Friday, 14 January 2022

Nothing new under the (shaded-off from the Earth) sun?


I do love all those lists of trends and innovations and predictions of stuff that’s really, eventually, going to happen this next year. A lot of these articles take the form of lists of 22-whatevers this year, and typical is this one from The Economist on emerging technology to watch in the next 12 months.

There’s a mix on here, of the here-we-go-again science fiction cliches (Flying Electric Taxis, Space Tourism), the ones that are already on my radar (if radar isn’t too primitive a technology to refer to) - the Metaverse, Hydrogen-powered Planes, Vertical Farming and Personalised Nutrition, for example.

And the ones where I think - yes - great idea - bring it on tomorrow! Container Ships with Sails, or Vaccines for HIV and Malaria, for example.

But with one of the 22, I sorted of shrugged my shoulders. I’m talking about Virtual Influencers - see Lil Miquela/Miquela Sousa above.

The article highlights how these virtual influencers won’t get embarassingly drunk at a party, or old and wrinkly, as if this was something new. But there were plenty of pre-teen/young teen virtual influencers back in the last century. And many of these are still influencing today - for example, the Scooby Doo gang selling sunglasses. In fact, Velma is probably responsible for the entire Geek Girl fashion industry single-handedly.

Whether officially attached to a brand, or generally influencing fashion and music, pre/teen characters have long been a tried and trusted standby to attract young audiences. Like today’s virtual influencers, they can’t grow up and commit some unspeakable crime, or be caught on camera associating with dubious and unsavoury sorts - it’s all nicely under control. And they can welcome new pals and chums into the gang to fit with the prevailing social climate, too.

It probably all started with these two:

By the late 80s, a “Kids’ Club/Gang” was almost a mandatory. At Saatchi UK, we worked on the launch of Burger King in the UK:

Maybe the most influencial virtual influencers in North America in the mid/late 20th century were these guys - and I think they are still going - they really nailed the multi-media thing, with comics, a TV show, a No. 1 international hit single, promotions with all manner of brands - for example, this carboard record you could cut off the back of a cereal box:

Pour a little sugar (or healthier option) on it, honey!

Once again, the technology changes but the idea (or need) not so much.


Monday, 3 January 2022

RETROWURST: Old Europe January 2004


I wonder, with some of my Retrowurst posts, whether they are worth resurrecting, but with this one, I have no doubt. The word of the year 19 years ago, back in 2003 was “Das Alte Europe” - a phrase tied up with the war in Iraq that came to symbolise a new-found positive self-confidence amongst Europeans.


In Wiesbaden sits a typically German Society, the GfdS (Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache) or Society for the German Language. At the end of each year, these eminent linguists announce the word of the year- the word that has somehow characterised the year and has been top-of-mind in the news. For example, the word of the year for 2002 was ‘Teuro’; a word made from a combination of the German word for ‘expensive’- ‘teuer’- and the Euro, which had been introduced as currency at the beginning of the year. The word Teuro summed up the general mood amongst the German people for the year 2002 and the earlier part of 2003- Germany had followed its role-model, the U.S, on the next step to being the ‘United States of Europe’ with their very own Eurodollars, but once they had them, all anyone could do was whinge about them. While the French simply ignored the Euros and carried on talking in Francs, almost everyone in Germany was guilty of using the Teuro word and regaling friends with sob-stories about how x cost exactly the same in Euros as it had in Deutschmarks (the exchange rate was approximately 2 DMs per Euro) at least once a day. There were campaigns on local radio and the local press, not to mention the Internet, to ‘name and shame’ Teuro terrorists - services and retailers guilty of this crime - with the zeal normally reserved for paedophiles.


This whole state of affairs was yet another symptom of a whinging, dispirited nation in a crisis of self-confidence, continually beating itself up. Every article in the business press bemoaned the lack of innovation and success behind German companies and brands and the words ‘crisis’ and ‘lack of self confidence’ characterised the tonality. Even though the German football team managed to get into the final of the World Cup, they were still criticised for playing dull, inspiring football. And in a qualification game for Euro 2004, they were unlucky enough to draw against Iceland. Immediately after the game, Rudi Voller was bombarded with criticism on the crisis facing the lacklustre team; one mediocre performance was held up as typifying everything that was wrong, uninspiring, dull, uncreative and resting on their laurels about German football. Rudi lost his rag, which was highly amusing to watch on live TV, with a line about ‘it’s all very well for you lot sitting here in the studio on your high horses drinking Weissbier’. But he had a point. Germans love to beat themselves up about failure - for a country with an urge towards efficiency and perfectionism; they can be mighty self-punishing and hard on themselves when the chips are down.


However, sometime in Spring last year, the tide turned, although I think it is only being acknowledged now. For the year 2003, the GfdS have chosen the phrase ‘Das alte Europa’ or ‘Old Europe’ as the word of the year. The phrase was originally a term U.S Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld used to disparage Germany and France for resisting war in Iraq but became a proud rallying cry for opponents of the war. As Rudolf Hoberg of the GfdS said: “The term ‘Old Europe’ was originally used as a provocation, but its meaning underwent a transformation and now stands for a new-found symbol for positive self-confidence among Europeans.”


Gradually, we began to see a change in Germany’s relationship with the US - and not just in the political sphere. Germany has had a long, somewhat unequal love-affair with the U.S, particularly when it comes to brands and marketing. This can be seen from U.S brands being held up as textbook examples in seminars and articles about brands with all the usual suspects present - Apple, e-Bay, Starbucks, Dell and the like- to the use of U.S English marketing tools and terms through to a rash of ‘American-Style’ product innovations, be it restaurants, pizzas, clothing stores, muffin mixes or bottles of cola beer. But now the love affair with the U.S is simmering down. There is a backlash against the Anglicisation of the German language and brand names like ‘Power Team’, ‘Big Gum’ or ‘Pick-Up’ are now confined to products for the under 8s who still find such things ‘cool’ although the German word ‘geil’ is the more favoured expression in the playground. Instead of American-style Deep Pan pizzas with gaudy stars and stripes packaging, authentic Italian (Old Europe) pizzas with Parma Ham and rocket are taking over the freezer cabinet.


Having shown that they mean to do things their own way in the world of politics, I believe Germany may well follow suit in the world of marketing this year. Instead of ‘innovating’ with pale Starbucks-imitation coffee and bagel chains or stars-and-stripes Colabeer, I believe that Germany (Old Europe) will look to its own past (still avoiding certain time periods!) in order to innovate for the future.


This could consist of developing Germany’s own Icon brands, rather than continually looking enviously at the U.S Icons. Audi, Mercedes, Milka, Steiff, Lufthansa, Nivea, Krupp, Bosch, Adidas- the list is endless. Although some of these may not shout so loudly on the global stage, these brands are no less iconic than Marlboro, Harley-Davidson or Coca-Cola. Indeed, with the values of authenticity, heritage and quality that these brands have, they are particularly well-placed to appeal to those who value the ‘genuine article’ all over the world.


Germany is also good at looking to the past and re-inventing. The new Beetle and Audi TT are both good examples. It doesn’t have to be Germany’s past either if we see what BMW has done with the New Mini. The Adidas Retro range and the revival of beloved DDR brands (see and ) are also good examples.


Doing the same but differently is another way to innovate. The Germans, in case you missed it, won the World Cup in football again last year - with the women’s team! 


Well, I think the love affair with the US well and truly fizzled out once Mr Trump was at the helm, but Europe (old or new) as such is in a pretty sorry state as far as self-confidence goes.  Brexit, Covid and rattling of sabres at the European borders are seeing to that.

Still, even if the new German government have yet to prove themselves, it’s pleasing to see that the big German brands, including the discounter retailers Aldi and Lidl have a reasonably strong presence on the world stage.

And the values underlying the classic German brands - authenticity, heritage and quality - couldn’t be more fitting for a world increasingly concerned about sustainability. Long live “Made in Germany”!

Tuesday, 21 December 2021

From one Heile Welt to the next


When I first came to Germany and listened to people in group discussions talking about advertising (mostly TV advertising in those days), one phrase I heard again and again was Heile Welt. It’s a phrase that doesn’t translate exactly into English, but the idea is of an undamaged/unhurt/unbroken world. It’s a bit like a Utopia, but presented as if it just could be reality.

Advertising in those days in Germany was more influenced by US-style advertising typified by P&G than the more self-deprecating humour, or surreal flights of fantasy found in UK advertising at the time.

The Heile Welt had some typical tropes - flawless skin, happy nuclear families, white washing and sparkling homes, svelte and beautiful career women tossing manes of glossy hair around, endless summers in a countryside idyll, wise and knowing loving grannies in cosy rustic kitchens, square-jawed men driving impossibly shiny cars up picturesque mountain passes ... R.E.M’s Shiny Happy People wherever you looked.

I think, in those days, most people watching knew the rules of the game. It was only advertising, after all.

In the last few years, there has been a greater call for authenticity in brand communication. More reflection of “real people” (what other kind are there?) and “real life” as well as more representation of today’s diverse society

But have we exchanged one Heile Welt for another?

I suspect, looking at this year’s selection of Christmas ads, that we have.

Advertising has moved from material or appearance-related aspiration to what I’d call emotional aspiration. 

People in ads these days - from tiny tots to great-grandparents  - are caring and generous. Inclusive, tolerant and kind. Feisty and resilient. Empathetic and compassionate.

But I can bet you that these models of new EQ standards make some people feel as inadequate as the impossibly slender models of the last century’s beauty standards (by the way, I’ve always wondered if there's some ministry hidden away somewhere busily setting all these standards that the new advertising is so keen to disrupt and smash).

This kind of advertising is no more “authentic” than the stuff from the last Heile Welt. Real homes are messy, and so are real people, emotionally. On a good day, I can be a model of empathy and compassion, but on other days I can be downright spiteful and pig-headed. It’s called being human.

I don’t mind a bit of emotional depth in advertising, but I’d ask agencies to be more honest - or even authentic - about what they’re producing. 

Good story-telling that pulls at the heartstrings is nothing to be ashamed of - but just don’t pretend that it’s real life.   

Monday, 13 December 2021

LOAT-al Hero?

 One of my very first posts about new brands on Extrawurst had a look at the (then) phenomenon that was mymuesli . This was back in 2008 when Facebook was a novelty and personalisation meant getting your name engraved on a pen, or something. The idea of mass customisation seemed a brave new world indeed, and for quite a few years afterwards I held this up as a favourite when it came to new, start-up brands, maybe because it wasn’t, productwise, in the tech field.

mymuesli is no longer a start-up, more part of the establishment, although a quick flit around the website revealed a rather sad notice that they no longer deliver to the UK “due to Brexit.” And once you’re establishment, there are always young pretenders yapping around in the hope of seizing your crown.

Enter another duo of young German chaps with a good idea. Philipp Reif and Tim Horn have backgrounds as IT specialists (at Deutsche Bank and Telekom) and sportsmen, who saw a gap in the market for quick-to-prepare healthy breakfasts. They introduced Oatsome Smoothie Bowls in 2017 -  an idea that’s part mymuesli, part Huel, part Ben & Jerry’s (note the quirky flavour names). With their background, it’s no surprise that Philipp, Tim and their colleagues develop recipes as one would develop software - testing and learning, failing fast, and all that stuff. Proof that this can work for the traditional food industry?

The company seems to be doing well so far. Sales are in the 10s of millions of €s, the company is profitable, and they have hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers. According to this article, they are learning from mymuesli’s mistakes of rushing offline and expanding too quickly. And I’m proud to say they come from just down the road, on the Hanauer Landstrasse.

It’ll be very interesting to see - in another 13 years - what has become of both of these brands. But maybe I’m now showing my age in that longevity may not be the aspiration these days.

Thursday, 2 December 2021

Grotto or grotty?

RETROWURST is taking a break this month because lazy little me didn’t write any articles in December back in the 2000s as I was probably too busy dashing and blitzing around doing Christmas shopping. But the series will be back in 2022.

Yes, Christmas shopping. There are reminders on the radio - have we bought all our presents yet? I have bought one, and was quite proud of having already done so in November before I heard all those smug so-and-sos with only one still left to buy. 

I am not relishing the thought. Somehow the magic of Christmas past and the twinkling welcome of Santa’s grotto is lost in a mire of masks, pandemics and it’s-all-easier-online-but-bad-conscience-haunting-me.

I’m not sure if the experience was ever that magical, anyway. My only memory of Santa’s grotto in Harvey’s department store in Camberley was being given an empty box. I think amends were made, but still.

But we can dream, and take a shopping trip through the streets, windows, lights and paper catalogues of the past:

There’s shopping in style, even when you’re on public transport. Just don’t spill mulled wine on those collars or cuffs:

Christmas didn’t have to be gaudy. Post-war shortages aside, this was a world where black and white was the norm, certainly as far as brand communications and broadcast media/entertainment went:

Hamleys was the mecca of tinsel and toytown. The 1926 ad offers a number of most suitable gifts for children including “The Crown Tavern”, a pup named “Looney” and what looks like an interrogation device. 60 years later, the store tried a "Teddy Bears’ Picnic meets 333 Men in a Boat” approach:

Does anyone have time or inclination in these pandemic days to linger looking at shop windows? Even war didn’t stop Selfridges in 1916:

This picture, of 1960s Regent Street, seems to sum up my earliest memories. A quick blast of Nina & Frederik, and I’m back there.

Monday, 29 November 2021

Tschüss, Mutti!


 I don’t know if there has, or will be, one of those Barbie collectors’ dolls of Angela Merkel, but somehow the commemorative teddy bears seem more apt. Not made by Steiff, but by another German family firm that’s been around for over a hundered years, the teddy bears are of the typical mohair variety with added Merkel touches - the distinctive hairsytle, the red jacket, the necklace in red, black and gold.

Angela Merkel became Chancellor over 16 years ago, in a Twitter- and iPhone-less world.

The public perception of a country is influenced considerably by the personality of its leader - and with a larger-than-life personality, disproportionately so, as was the case with Donald Trump. Angela Merkel is at the other end of the scale to Mr Trump, but on the other hand, the world has had sixteen years of her presence as leader of Germany. While some leaders are all about show, Mrs Merkel projects an impression of substance/integrity and diligence, and the Christian part of her party’s name, and her strong faith result in an impression of universal humanity and decency. But there’s also a feeling that too much is rooted in the past, with a cautiousness or resistence to change. Whether Germany’s slight reluctance to leap, devil-may-care, into the brave new digital world will be the undoing of the nation remains to be seen.

Back in 2009, I wrote a post entitled The Lady’s not for Branding about Angela Merkel’s imperviousness to branding. A lot of it still applies, although journalists have taken to the “Mutti” nickname and the “iconic” (bleurgh!) colourful jackets and “diamond” hands with glee. 

I imagine that Angela Merkel has the same reaction to being referred to as “iconic” as to the commemorative teddy bears - mild amusement. But I expect we’ll never know how she really feels, and maybe things are good that way.

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Quadratisch, praktisch, gut


Wie Werte Marken stark machen by Nina Rieke and Hans-Christian Schwingen, published by Haufe, is one of the few business books in German that I have attempted to read. But I’m glad I did. Here’s my review:

There’s so much goobledegook and pontification about Brand Values and Purpose these days that it’s refreshing to have a concise, readable handbook for marketers and strategic planners that is rooted in practice.

This book puts forward the case for values-led brands in today’s “glass box” society, and provides a working model to define a unique navigation needle for the brand, based on values. This is derived from looking at the brand’s potential and matching this to what is going on in the category/market, in individual customers’ lives and society as a whole. The sytem avoids strings of nebulous attributes as well as trendy bandwaggon issues by rooting everything in what’s inherent in the brand.


Nicely-produced, easy-to-read (N.B. only available in German as yet) and concise (yes, time is valuable, too) with examples - it would be good to see a few more non-US examples of brand manifestos, but these will hopefully come in the next edition.


A smart, valuable book.