Monday, April 15, 2013

Depardieu & Azeri Gastrodiplomacy

Many of my American friends couldn't understand the warm welcome Gérard Depardieu received in Russia and other former Soviet countries after he made the headlines earlier this year. But yes, the French actor is well-known and much-loved in the CIS region particularly thanks to many of his co-appearances with Pierre Richard, in what must have been more acceptable "Western" cinema in USSR.

And now, he's back to reclaim his fame, and help many of those countries (along with their far-from-democratic leaders) "put themselves on the map". For the details, I'd highly suggest reading a piece by EurasiaNet from earlier this year. But here, I wanted to point out a tourism ad for Azerbaijan that was just released on YouTube yesterday.

Memorable line: "The country who has that kind of food is obviously a smart country." [wink-wink]

Apparently, he had signed this contract back in 2011, and the ad was made specifically to air on EuroNews. Smart "gastrodiplomacy", you say?

Ideally, this would have been a wonderful nation branding example by a country that has been struggling with its image issues, especially in Europe, for a while, now. However, choosing Depardieu -- the "outcast" -- as its public (or "gastro" -- if you will) diplomat, to deliver the message to Europe does not seem to be the best idea. I know, the contract was signed two years ago, waaay before the scandal and all other outrageous Depardieu appearances. But then, it also signals a lack of understanding of concepts such as credibility and audience segmentation, and especially their importance in nation branding [after all, the target audience here is Western Europe, and not the CIS, which is still in awe of the actor].

Let alone the centrality of public diplomacy of deed. But then, the focus here is on tourism, so I guess we should just refer to the good old marketing and branding talk. Still, can't wait to see the reception this ad gets in Western Europe.

Would be glad to hear your thoughts on this, too!

P.S. - This can also be seen in light of the major Armenian-Azeri "cuisine war", which - much like the Nagorno Karabakh conflict - remains unsettled. As they say on Twitter: #funnysad.

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