8 Documentaries Everyone in Advertising Should Watch

Eight Great Documentary Movies About Advertising and Design

Great Advertising Documentaries
Morgan Spurlock.


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If you're in advertising, design, or another creative industry, you'll never be content with the knowledge you already have. You'll always want more. You want to learn, improve, grow and push yourself past those boundaries. It's only natural, because when you do, you become better. And one day, perhaps become the focus of a great documentary, to teach people what you have learned (so far).

So in the spirit of sharing the many great things that other people have learned from their careers, long or short, here are 8 documentaries you absolutely must watch. Seriously. Think of it has homework that's fun and could change your outlook on your whole career. In no particular order:

Art & Copy (2009)

Revealing The Work And Wisdom of Advertising's Biggest Players

"Art & Copy" (2009) is without a doubt one of the best documentaries ever made on the subject of advertising. From the opening titles, to the final glorious piece of advice, it's a non-stop barrage of great work, incredible stories, and insights into the creative process. Directed by Doug Pray, it's a labor of love that shows a passion for the production of good advertising, and features some of the most famous campaigns ever produced. If you're familiar with "Just Do It," "Where's The Beef?," "Got Milk?," and "Think Different" (and if you aren't, which rock have you been hiding under?), you are going to love every second of this entertaining doc. 

Perhaps the greatest strength of the film is the people it showcases. These are legends of the craft, responsible for shaping and cheerleading the trade, and providing wisdom that cannot be ignored. George Lois, Mary Wells, Dan Wieden, Lee Clow, Hal Riney, and so many others assemble to tell you their stories, and hopefully inspire you to do better work. Unmissable. 


POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold (2011)

Is it possible to fund a movie using only product placement money?

"The Greatest Movie Ever Sold" (2011) is another masterpiece from Morgan Spurlock, who grabbed the world's attention with his first hit documentary "Super Size Me." The premise of the movie is simple enough; can you fund a whole documentary film using only the money you get from sponsors and product placement? It's not unlike his Super Size Me challenge, but thankfully, this one doesn't involve barfing up food from a car window. 

You follow Morgan as he goes from brand to brand, pitching the movie and the idea, and in some cases begging for sponsorship money. There a varying levels of sponsorship available, but the primo spot is actually getting your brand's name in the title of the film. As you can see, POM Wonderful were convinced to take that offer. The movie is worth watching just for the TV spots Morgan picthes to the POM Wonderful executives. A fun, and funny, film that teaches you a lot about strategy,

Objectified (2009)

A Movie About The Objects That Surround You

"Objectified" (2009) is another dive into the world of design by Gary Hustwit, who also directed "Helvetica." In "Objectified", Hustwit goes a little broader than a film purely about typography, and in doing so cannot paint nearly the lavish picture. But saying that, "Objectified" is still an excellent and thought-provoking movie, and still one of the best documentaries made on the subject of industrial design.

"Objectified" examines the relationship that we, as consumers, have with the many products and objects around us. Everywhere, in so many ways, products are part of our lives, and they have all been designed. We drive to work in cars, work on computers, make calls on cell phones, wear shoes, watches, rain coats, eat pre-packaged food, and all of it has been touched by a designer. Sometimes, not for the better, either.

The September Issue (2009)

A Fly-On-The-Wall Documentary of Life at Vogue Magazine

"The September Issue" (2009) is an exposé of the biggest fashion magazine out there, Vogue, and the woman who controls it all. Her name is Anna Wintour, she is the Editor-In-Chief at Vogue, and she rules the world of fashion.

Anyone who's ever seen "The Devil Wears Prada" will already be very familiar with the story here, although to be fair our lead here is much more likable than the demon played by Meryl Streep.

That being said, Wintour is a strong woman, professionally uncompromising, and rules her world with an iron fist in a couture glove. She has to be. Anyone operating at this level, under this kind of pressure, cannot afford to be anything other than a powerhouse.

Exit Through The Gift Shop (2010)

A Documentary That Only Banksy Could Have Made

If you know the name Banksy (and if you're in this business and don't know it, where have you been?) then you already have a solid foundation for graffiti art and anti-establishment design. In fact, the name Banksy is so powerful that many people will be surprised to learn that this is not a film about Banksy himself, but rather an eccentric French chap called Thierry Guetta. But that doesn't make Exit Through The Gift Shop any less interesting. Far from it.

Helvetica (2007)

An Exploration of a Typeface

If you're reading this review, you should already know Helvetica - if not by name, then definitely by appearance. It is perhaps the most popular typeface of the last half century and has never gone out of style. But before we get into the film itself, a little background…

Helvetica is a typeface that was designed over 50 years ago, in 1957, by the type designer Max Meidinger. In the late fifties, there was a revival of older sans-serif typefaces like Akzidenz Grotesk (still used today) and Meidinger was commissioned by the Haas Type Foundary, in Switzerland, to design a new sans serif font in this style. He used Akzidenz Grotesk as a basis for his new font - Helvetica (a name derived from Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland). The rest, as they say, is history.

Lemonade (2009)

It's Not a Pink Slip, it's a Blank Page.

If there's a movie that sums up the current economic climate for creative professionals in America, it's Lemonade. The synopsis provided by IMDB.com includes this startling statistic:

"More than 130,000 advertising professionals have lost their jobs in this 'Great Recession'"

If that's not enough to send a shiver down your spine, you must have a really secure job (is there such a thing?), be independently wealthy, or you just don't care. Alas, most of us have none of the above, and that's why Lemonade is such a great movie to watch.

Milton Glaser: To Inform & Delight (2008)

A Documentary Following The Work and Outlook of Milton Glaser

Say Milton Glaser to anyone associated with art, design or advertising, and the reaction is usually one of respect and awe. Milton Glaser is responsible for some of the most important and archetypal pieces of graphic design done in the twentieth century, including the "I ♥ NY" logo, Bob Dylan's psychedelic hair, and the bullet logo for DC comics (1977 - 2005). To say he is an icon would be to undersell the meaning of the word. And in 2009 he was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama.

If anyone deserves a documentary movie about their life's work, it's Milton Glaser. And Milton Glaser: To Inform & Delight is quite the homage.