Leave floating Borat alone, says Sam Burne James

Pretty much every morning of my life, I eat porridge for breakfast. Does the fact that I do that with such regularity mean that I'm "floundering for ideas and purpose"?

It does - if the industry's criticism of the latest Thames-based PR stunt, involving Sacha Baron Cohen's Borat, is to believed.

On Twitter, PR pros were queuing up to take formulaic, unoriginal swipes at Amazon Prime Video's decision to float fictional Kazakhstani newshound through the capital.

The stunt got coverage right, left and centre - it also got coverage in Canada, where another inflatable Borat made an appearance. The international dimension clearly bypassed those who were quick to see this as ‘just floating something down the Thames’, as if no other bodies of water existed. Perish the thought that this industry is London-centric...

By any measure of outputs, the stunt was a huge success. How does it tap into Amazon's broader brand values and strategy? I'm not exactly sure. But neither are you. 

This is one of the most data-savvy, audience-centric and unstoppably successful organisations in history. So I'm sure their own grasp of why they did this is, at least, marginally better than that of the people who took one look at it and thought 'oh good, an opportunity to come across as a no-nonsense, progressive PR person by tweeting something glib'.

As I first suggested a few years ago, there are few things less creative than making knee-jerk accusations of a lack of creativity at someone who just pulled off such a stunt. In an industry allegedly focused on creativity, that's quite the irony. Frankly, too many people seem to have forgotten that the extent to which a campaign can be described as 'creative' in the sense of 'original' or 'unprecedented' often has little or no bearing on how well it is received.

Of course Mark Borkowski, who penned a PRWeek piece which suggests the stunt "symbolises an industry with no grip on its future, floundering for ideas and purpose", knows this. I've been lucky enough to speak to him a few times, and he's an intelligent, admirably-successful PR. His missive was enjoyably mischievous, and a good read.

But beyond his enjoyable, thundering read I do worry that many other PR professionals are failing to distinguish the concepts of 'doing some original' and 'doing some effective'. The PR industry desperately needs to become more focused on campaign effectiveness, and less focused on vanity metrics. I wonder if creativity, when held up as an inherent good in and of itself, ought not be considered as essentially a vanity metric.

On that note, I'm about to go and prepare a bowl of porridge for lunch.

Sam Burne James is a freelance PR professional. Find him tweeting @samburnejames


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