Could this film be considered a horror film for those working in PR, marketing, and advertising?
Touted as a sci-fi thriller set in a dystopian future, Branded (2012) plays more like a satire about society and the love/hate relationship with advertising.
A brief prologue introduces a young Misha Galkin in early 1980s Moscow. After seeing the pattern of a cow in the starry night sky, Misha is struck by lightning. He is then told he will have an unusual life.
Fast forward to “present day” Russia, Misha (Ed Stoppard), now a marketing savant who helped develop numerous campaigns for Western brands, works at an ad agency for Bob (Jeffrey Tambor), an American, who claims he’ll “never understand this crazy country.” Bob wants Misha to stay away from his niece, Abby (LeeLee Sobieski), but Misha and Abby end up working together on a new reality show, Extreme Kosmetika. In this new sensation, a woman will undergo 12 operations in 36 days to go from fat to beautiful Naturally, it goes wrong, and the woman, Veronika, ends up in a coma.
But you see it’s all part of a ploy by the world’s leading specialist on marketing (played by Max Von Sydow). Leading fast food chains, reeling from record losses, appeal to this guru (Sydow) for help. They want a miracle. He proposes a plan to change the world. “How far are you willing to go?” he asks them. By making fat beautiful again, people will embrace fast food.
The plan begins in Russia with the aforementioned reality show. Misha and Abby pay a price for their involvement. She’s deported, and he’s arrested, though he’s not held in custody long.
Six years will pass. Abby tracks down Misha who has withdrawn from society and is living on a cow farm. There, he has a dream that will allow him to understand “the meaning behind everything.”
In a primal scene recalling ancient rites, he sacrifices a “red cow.” He baptizes himself in blood and ashes. Subsequently, in the new landscape of advertising, he sees the “brands” are alive as creepy, living parasites feeding off an unaware society. Like subliminal messages, they comple their hosts to fuel them by consuming.
Having learned the price of marketing—and how it can be used to change the world for good or ill—Misha sets out on a plan to destroy these megacorporations and their brands by setting them at war with one another. Making a deal with a Chinese company, Misha—suggesting he has become the new guru—asks, “How far are you willing to go?”
Though at times the film might seem silly and over-the-top, within it exists a clever post-modern parable warning against the dangers of blind consumerism. One has to ask, “At what point do consumers stop buying into the advertising machine and say enough is enough?”
As part of his endgame, Misha states: “The growth of brands has spiraled out of control. Never before in history has it been this difficult to record growth because there simply is not enough room in the minds of consumers to hold new desires for new products.”
This is an all too true statement, and not just within the confines of the film. There are other such real-world gems, too. I particularly liked how Misha learns the three basic rules of marketing: Positioning, Advertise, and Get Paid Up Front (because no one believes in marketing).
Ultimately, this film isn’t for everyone, but it is a fun ride for those with an interest in, or working in the fields of, marketing and media.