people (especially women) with the respect they deserve.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold
(Pom Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold)

Documentary 2011 PG-13 90 minutes. Intrepid filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (Super Size Me) directs this bitingly ironic documentary, which scrutinizes the pervasive marketing, advertising and product placement practices that have become standard in the entertainment industry. Highly enjoyable. He decides to make a movie that is totally funded by product placement. He takes us through the process, and it is great to watch both the events as they happen as well as the thoughts and comments about what is going on. Following the process is enlightening even if you understand how much advertising is part of the process. The film industry has capitalized on companies’ desire to be ingrained into the pop culture for decades. Is there anyone who is shocked that companies pay to get their products in movies? But this is the first movie that has commercials within to prove a point. Who controls the content of a film? Is it the director? the corporate lawyers? or the sponsors and investors of the film? So this movie provides an inside look at the product placement, marketing, and advertising world of cinema, with hilarious results! It analyzes the ways advertisers are working day and night to get into our craniums in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. But it also lays before us just how commercialism has permeated every corner of our lives. The most interesting part was learning that Sao Paulo Brazil has banned all public print advertising from the city.

The Pitch

Documentary 2012-2013 TV-PG 2 Seasons. Ad execs live up to their cutthroat reputation as agencies go head-to-head for new clients, with only seven days to build the perfect sales pitch.

The Persuaders

Documentary Frontline 2004 PBS’s long-running television series “Frontline” examines the inner workings of advertising and public relations and the men and women — dubbed “persuaders” — whose job it is to influence the buying habits of today’s consumers. See how they research the preferences of shoppers, pique their interest, entice them to part with their hard-earned money, and get their own messages across in an increasingly complicated and tech-savvy world.

The Merchants of Cool

Documentary Frontline 2001 The award-winning “Frontline” television show trains its investigative lens on marketing moguls who conduct endless surveys and focus groups sampling the tastes, attitudes and aspirations of American teens to determine exactly what they want. As Hollywood and Madison Avenue craft tailored versions of teenage life in movies, TV, music and advertising, just how far will they go to reach the hearts — and wallets — of American youth? They will do anything to tap into the 150 BILLION dollars of spending power that 12 to 19 year-olds possess. They are the “Merchants of Cool”, and they will use every technique in the book just to sell to you. This Frontline special is an exploration into the marketing machine that controls nearly 90% of what we read in print, see on TV and movies, and listen to on the radio. The Merchants of Cool (2001) is slightly dated at this point, and it contains many examples that were relevant during its release but less so now. Still, it is important that teens understand that not all images they encounter are benign, but rather a calculated effort to dip into their wallets.

Pink Ribbons, Inc.

Documentary National Film Board of Canada (NFB) 2011 NR 1hr 37m. In showing the real story of breast cancer, this film explores who really benefits from the pink ribbon campaigns: the cause or the company. It documents how some companies use pink-ribbon-related marketing to increase sales while contributing only a small fraction of proceeds to the cause. Some companies manufacturing products that may be cancer-producing (carcinogenic) use Pink Ribbons to improve their public image. The pink-ribbon movement thus far has done more for marketing than for medicine. See Full Review

The Century of the Self

Documentary series 2002.   Adam Curtis’ acclaimed series examines the rise of the all-consuming self against the backdrop of the Freud dynasty.  To many in both politics and business, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power has finally moved to the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really? “Century of the Self” tells the untold and sometimes controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society in Britain and the United States. How was the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in whose interests?  The Freud dynasty is at the heart of this compelling social history. Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis; Edward Bernays, who invented public relations; Anna Freud, Sigmund’s devoted daughter; and present-day PR guru and Sigmund’s great grandson, Matthew Freud.  Sigmund Freud’s work into the bubbling and murky world of the subconscious changed the world. By introducing a technique to probe the unconscious mind, Freud provided useful tools for understanding the secret desires of the masses. Unwittingly, his work served as the precursor to a world full of political spin doctors, marketing moguls, and society’s belief that the pursuit of satisfaction and happiness is man’s ultimate goal.

Episode One: Happiness Machines,  Season 1 Episode 1,  58 min.

The story of the relationship between Sigmund Freud and his American nephew, Edward Bernays. Bernays invented the public relations profession in the 1920s and was the first person to take Freud’s ideas to manipulate the masses. He showed American corporations how they could make people want things they didn’t need by systematically linking mass-produced goods to their unconscious desires.  Bernays was one of the main architects of the modern techniques of mass-consumer persuasion, using every trick in the book, from celebrity endorsement and outrageous PR stunts, to eroticizing the motorcar. His most notorious coup was breaking the taboo on women smoking by persuading them that cigarettes were a symbol of independence and freedom. But Bernays was convinced that this was more than just a way of selling consumer goods. It was a new political idea of how to control the masses. By satisfying the inner irrational desires that his uncle had identified, people could be made happy and thus docile.  It was the start of the all-consuming self which has come to dominate today’s world.


Documentary 2009 NR 1hr 15m. The high cost — to both the environment and our health — of bottled water is the subject of this documentary that enlists activists, environmentalists, community leaders and others to expose the dark side of the bottled water industry. Americans may rethink their obsession with bottled H20 when they learn of the unregulated industry’s willingness to ignore environmental and health concerns, and the problems that arise as a result. The issues surrounding bottled water — there are no standards, no controls, plastic bottles are a mass-produced waste product that clog our landfills, and plastic bottles give off chemicals that we ingest along with the water itself. Very informative and concise regarding US water supply, marketing tricks that make consumers believe bottled water is somehow safer when it is certainly not proven to be the case. It defends the fact that water is a basic human right — not a commodity for huge corporations to sell to the public — many times selling the consumer their own municipal water supply that you can get from your tap. This film will change your relationship with the water you drink. Not only is drinking water in general addressed, the bottled water industry is examined. As a daily convenience, bottled water is shown to have little redeeming value as it costs us all in a myriad number of ways. It’s so amazing to me how little the general public in this country knows and how easily they are trained to consume. And how greedy most of the mega-corporations are. This (and a host of other documentaries) should be required viewing for every American. This is a real problem that I was not aware of, but will certainly discontinue purchasing water in plastic containers. I’ll never drink bottled water again… This really needs to be promoted more, people need to know this information.

Food Matters

Documentary 2008 NR 80 minutes. With a staggering number of Americans suffering from obesity and other food-related maladies, this film takes a timely and hard-hitting look at how the food we eat is helping or hurting our health, and what we can do to live (and eat) better.


Documentary 2007 NR 80 minutes. We use it every day on our computers, we see it on street signs — and we take it for granted. Now, Gary Hustwit’s unique documentary introduces us to Helvetica, a font whose readability has made it the most popular in the world.

Big Brother, Big Business

Documentary CNBC Originals 2006 TV-PG 89 minutes. Award-winning correspondent David Faber examines big business and rapid advance of technology that allows companies to monitor our every move and record our most private personal information.

The Best of Commercial Parodies

Satire Saturday Night Live 2006 NR 83 minutes.  Narrated by “SNL” alum Will Ferrell, this collection of memorable ad spots includes the classics “Trump’s House of Wings,” “Bassomatic,” “Taco Town,” “Happy Fun Ball,” “Schmitt’s Gay,” “Little Chocolate Donuts,” “Colon Blow” and “Love Toilet.”

Thank You for Smoking

Comedy 2005 R 91 minutes. On a mission to make the country forget the dangers of smoking, Big Tobacco spin doctor Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) promotes his product in the movies and hushes those who bad-mouth cigarettes, all the while trying to remain a role model to his young son. Maria Bello, Katie Holmes, Robert Duvall and William H. Macy co-star in Jason Reitman’s razor-sharp satire, which won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Screenplay.

Advertising Rules!

Comedy 2001 R. Being in the right place at the right time propels a jobless youth (Alexander Scheer) into a top-dollar auto manufacturer’s campaign. But complications both professional and romantic follow when he steals ideas from a fellow employee … who eventually becomes his girlfriend. The original title of this German advertising-business satire is Viktor Vogel — Commercial Man.

Advertising Tactics!

Documentary 2001 NR. Learn about the variety of strategic subliminal and overt tactics that the advertising industry utilizes to influence consumers in this instructional video designed for use in a classroom setting. Viewers will learn to recognize these many clever techniques — which include bandwagon, testimonials, slogans, hard sell and soft sell — and will be able to put this knowledge to good use in both their personal and professional lives.

What Women Want

Romantic Comedy 2000 PG-13 126 minutes. After an electrical shock enables cocky advertising executive Nick Marshall to hear women’s thoughts, he quickly puts his newfound talent to work against his female boss — who seems to be infatuated with him.

The Last Cigarette

Documentary 1999 NR 82 minutes. Featuring footage of the 1994 congressional hearings on tobacco and health, in which the CEOs of major cigarette makers and industry representatives defend their dangerous and addictive product. These excerpts of the hearings are interspersed with entertaining tobacco-related clips from TV, movies, and commercials that show the startling tactics used by tobacco companies to entice the public to smoke.  See Full Review

Crazy People

Satire 1990 R. Emory (Dudley Moore) is a stressed-out advertising exec who sets off a company scandal with his unorthodox, but truthful, ad campaigns. Sent to a mental institution, he finds understanding from a psychiatrist (Mercedes Ruehl) and love from the beautiful but nutty Kathy (Daryl Hannah). Meanwhile, Emory’s ads have become Madison Avenue’s latest craze, and the agency wants him back — much to his dismay.

How to Get Ahead in Advertising

Satire 1989 R. London advertising executive Dennis Bagley (Richard E. Grant) seems to have it all: a big house, a lovely wife (Rachel Ward) and a flourishing career. But when he hits a dry spell and can’t come up with a campaign for a new pimple cream, a very unusual boil appears on his shoulder. One day, the boil begins to talk — but Bagley’s the only one who can hear it. Bruce Robinson directs this biting satire that lampoons the world of advertising.

Lost in America

Satire 1985 R 91 minutes. David (Albert Brooks) and Linda (Julie Hagerty) live a boring life. David has dutifully obeyed orders at an ad agency for eight years, while Linda has devoted seven years to a dead-end job. But after David gets fired, they impulsively embark on a painfully hilarious odyssey of discovery. As they travel across the United States their finances dwindle to a dangerous low… and when they park their RV in Las Vegas, all bets are definitely off!


Drama 1980 R 94 minutes. Something strange is going on at the QP&S; Advertising Agency, where employees have been quitting in droves and one co-worker recently died. The company’s creative director (Lee Majors) is determined to get to the bottom of the morale problem. But the shocking connection he finds between a secretive inner circle and a subliminal advertising campaign leaves him speechless. Robert Mitchum co-stars.

Putney Swope

Satire 1969 R 85 minutes. Robert Downey Sr. directs this whip-smart satire of race relations and corporate culture in 1960s America that explores what happens when the sole black executive at a major New York City advertising firm (Arnold Johnson) finds himself in charge. In addition to replacing his all-white board with an all-black slate of new members, he also changes the firm’s name to the more descriptive Truth and Soul Inc.

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit

Drama 1956 NR 153 minutes. After serving as an Army captain in World War II, Tom Rath (Gregory Peck) returns home a changed man. But 10 years later, with her eyes on a nicer house and a better life, his wife (Jennifer Jones) is still longing for the go-getter she once knew. To make her happy, Tom takes a high-paying PR job with a Madison Avenue company. But his memories of the past — and his discomfort with the present — make it difficult to embrace the future.

Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House

Comedy 1948 NR 94 minutes. Sophisticated New Yorkers Jim and Muriel Blandings (Cary Grant and Myrna Loy) leave their jaded city life for a dreamy getaway in rural Connecticut. But when their first house isn’t to their liking, the Blandings start over from scratch — with disastrous results. As local tradesmen increase their work rates and try to cash in on the recent transplants, Grant’s advertising executive job may be on the line if he can’t think of a slogan to sell ham.

The Hucksters

Drama 1947. A World War II veteran wants to return to advertising on his own terms, but finds it difficult to be successful and maintain his integrity.

Paul Goodman Changed My Life

Documentary 2011 NR 1hr 29m. This documentary explores the little-known life of best-selling author Paul Goodman, “the most influential man you’ve never heard of.” He may not be widely recognized by name, but his book Growing Up Absurd became the bible of the New Left.

Secrets of Selfridges

Documentary 2013 TV-PG 54m. Selfridges was the brain child of an American, Mr. Harry Gordon Selfridge. He brought about a revolution in the way that Londoners shopped, in 1909 introducing a new retail model which made shopping less of a practical pursuit and more of an adventure. This is an interesting documentary about how “shopping” really became what it is today, the favorite pastime of everyone, moneyed or not. Who would have guessed it would be a man to suggest having the perfume counter in the front of the store to attract women shoppers? In the end, Selfridge was arrested for vagrancy in front of the store he created.

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