There’s a saying in PR that there’s no such thing as bad publicity and, putting it bluntly, most of the time it’s a crock. That came to mind today when the Wall Street Journal asked if promotion of Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie “The Dictator” is savvy or just plain annoying.
The fact that the WSJ ran a piece about it answers its own (rhetorical) question.
If you’re a fan of Baron Cohen’s work (Ali G, Borat, Bruno) you’re going to think the antics of his latest character, Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen, are the stuff of genius. If you’re not, odds are that you aren’t part of the target audience anyway and will stay at home.
PR, like humour, is in the eye of the beholder. In this instance, the campaign objectives are to raise the profile of the new movie, persuade fans it’s worth shelling out their hard-earned to see and convert those who might be wavering into bums on seats.
It’s those waverers – the equivalent of political swinging voters – who will make the difference between a reasonable box office return and a record-breaking cash harvest.
Most PR is about that sometimes intangible quality called “brand.”
The pre-release phase of the campaign hasn’t been about positive or negative media coverage. “The Dictator” isn’t Qantas, K-Mart or Harvey Norman in the conventional sense of branding. Consider this extract from the WSJ piece:
Monday's news conference was just the latest in a series of in-character publicity stunts. As General Aladeen, the actor has referred to "Today" co-host Ann Curry as ‘Matt Lauer's cleaning lady’ and, on a morning show in Australia, remarked that Prime Minister Julia Gillard ‘should have a sex change and become a woman’. Her office declined to comment.
Clearly, the more offence Baron Cohen causes, the more people will take notice.
I’m a fan of Borat and Ali G but haven’t seen “The Dictator.” If the reviewers pan it, and those box office waverers stay away in droves, it will prove the original point: No matter what some claim, you can’t polish excrement and stunts will only get you so far.
As to the WSJ's question - I'm leaning towards savvy.