MaM: Czech Dream – Ceský sen

czech-dreamKicking off a new series of posts about Movies about Marketing, Consumption and related topics is this review of  the 2004 movie Czech Dream (Ceský sen) from the Czech Republic.

Ceský sen is a documentary about one of the biggest marketing stunts ever pulled: In 2003, two students from the Czech Film Academy and directors of the film devised a plan to market a new hypermarket – and make a film about how the marketing strategy unfolded. Of course, there is a catch to their idea: The advertised hypermarket, called “Czech Dream”, is actually nothing more than a meadow with a giant canvas – rather than the market filled with cheap goods and a dream-like shopping experience.

The film chronicles  the two film makers creating this “bubble”: from the early beginnings where they both receive a make over to look like “successful” supermarket bosses – to the eventual “opening” of the fake hypermarket. Thus the viewer gets a glimpse of the working that create the illusion: image consultants working on the producers outfits, the advertising agency devising the successful strategies and promotional campaigns to market researchers at work with focus groups and eye tracking. Interspersed with interviews about the ethical views of the marketing professionals (such as debating about truth in advertising, or market testing products one personally doesn’t approve of). These parts are probably the most interesting to watch for marketing students, as they give an insight into the different and sometimes complex and contradictory ways of thinking and rationalising marketing activity.

After focusing on the campaign development, the last thirty minutes of the movie are dedicated to the actual opening: From the first arrivals at the scene, and first people to question if the hypermarket is actually real – to the grand opening of people streaming over the meadow to the canvas. There is also extensive focus on how those that turned up reacted: From some of the consumers being angry, rationalising the experience (“It’s a beautiful day. At least we had some fresh air”) – and a few starting to debate the motives of the film makers. At this point the film also turns somewhat political, which I suspect was the original motive for the movie: The film makes extensive references to the media campaign surrounding the Czech referendum on membership to the European Union in 2003. As I have to confess that I have no idea what the debates were surrounding the referendum’s campaign, I can’t really comment on that part. Despite this, the latter part makes interesting viewing from a consumer-researcher perspective: Especially as it focuses extensively on reasons people have turned up – and how they react to the the hoax.

Overall, I think Czech Dream – Ceský sen is an interesting film to watch on many different levels: From the inner workings of the advertising and publicity profession to the effects of consumerism on society. The movie is thought provoking and could serve as a basis of discussions both of profession ethics for marketers – as well as consumer behaviour, and the wider social effect of marketing. The movie is also refreshing in that it doesn’t follow the “industry is bad” narrative of some American productions, such as Spurlock’s “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold” or “Food Inc.”. Rather the movie has a more subtle narrative, where the viewer can examine how we react towards advertising. From a theoretical perspective, there is also the interesting twist that some of the adverts try to encourage reactive behaviour (e.g. they explicitly tell people “Don’t go”…).  It’s probably tricky to get students to watch a feature length movie with subtitles in class – but if you can, I think the movie is a worthwhile and interesting starting point for an in-class debate.

Check out some more interesting Movies about Marketing and Consumption on this MUBI list. And please don’t forget to let me know what you think about the movie via the comments below!

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