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Friday, November 03, 2006

Borat and 'Brand Kazakhstan'

I came across this debate on BrandChannel regarding Borat and the characters possible effect on the Kazakhstan brand. For those of you who aren't familiar, Borat is a product of the Ali G show, unapologetically un-PC, racist, sexist.. the list goes on. Yet, incredibly entertaining. His travels and adventures as a 'journalist' for state-run TV in Kazakhstan, interviewing people from all walks of life have brought the country much more visibility as of late, but BrandChannel asks whether or not "no publicity is bad publicity". Yet another question of how much are people's opinions truly influenced by what the media offers up. Might a comedy's depiction of a fictious character from a certain country influence the masses opinons about that country and its people?

The forum has generated a fair amount of debate on the site, so I thought it might be interesting to pose the same questions to fellow Fallonites that were asked in that debate: If you were in charge of branding Kazakhstan, what would be your action/response to Borat? Would you see this character as a potential threat that could damage perceptions of the nation and its people, or simply as something that is drawing attention to and generating interest in your brand and publicity you'd be willing to accept?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd be interested in knowing why Sascha Baron Cohen chose Kazakhstan? Is it because it's the 9th largest country in the world by geographic area and yet completely unknown.

Or is it because the Orthodox Russian population plus Protestants is almost exactly equal to the Islamic population?

I'd be curious to know how the anti Jewish label arose. Where did prostitution arise as a legitimate occupation, incest and so forth.

Given that Sascha Baron Cohen is of Iranian/Jewish/Welsh extraction and sufficiently devout to convert his wife to Judaism, is religion a key issue in the send up technique for Borat who I is in any case a sublime character.

Before immersing in any branding issues that need to be solved it would be crucial to working out the motivations for the Borat character development from the creator himself. Otherwise it's a pointless exercise if the communications problem is solved only to mutate into a different issue from the character. Face it; Borat is bigger than Kazakhstan. But Sasca Baron Cohen is, like Kazakhstan, a relative mystery.

AV said...
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AV said...

The point of the original debate wasn't really to incite an in-depth exploration into the motivations behind the idea of Borat. The fact is simple- the character exists. He is from Kazakhstan, he exudes the qualities that you see on the show, and this is what the viewers see.

Not to rip on your comments as I think they're all valid, but I would think that many of the show's fans are not pondering those same things. They tune in to be entertained, and laugh at the absurdity of Borat and the people he interviews (myself included). All they see is this over the top parody of a fake Kazakhstan journalist, and that may be the most they've heard about Kazakhstan since History class.

So, despite the fact that I'd be curious to know the answers to the points you've raised, the fact is that the character exists. That being said, the point of the original debate is simply what in turn is the impact (if any) on Kazakhstan and its image.

AKI SYSTEMS 2600 said...

i actually agree with some of 'anonymous'' points. i dunno if the truly fascinating element to Borat and SBCohen is about whether Kazakhstan is more popular now or not...i too, am more intrigued with

a)the intents of his satire (for instance, archie bunker was a character created with the intent of trojan horsing polarizing issues of the day such as war, racism, economy, etc into average american homes). i think one of SBC'/Borat's intents is just to take the piss out of 'real america'...but what is the lesson he wants us to know about ourselves? my guess is there is not much behind the curtain (think MTV's Jackass), he does these pranks cuz he can and they are entertaining...it is just a prank for prank's sake. perhaps Borat is no Archie Bunker. nor is he even a Steven Colbert, there is no point of view underneath the hijinks with SJB.

b)i am further intrigued with the transparency issues of a character made to seem real, yet clearly not...BUT STILL WELCOMED BY AUDIENCES AS A FRIEND. obvoiusly to the unsuspecting 'real america' that he dupes, he is real, they have no idea he is a character sending them up. probably the leading reason SBC even chose to continue the deception as Borat is that Ali G is exposed and far too well known now to go undercover. and, Ali G lacks the faux-innocence required to truly get invited into real america's homes. the gay character he plays is hardly the one to get invited into the homes of real america. so that leaves Borat.

Borat does expose american's self-image as righteous missionaries to the world. we insist on teaching the world better (our way), and Borat is a perfect set-up for exposing our self-righteous superiority. Borat invites us to stand on our high-minded pedastals, and dumbly kicks them out from under us. the americans are never offended because, after all, Borat is only a dumb foreigner, right? so we pity him and righteously try to raise him up in the right way (the american way). to the unsuspecting dupes, Borat is but a dumb puppy, sorely in need of our red white and blue guidance.

that is the joke. i think that is all of the joke.

where i depart from anonymous is that i don't see Borat as a trojan horse for religious subterfuge. eh, i think the guy needed a mechanism that would be more of a pull for americans to get themselves pranked, rather than a push intrusion mechanism like MTV Punked! or JackAss. and as with these other examples, i suspect the joke is just the joke, no greater depth or agenda beneath, like with a Colbert or Archie Bunker or even a Homer Simpson.

but SBC is indeed a relative mystery, so one never knows.

Lachlan said...

Kazakhstan should ride it for all it's worth BUT without looking too much like they're riding it.

A delicate balance to avoid looking stupid by complaining about it, or looking stupid by over doing the loving it.

It has created plenty of exposure ops for them to jump-in on a news or comment peice about Borat, accept the joke with good humour (scoring good guy points off the bat) and then get some of their messages across that would normally get zero coverage.

Overly and/or overtly using Borat as some kind of brand symbol though would look like 'dad-dancing' and probably be counter to the aims they want. Even consumer brands (nevermind nations) have a hard time overtly jumping directly on a cultural reference without looking clumsy and uncool.


It was interesting to note their first responses to Borat were the kind of overly hyped complaint that probably made some people think that Borat probaly hit the mark and was a true(ish) characterisation... they have since got some good advice on that and have backed off from that.

chelsea said...

let's be clear, SBC chose Kazakhstan for exactly the same reason Ricky Jervais chose to base The Office in Slough - the places are a shorthand for a certain idea that the rest of the humour can then play off

Slough encapsulates a dull, grim, light industrial city - perfect for locating a dull, grim office. From this platform, it is easier to play out the mind-numbing banality of office life - than it would be if based in London

Kaz evokes an agrarian medieval country - who's inhabitants we imagine probably are hopelessly out of whack with the West - he could of chosen afganistan, or rural pakistan, or North korea - but these have been too well documented in recent years - and all are too associated with terrorism - Kaz has an innocence and a lack of coverage that helps - from this platform it is easy for SBC to unleash his extreme lack of PC on unsuspecting interviewees

which is exactly the same mechanic as ali g - but with more goat and prostitute gags

sbc is a commited comic terrorist - in the same vein as dennis pennis - being a fake interviewer is a well established comic tradition - at least in the UK

back to the question of kaz and how it should handle the situation - i cant see anything they can do other than put their own story over as they would like to tell it! hopefully goats an' all