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Five reasons why Borat boldly goes where "Snakes on a Plane" could not....


Snakes on a Plane:
Opened in 3,555 theaters
1st Weekend Box-Office: $15.3 million
Fahrenheit 911:
Opened in 868 theaters
1st Weekend Box-Office: ~$24 million
Borat:
Opens in 837 theaters
1st Weekend Box-Office: $26 million
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In spite of alleged comparisons to Snakes on a Plane, I'm convinced more than ever that Borat is more akin to "Fahrenheit 911" and "Jackass" than it is to "Snakes on a Plane." It is amazing to also see how similar the movie marketing has been and the phenomenal success they have achieved. Here are the five steps to market an indie movie .... "Estyle Borat":
1. Court Controversy:
Borat is in essence a controversial and politically incorrect film, kind of like "Fahrenheit 911" meets "Punk'd," with Andy Kaufman playing Ashton Kutcher. Beneath the veneer of his stupidity, Borat actually skillfully triggers all the hot-button topics possible, ranging from "the war of terror" to "preferred treatment of gay people," without batting an eyelid.
In terms of timing, this movie couldn't have been released at a better time than the mid-term elections especially since the country is in the midst of sifting through cultural/political issues while they decide the fate of their leaders -- yet again another similarity with the movie "Fahrenheit 911."
2. Pander to the Base:
Borat's immediate target audience happens to be the "Jackass" crowd but on another level, the movie seems to be courting the mainstream majority of this country. How do you grab their attention? By releasing the movie in small numbers to large groups of college kids who create a lot of noise. Also, maximize target audience interest & participation by using the two most popular youth portals on the planet.
a. MySpace Treatment:
From a marketing standpoint it was incredibly smart for the studio to get the "Black Carpet" treatment from MySpace, where they offer exclusive free tickets to MySpace'rs to movie premieres. In Borat's case the screenings were held a month and a half before the film's release, thereby building buzz. (His MySpace Profile)
b. YouTu Borat:
The studio also accessed the popularity of YouTube by releasing the first 4 minutes of the movie on YouTube, a week before it's release, which can then be sent virally across the nation.
3. Stir the Pot:
While "Passion of the Christ" raised the ire of the Anti-Defamation League, Borat has taken it one step further by annoying everyone from the government of Kazakhstan to the European Centre of Antiziganism Research (hostility to gypsies)!
What this does is actually provide controversial news items to the mainstream media, which is the greatest way to pique widespread curiosity. The government of Kazakhstan actually took out four-page ads both in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune.
The European Centre of Antiziganism Research accuses Borat of "defamation and inciting violence against Sinti and Roma (gypsies)". State prosecutors in Hamburg are investigating the allegations before deciding whether to take action or not. (Source)
That's a lot of free publicity for a movie made with a budget of $18 million.
4. Build buzz:
Once you grab the attention of a country with hysterical teenage fans and angry mobs, the rest is smooth going from there. Fake press conference against the government of Kazakhstan and a failed attempt to invite "Supreme Warlord Premier George Walter Bush" to the movie premiere is pure marketing genius.
Borat is also on, what must be, an incredibly tiring press blitz across the nation .... meeting with pretty much every media personality from Howard Stern to Jay Leno (tomorrow) as well as being on all channels & programs -- from SNL to CNN -- pretty much covering all demographics possible.
5. Court the Mainstream:
I believe this is the single deciding factor in the success of Borat vis-à-vis the failure of Snakes on a Plane. SoaP was a decidedly blogosphere phenomenon and many bloggers (myself included) incorrectly perceived it to ensure a successful crossover into the mainstream world, but it did not and for obvious reason. However, we can see how clever 20th Century Fox has been in in crafting a movie marketing campaign around elections, hot-button topics, catering to the base, and building word-of-mouth like any clever political strategist would.
But let me point out that this strategy will work only for specific movies that satisfy certain criteria .... the ability to shock & provoke (a.k.a the shockumentary) -- the one common theme that unites movies as diverse as Fahrenheit 911, Passion of the Christ, Jackass, and Borat. As Box-Office Mojo summarized last year:

The Passion and Fahrenheit emerged as the most talked about movies, sparking controversy that reflected and defined the nation, and re-configuring religious movies and documentaries as big moneymakers.

Have you seen Borat, yet? Any thoughts on its phenomenal marketing success?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
image of Mario Sundar

Mario Sundar has over five years experience in leadership roles both in Marketing as well as in Software Development. Mario currently works at LinkedIn, the World’s largest online professional network, as Community Evangelist. Prior to that, he helped develop & manage marketing initiatives for Fortune 50 high-tech brands. Mario is also on the board of the American Marketing Association (Silicon Valley Chapter).

In May 2006, Mario launched his marketing blog where he discusses customer evangelism, community marketing and social media strategy. Ranked as one of the fastest growing Wordpress blogs in July 06, “Marketing Nirvana” continues to expand its readership each week. The blog currently (as of 04/07) has a Technorati Rank of 7,113 and an Alexa Ranking of 142,830.

Mario’s Blog: http://mariosundar.wordpress.com/
Mario’s LinkedIn Profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/mariosundar