Why Borat Has Such Great Success

Ash Jurberg

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Jak sie masz? My name-a Borat. I like you. I like.

With that line, the hit movie, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, hit our screens in 2006. On October 23, this year, the sequel was released on Amazon Prime, yet despite the fourteen-year gap between movies the Borat brand has lived on and it quickly became the second most viewed movie of 2020.

In a world inundated with new content, brands and marketing messages It is a testament to gorilla marketing, publicity, building a strong brand, and the power of stunts. The man behind the character, Sacha Baron Cohen, is not only a great comedian, but he is a master of marketing. Let’s have a look at why he is so successful.

Build most glorious brand

The name Borat invokes several things. Kazakstan. Crazy pranks. Mankinis. Baron Cohen has successfully managed to build brand Borat. The key to the success is that he commits fully to his character. Not only in the mockumentary style of both movies but in all media. All interviews are done in character so as to perpetuate publicity.

Take the example below. Before the release of the original Borat, Baron Cohen did an interview with CBS’s Harry Smith for The Early Show in which he wrestled with the host. A 45-second Youtube clip of this, published prior to the film's release generated 1 million views.

People were loving the character and wanted to see more. Each of his interviews were added online and generated hundreds of thousands of views. Rather than the standard press interview, traditionally done to promote a movie, Baron Cohen was continually creating content. If he was interviewed as himself answering questions about his movie it wouldn't resulted in media grabs or social posts.

When the movie was launched at Cannes, Baron Cohen did a photoshoot in his now-infamous green mankini, ensuring the movie received plenty of PR.

Again, if he had shown up in a suit as himself, it wouldn’t have received much coverage. Instead, most major publications ran articles on his media stunt. Some praised the marketing move, others were disgusted but all wrote about it. Now, even fourteen years later, the mankini is associated with Borat and the image and brand essence lives on.

The commitment to the character of Borat has ensured it has become an icon in contemporary popular culture.

Controversy is publicity -is nice!

When world leaders are speaking about your product, you know two things: you’ve hit the desired target, and you will get a lot of media exposure.

Prior to the release of the movie, the government of Kazakstan wanted to get on the front foot before the world saw a negative portrayal of their nation in the movie. They took out four-page inserts in both the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune. Entitled “Kazakhstan in the 21st Century.” It featured a photo of the country’s president Nursultan Nazarbayev on its front page shaking hands with President George W. Bush. Inside was a mix of propaganda and advertisements. The cost to them was close to $400,000. The cost to Baron Cohen ? Zero.

Nazarbayev was continually questioned as to his thoughts on the movie. In a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, he said, “this film was created by a comedian so let’s laugh at it, that’s my attitude. There’s a saying that any publicity is good publicity.”

He got it spot on with that last sentence — and that is what Baron Cohen relies on — riding on the wave of both publicity and controversy for free.

Soon after the movie was released a plethora of lawsuits was filed against Baron Cohen. These ranged from the villagers of a small town in Romania where Borat's ‘hometown’ was filmed to several displeased Americans claimed to be misrepresented in scenes. He won each of the lawsuits and generated more publicity each time.

Borat is built on crazy stunts and offending people to generate as much publicity as possible.

Make benefit of social media

Baron Cohen leverages the power of social media through the creation of parody accounts. Back in 2006, when people still used MySpace (who remembers Tom?) and social media was in its infancy, Cohen created a Borat page. The movie was even screened exclusively for MySpace members in six countries, including twenty U.S. cities ahead of its premiere. This ensure a viral buzz before public release.

This was the first promotion of its kind by MySpace. By seeding the early adopters he was kickstarting his marketing. Clips were added on MySpace and Youtube and the buzz continued

He also launched a website www.borat.kz, which was quickly shut down by the Kazakh government and rerouted to www.borat.tv. The website was in line with his brand and character and full of mistakes, basic flash animation and strange photos.

In 2020, social media is even more important, and for Borat 2 he has created a couple of parody accounts. One for the character Borat Sagidyev, and also one purporting to be from the Kazakhstan government. The latter account appeared to be authentic when first set up. The first few tweets from the account were the type of bland announcement that governments make. As an example, the below was tweeted on September 29.

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It was one of many bland tweets over the first couple of weeks until the Baron Cohen wit started to emerge with a string of over the top pro-Trump tweets, which removed any element of doubt as to who was behind the account. Word spread and tens of thousands of people began following the account. The tweet above congratulating Trump for winning the debate was posted thirty minutes before the debate started which not only made it funnier but guaranteed more exposure.

It was followed by an official statement from the Kazakh government stating that the account was a fake.

The marketing strategy continues to work.

Come to greatest country on earth

The original film was made for a modest $18 million and has generated $260 million in box office sales. But Baron Cohen isn't the only one profiting from Brand Borat.

Ironically the country that is heavily mocked, Kazakstan, has benefited from the movies.

In the first month after Borat’s release, the Embassy of Kazakhstan’s Web site received 18,000 unique visitors — double the monthly average, said spokesman Roman Vassilenko.

Foreign affairs minister of the time, Yerzhan Kazykhanov said: “With the picture’s release, Kazakhstan increased the number of visas it issues by 10 times. This is a great victory, and I am grateful to Borat for attracting tourists to Kazakhstan.”

With the second movie, it is now up to the Kazakh tourism industry and government to once again leverage the media and parlay this into more positive business for them.

The taking away

Whether you love the satirical cheek of Borat or find his brand of humor cringeworthy and childish, you have to agree that as a Marketing and PR person, Sasha Baron Cohen is one of the best. To generate eyeballs in a cluttered market you need to stand out and he has made a career out of this.

And there is no doubt that it is all done for his brand marketing as the actor is actually a very private person. At one stage, Rolling Stone boasted having “the only interview as himself.” The formula clearly works.

In the words of Borat himself, “is great success!

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