In Essays, Innovation

Sasha Baron Cohen’s fictional character Borat is a lout from Kazakhstan who says “very nice!” after saying and doing not-so-nice things. The real Kazakhstan has embraced it, and I think it’s a brilliant stunt.

I must admit that I wasn’t even sure Kazakhstan was a real country when the first Borat movie came out in 2006, and I was marginally entertained as Cohen used cluelessness to compensate, just barely, for the repulsiveness of his character, starting with Borat living in an ugly, twisted rural village. The Kazakhstan government ran newspaper ads in the US refuting the portrayal and banned showings of the movie at home.

Now, it has created tourism vignettes using “very nice!” as the catchphrase.

What changed?

An American living in Almaty, Kazakhstan’s largest city, came up with the tie-in idea and pitched it to the country’s tourism board, which approved production of short ads pretty much on the spot.

A Kazakh Tourism exec explained at the Huffington Post:

“Kazakhstan’s nature is very nice. Its food is very nice. And its people, despite Borat’s jokes to the contrary, are some of the nicest in the world.”

Supposedly the content has generated lots of social media love.

Now, the marketing strategy is kinda suspect since I just checked and it would take three flights, 19 hours, and thousands of dollars for me to get from Chicago to my vacation in Almaty, and none of what the videos promote is “nice” enough to motivate me to expend that much effort. But maybe the underlying purpose is to raise awareness that might lead to other business or development opportunities? I don’t think they’re spending anything on media, so that might make sense.

The bigger point for me is that other brands could consider similar activities to ride a perceived negative into revealed positive.

I’m thinking Spam, for starters.

Actually, I’ve long believed that Spam missed the opportunity to play off of the zillions of dollars’ worth of exposure the word got in the early days of email. I could have imagined so many different ways to work with it…”the Spam you want,” “there’s good Spam and bad spam,” or “The inbox of your mouth wants this Spam”…or wacky promotions, like a Spam-branded email spam filter that accrued points worth discounts on their product, or whatever.

Instead, Hormel’s reaction was an ambivalent silence and, unless I’m missing something, its product has the cultural relevance of Tang.

Can you think of other products or services that face similar challenges that are really opportunities?

Making a list of them might be “very nice!”

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