Sacha Baron Cohen’s movie Borat was, to say the least, not very flattering to the nation of Kazakhstan: the title character, presented as a cultural emissary from the Central Asian country, is misogynistic, anti-semitic, and generally pretty racist. And yet, after the film was released in 2006, Hotels.com said that requests for information about the country’s accommodations increased by 300 percent.
It turns out there’s a branch of marketing research that draws a line from this Borat effect to the slew of advertising earlier this year that was intended to dissuade people from signing up for insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Niam Yaraghi, a researcher at the Brookings Institution recently tried to determine the impacts these ads had on enrollment. His analysis, which he detailed in a blog post, compared states' per-capita ad spending with their enrollment rates, and found that it was often the case that the more money spent on anti-ACA ads, the more Americans signed up for coverage—a trend made more impressive by the fact that, in the run-up to this fall’s midterm elections, the advertising budget of the ACA’s opponents was about 15 times the size of that of the law's supporters.