When it comes to branding, standup comedians are champions.
They create characters that take on a life of their own.
Mike Myers “Austin Power” is a good example how to create a character, brand it and turn it into a major money making machine.
But the one that excels at this game is without any doubt the British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen.
He created the character “Borat Sagdiyev”, a Kazakh television news reporter making a meager living in the struggling country of Kazakhstan.
Dressed in his trademark grey suit, a mustached Borat tells the world in heavy accented English about his beautiful home country of Kazakhstan (a urine-drinking, Jew-hating, inbred society).
The Borat character is homophobic ("Are you a homo sapiens? Because it doesn't matter if you are."), misogynic (at a feminist gathering, he "innocently" extolled the virtues of Baywatch) and anti-Semitic (“my city is 3 mile north of fence to Jewtown”)
Cohen also launched a website www.borat.kz, which was promptly shut down by a highly offended Kazakh government.
It was rerouted to www.borat.tv.
If you look at the website, it is exactly in character and pokes fun at all the standard elements and mistakes that can be found on personal websites: black background color, emoticons, flash, common spellings mistakes, (ir)relevant photos, personal profile, MySpace.
Following the Comedy Store formula, Cohen capitalized on his character’s success by making a movie, aptly titled: “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”.
The movie was cleverly promoted by putting trailers on YouTube.
The main push however came from the personal appearance of the movie’s shining star.
The movie was first shown at the Cannes film festival.
Cohen, always acting as Borat, appeared on a beach in Cannes, dressed in a minimalistic bathing suit that resembled (as the Jaunted website put it) “an upside down Star Trek symbol”.
The pics were beamed across the globe.
Cohen repeated his performance at the London movie premiere.
Staying non-stop in character, he wowed the crowds by stating:
"I have come here with Bilak, my 11 year old son, his wife and their child, and we are hoping maybe to put some chocolate make-up on the child's face and sell him to Madonna.
I am hoping that Madonna will be a very good father for it."
He was, of course, referring to the singer's controversial adoption of a 13-month-old Malawian baby.
For the US launch, Fox studios decided to downsize the initial release of "Borat" from 2,200 screens to 800 because their marketing analysis determined most of middle America wasn't going to "get it”.
During its first weekend, the movie raked in a record $26.4 million in 837 locations.
Since the production budget was under $ 20 million, the movie was able to reach profitability within 3 days.
At the beginning of December 2006, the movie generated $67 million.
Borat got the kind of exposure most A-list actors could only dream of.
He appeared on CNN, FOX, Letterman and O'Brien– to mention just a few.
For the Australian film premiere, Borat adapted to the Aussie way by greeting fans sporting cricket batting pads and a corked hat while holding a boomerang and later cradling a wallaby.
If anyone understands: “think global, act local”, it’s Cohen.