Borat and the Goodness of Bad Press

‘All PR is good PR’ is a widely touted maxim – which includes negative publicity. However, it may not always feel that way in the heat of the moment.

What’s the truth in that statement? 

According to the recently published book called “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” by Prof. Jonah Berger of Wharton Business School, if negative publicity increases awareness then it can have a net beneficial effect on your business. 

The theory is that if your business is underpublicized, a negative story will create some ill will, but others will hear of you for the first time and that could create demand.

One example that Berger gives is the country of Kazakhstan. In the 2006 movie “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan,” the key theme was belittling the country and its people as backward. But Berger reports that after the movie came out, tourist visits to Kazakhstan increased by 300%. 

Why? Because the movie boosted awareness of a little known location, and attracted the attention of people who were piqued by the prospect of traveling there. 

The corollary of negative publicity is of course, that if you’ve worked hard to build your brand reputation and awareness, the damaging impacts of bad publicity might outweigh any gains in visibility.

Engineering bad publicity can be a risky strategy. But if you find yourself in this situation, it might make sense to figure out a way to make lemonade out of lemons – and turn that negative into a positive for your business.