Did Sacha Cohen’s Media Gambit

Did Sacha Cohen’s media gambit work? Find out in the Future of Engagement!

In chess, a gambit is where you sacrifice a pawn to gain positional advantage on the chessboard. During last Sunday’s Oscars, Sacha Baron Cohen dressed up as “Admiral General Aladeen” from his film, The Dictator, and spilled Kim Jong Il’s ashes on interviewer Ryan Seacrest.

Cohen sacrificed his ability to market the show in similar ways at future events (something dwarfed by the value of pulling off this stunt at the Oscars) to plug his new movie, which might have significant financial benefits for Cohen.

But was this stunt even successful from a marketing perspective? Did the public decline Cohen’s gambit? In this Future of Engagement episode, host Murray Newlands analyzes the social media response to Cohen’s ash-spilling and explores the bigger question of whether stunts like this in general actually work:



  • The media knew beforehand that Cohen was dressing up as Aladeen so there were a lot of cameras on him when he spilled ashes onto Seacrest.
  • Choosing to “paint” a big-name reporter in ashes forced the media to keep talking about it…
  • …But the responses Cohen got on social media were almost equally split between negative and positive responses.

Graph by Alerti Social Media Monitoring and Management:

This Alerti graph looks at what and where people were sharing about the terms “Sacha Baron Cohen” and “Dictator”

sacha baron cohen breakdown graph

Murray Newlands is a successful social media consultant that runs the international marketing media agency Influence People, based in downtown San Francisco, and has a proven track record consistently delivering desired results to his clients.


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{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Steve
    March 20, 2012, 4:23 pm

    He got quite a bit of attention that night but it did not last long from what I saw. His whole style was funny one time but is real easy to get tired of. I watched part of his second film but it was over the top and not very funny so I left the show.
    Steve recently posted..Ohio Governor Leading With Drilling TaxesMy Profile

  • Matt Clarke March 6, 2012, 1:04 pm

    I actually really liked his last publicity stunt when he flew in and landed on Eminem. I thought it was hilarious and Eminem played it really well too. I doubt he will have much luck with that type of thing in future though. Nobody will invite him to anything because they will be scared of trouble!
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  • Julie March 5, 2012, 7:16 pm

    I think that Mr Cohan’s viral marketing and guerilla marketing strategies are working well. He doesn’t fear from scandals, I think he love them, but from a professional view, he’s doing it right. I’m sure that his counters would say so, too.

  • Jacko
    March 5, 2012, 5:34 pm

    It looked like he was mocking one of the generals the us used to support but now says is tyrannical.
    did he have the wmd’s?
    Jacko recently posted..Man uses technology to control other people?My Profile

  • Ryan Hanley
    March 5, 2012, 1:00 pm


    I saw this happen live. Completely outrageous. You knew something was coming by the way Cohen was acting.

    However, for the rest of the broadcast all E News was talking about was Seacrest getting painting. From a Buzz perspective for a Movie that is of B or C Quality in Comedy Genre he really couldn’t have done it any better. Classy NO… Buzzy YES.


    Ryan H.
    Ryan Hanley recently posted..How To Convince Your Internet Hating Boss an Online Presence is ImportantMy Profile

  • rohit kothari
    March 4, 2012, 10:29 am

    Hi Murray,
    nice post and a great article i guess its my first comment on your site will you please tell me which plugin you using to show related post images at the end of the post ?
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  • Matt Clarke March 4, 2012, 8:14 am

    I hadn’t heard of this movie until I saw the press reports of the Oscars publicity stunt. I like Baron Cohen movies and therefore I am now looking forward to seeing this one. As a marketing exercise it definitely worked because it was virtually free and as your chart shows it had almost 100,000 people sharing it online. I have worked in marketing for 15 years and I can categorically say from experience that film studios would pay thousands of dollars to get 100k people sharing their content. In that sense it was a masterstroke.

  • bbrian017
    March 3, 2012, 5:13 pm

    I agree the general consensus is if people are talking about you it’s good now matter what the result. People will still make their own decisions and if the works out in his benefit them all the power to him. Not much you can now but to sit back and to wait and see if it works.
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  • Andrew Bailey
    March 3, 2012, 1:40 pm

    I think it will work. As they say, “in television, any attention is good attention” (although I don’t know who “they” are!)

    if he’s got a new film or series coming out then for sure it’ll get attention no matter what peoples opinion was on twitter!
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    • Ricardus
      March 5, 2012, 1:35 am

      I think so too. He used it in every possible way to actually market his new movie. 🙂
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    • Dee Kumar
      March 6, 2012, 3:18 am

      Perhaps it is a little deeper then that.

      Years previously he turned up on the carpet to promote his film Borat in a similar stunt. By threatened to do it this year he got the media speaking way before the event, speculating as to what he would do.

      Now, he had no choice but to turn up in full dress. If he hadn’t then the media would never trust his threats again, however now, they will again believe he will do something newsworthy.

      Do not take the one day in isolation. He got plenty of coverage before the event, all aimed at the new film and he got plenty of coverage on the day as everyone was wondering what he would do.

      The stunt was pretty tame, but he lived up to the expectation that he would try and do something which he was not allowed, and thus walked off the red carpet.

      His PR team then released a video a day after which also went viral, with him in character talking about why dictators threw him off the carpet.

      This is a mass planned PR stunt that has put the film in everyone’s minds weeks before release. That is pretty genius.

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