Monday, 2 October 2023

RETROWURST: Du bist Deutschland October 2005


Well, this month’s rummage around the Extrawurst files has turned up a cracker. Eighteen years ago, the mood in Germany was at a pretty low ebb. To the rescue came the Du bist Deutschland  campaign, masterminded and funded by a consortium of media owners and ad agencies. 

While I thought the strategy was smart, I was a touch catty about the creative - and the logo. I didn’t mince my words eighteen years ago. While I’d probably put things a little more diplomatically these days, I stand by what I wrote. This film is so painfully worthy and unfortunately, this style of advertising has spawned a plague which still infects screens today. Even if you’re just advertising bog roll or deodorant.


Since Monday, 3rd October, the public holiday to celebrate German re-unification, a new multi-million advertising campaign has been the talk of the country. Now, Germans don’t usually talk about advertising much except perhaps when the advertising comes from Audi or Mercedes. However, this time, the advertising in question is about a subject very close to everyone’s hearts and tear-ducts here: the country Germany.


That the general morale in Germany is at a pretty low ebb and has been for the last few years should be no surprise to regular readers of Extrawurst. The recent election fiasco and embarrassing performance of the national football team have hardly helped matters but now at least it seems that an effort is being made to get Germany back on its feet again and the very fact that the campaign is being talked about is a good first step.


The campaign itself, “Du bist Deutschland” (“You are Germany”) was initiated by Gunther Thielen, head of media giant Bertelsmann a year ago. Together with ex-colleague Bernd Bauer, the two kick-started a sort of Band-aid action by getting all the heads of the blue-chip media owners and a few advertising agencies together to discuss Germany’s plight and a possible way out, by doing what they knew best. The result is a €34m campaign, involving 25 media companies who have given space and airtime with a concept developed by two of Germany’s leading advertising agencies. This is the biggest public information campaign that has ever run in Germany and will run from October through to January next year. The campaign itself can be seen on the website .


It is certainly true that Germany needs something to give it a kick up the Arsch if you’ll excuse my Deutsch. A survey from an insurance company (who I’m sure relish these sorts of results) this month found that 52% of Germans are “very afraid of the future”. A comparable figure for 1991 was 25%. With unemployment over 10%, no clear line from the government (or indeed, no clear picture of who or what the government is), German companies re-locating and producing overseas and a talent-drain, it is no surprise that “German Angst” is well-known the world over.


The objectives of the campaign are fine enough. The idea is to prompt a new mood of “can-do” and trust in every single person’s own strength and capabilities throughout Germany. The concept behind the campaign is all about small actions having big effects and is expressed in a “Manifesto” which appears on the website and is the text for the TV campaign. The idea is to lead with a “big bang” in national TV and print and for this to have a catalytic effect then for local activity and action: that each individual at the grass roots level should pick the thing up and run with it. Strategically, the concept seems OK to me although I would question the media strategy, especially as self-reliance and “picking something up and running with it” isn’t very German - they are not terribly good at rugby!


So far, so good. The Media-Aid guys have identified a problem and found a way to solve it. Good for them, even if the problem was blindingly obvious and the solution was borrowed from someone else twenty years ago-but this is not the place to split Herrs. But now we should really take a look at the creative work itself: you can see it for yourself on the website and you don’t really need to understand German or know who all the people are to get the idea. I will start with the so-called “Manifesto” which is the core of the campaign and the text of the 2-minute TV spot and attempt a translation. The manifesto starts with that well-worn cliché of catastrophe theory – that all-powerful butterfly, which I am not sure is too appropriate given the recent spate of horrific worldwide natural disasters:


“You are the miracle of Germany.

A butterfly can unleash a typhoon. The air moved by the flap of its wings can uproot trees a few kilometers away. Just as a breath can become a storm, your deeds can have an effect.

If you think that’s unrealistic then why do you cheer on your team in the stadium if your voice is so unimportant…You are Germany. Your will is like fire in the loins. It lets your favourite striker run more quickly and Schumi drive faster…”


I am sure you get the idea. This priceless prose goes on and on with more mixed metaphors about people being hands which are going to get dirty and being trees, which other hands (I assume dirty German ones) are going to pull out from the roots. There are more references to speed and no speed limits on the German motorways and the inevitable reference to the Wall and tearing it down. 


This prose is spoken, sentence by sentence in the 2-minute TV spot by a mixture of well-known and less well-known German faces against a variety of backdrops showing the diversity of the country and its people. All the usual suspects are here if you’re tuned in to German popular culture although those that live in other countries for tax reasons are conspicuous by their absence. Interspersed with the famous faces are a few “heroes of everyday life” - the proud lady toilet attendant, the matey shipbuilders and the stressed but optimistic Mum of many in a high-rise flat. The background music is pinched from the mawkish Hollywood blockbuster Forrest Gump.


The whole thing is, being kind, rather like one of those 1980s corporate ads to fend off takeovers that went on about “there is a company that…” in a droning posh voice where the shareholders dearly wished that they could have the millions that the production and the posh-voiced actor cost in their pockets as dividends instead. Or one of those awful charity record videos where each superstar tries to outdo the last in caterwauling in a really concerned and earnest way. Unfortunately, to my rather cynical English eyes, the spot looks and sounds rather like the opening credits to Little Britain. This is the major problem with the whole thing. The first step on the road to recovery when you’re down in the dumps is to be able to laugh at yourself, even in Germany. Unfortunately, the whole campaign is so toe-curlingly ernsthaft that I’m afraid that the viewer reaction is going to be to reach for the sick bag rather than the desired goose pimples.


One of the most toe-curling scenes, in my opinion, is one where an actor with Down’s syndrome, a gay folk singer and a coloured pop star get together in the holocaust monument. You sort of know what they are trying to say but unfortunately this ultra-political correctness raises all the wrong signals. The print campaign to go with this is even less well-executed, in my view. At least the TV takes present-day personalities, but the print harks back to specially selected heroes from the past: Dürer, Goethe, Einstein and -you’ve guessed it -Beethoven. 


Of course, no major campaign of this type should go logo-less and there is a nasty little logo with a sort of Mr Blobby effect character in the colours of the German flag, who is either doing hurdles in clown’s trousers or a goosestep and Hitler salute, depending on how you look at it.


I don’t really like to be so cynical, and I really did want to like this campaign but unfortunately the execution lets it all down. Even the media approach of big bang then trickle-down feels wrong. My instinct tells me that this would have worked so much better if it could have been built up, partly via clever word-of-mouth from a grass-roots level with activities and events on a local level which could then be celebrated in a big national whistles-and-bells spectacular. I also have the feeling in all this that actions speak louder than words. Too many celebrities pointing the finger, however gently, to tell me that I’m master of my own fate is just likely to upset the Germans further, rather than inspire them, as it might the Brits or the Americans. At an even more sinister level, although the campaign is apolitical, some critics have seen it as the government (whoever that is) finding the perfect way to shift the blame for the state the country is in back onto the individual. If you’re unemployed you only have yourself to blame and it’s up to you to get out of the hole you’ve dug.


Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t really see this campaign doing the trick. What might get Germany back on its feet again is winning the World Cup on home ground next year. But, fortunately for the rest of us, that is one thing that the media barons won’t be able to manipulate or buy, one hopes.


Well, I was almost right in my prediction. Germany didn’t win the World Cup in 2006 but they played a blinder when it came to hosting. Known as the Sommermärchen here, it was a summer of a brilliantly-organised football-love-peace-and-harmony-fest. And then we had Angie, and for a few years everything seemed to be going swimmingly.

But history always goes in cycles and what with Covid, war, recession and Germany not really getting its act together on the digital stuff, we’re now the Sick Man of Europe (or the World?) again. And the national football team is rubbish.

44% of Germans would rather live in the past, compared to 18% who’d rather live in the future. And nearly 60% of the 18 - 29s say they’d prefer the past (maybe 2006?).

But, but, but ... there’s always that thing about history repeating itself. 

Germany is hosting Euro 2024 next year. Can it work again?

Wednesday, 27 September 2023

Opening up to possibility


This 10,000 word essay may be the best thing I’ve read this year related to my work. Here’s my review:

I can thoroughly recommend this essay on the nature of the two brain hemispheres - what they do and what they’re like. Why we need both and why as a society we’re becoming left-dominated, with less appreciation of tone, irony, metaphor and humour.

Forget the simplistic, convenient explanation that “the left brain is rational and the right brain is emotional” - this isn’t the point. In McGilchrist’s own words, “one way of looking at the difference would be to say that while the left hemisphere’s raison d’etre is to narrow things down to a certainty, the right hemisphere’s is to open them up into possibility.”

Wise, erudite and indispensible.

Next step - investigate the website . I see that the excellent Orlando Wood is featured

Friday, 8 September 2023

The Last Campaign


I’ve been reading Campaign for more years than the 30 on this anniversary issue from 1998. My  introduction to the British ad industry’s rag was in my first job, working in the market research department of Spillers Foods. 

The trade magazines were divvied up amongst the market research department to scour for articles of interest. The most senior and glamorous of us got Campaign, the middle-ranking execs got Marketing and Marketing Week, and yours truly, the trainee, got The Grocer

I loved Campaign - it presented a fabulous world of creativity, eccentricity, wit and wisdom that I couldn’t get enough of.

Once I started working at Saatchi, the magazine was still read avidly and woe-betide anyone that snatched the Group Account Director’s copy before they’d had a chance to look at it.

I’ve had a subscription to Campaign for the 20 years I’ve been freelancing. While it’s been useful to keep in touch with the UK ad scene, I have to say that my interest has waned. Concurrently, the price of the thing has rocketed, even though it has gone 100% digital, which should save costs, by my logic.

From 2021 to last year, the price of my subscription rocketed +172%, and a further price hike of over 50% came this year. 

Campaign still has a few good articles and thought pieces - and I tend to then look up the authors and stalk, sorry, follow them on LinkedIn. But I’m afraid much of it falls into the Reinventing the past category for me.

With those ludicrous price hikes, I’ve come to the conclusion that Campaign has lost its value in terms of being informative, useful or entertaining. Money that can be better spent.

And there seem to be one or two alternatives that won’t break the bank.

So, cheerio, Campaign. Nice knowing you.

Friday, 1 September 2023

RETROWURST: Advertising Agencies September 2005


In September 2005, I indulged in a bit of navel-gazing about ad agencies, which may have seemed self-indulgent at the time. But it’s certainly fascinating to read with 18 years’ hindsight.

In this article, I referred to the “new media and internet specialists” who tended to lurk around Berlin. How quaint. And then, I was very snooty about mozzarella and cherry tomatoes on sticks.

On a positive note, I cheered German agencies' success at Cannes that year. And commented that Planning had perhaps achieved critical mass in Germany. Were the two connected? I wonder.


Last week, I attended the “Night of the Lions” in Frankfurt; one of the German advertising industry’s yearly highlights where hundreds of advertising types gather to see creatives getting their prizes and viewing the reel of the gold, silver and bronze film winners. I say “one of” for good reason. While, in the UK, I assume this sort of thing would always take place in London, the German advertising industry has a number of centres including Hamburg, Frankfurt, Düsseldorf and Berlin. In addition, many major (-ish) agencies have their offices in Munich or cities in the former East Germany, such as Leipzig. If there is any tendency at all to who sits where, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf tend to be the German offices of the multi-nationals with Hamburg being home to the original German agencies that grew up in the 1980s and early 1990s such as Springer & Jacoby and Jung von Matt. Berlin tends to house the newest agencies and many of the new media and internet specialists.


Although there has been much talk from the industry press of the revival of German advertising creativity after many years of doom and gloom, I did find my experience last week a bit like being in a time-warp. The event was held in a former tram depot all decked out in black with a bit of white, as were most of the rather earnest-looking guests. There were Caipirinhas at the bar and bits of mozzarella and baby tomatoes on sticks (which I have always considered the 1990s version of the 1970s cheese `n` pineapple). I’ve now been freelance for nearly three years and haven’t worked full-time in an agency for nearly five but it didn’t really look to me as if things had moved on much.


Working in advertising here in Germany (funnily enough, one never says “being in advertising” as one might in the UK) doesn’t really carry the cachet that it might in the UK or USA. Advertising is not really regarded as a profession here and certainly does not have the glamorous image that it might have in other markets. At a party, if you own up to “working in advertising”, the subject is quickly changed, rather as if you had admitted to having something to do with second-hand cars. You would be better off to try and disguise your role as a “consultant” in some way as this at least suggests better academic credentials. “Real” professions, such as being a doctor or a lawyer, are what buy you points here in Germany. So extreme is this tendency that even some of the creatives who went up to collect their gongs last week were announced as “Dr So-and-so” in a totally non-ironic way. Academic qualifications are often made much of in agency credentials presentations which came as something of a surprise to me, coming from a world where a PhD is something that a London-based creative is about as likely to own up to having as piles.


Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that one area of the German advertising industry which seems to be on the up at the moment is Planning. From my own perspective, it does seem that Strategic Planning in Germany has now achieved critical mass. The annual Open Event of the apgd in June seemed packed full of young faces and the organisation now seems to have got its act together in offering training for young planners. Although the apgd has been in existence for nine years now (I had the dubious privilege of sitting through its inaugural constitutional meeting) it was perhaps a little handicapped in its early years by an over-intellectual, inward-looking attitude (typified by endless humourless debates about “The definition of planning” “Whether one is a strategic planner or a creative planner” and an article laying out “a segmentation of planners.”)

In a typically German way, the most “intellectual” of advertising’s disciplines now seems to be feeding the right stuff to the creative folks to make some damned good ads. It is no surprise to learn that some of the agencies that did well at Cannes are those with a strong planning tradition: Springer & Jacoby, who have their own Planning Consultancy, Jung von Matt, where one of the MDs is a planner and chairman (female!) of the apgd and Heimat, where another Planner has his name over the door (unusual in German agencies.)


So, back to Cannes, or at least to that converted tram depot in Frankfurt. Germany has done rather well at Cannes this year, 4th overall in terms of Lions won, whereas they were struggling in the double-figure rankings just a few years ago. In fact, in the area of film, Germany achieved the joint third placing (with France) after the USA and UK in 2006 with a total of eight film Lions won.


It’s probably no surprise to here that many of these Lions, including the gold, were won for car advertising. The Germans are actually rather good at car advertising, just as they are rather good at cars. The gold winner, entitled “Sound of Summer” is a lovely piece of film for the Mercedes sports from Springer & Jacoby based on the visual creative idea of sound frequencies. This is a great spot that combines the German passions of cars and music, and you don’t see a single car (except in your imagination, of course). A bronze also went to S&J for their Mercedes C-Class spot and to McCann Erickson for their Astra spot where the car replaces the dog in the owner’s affections as “man’s new best friend.”


Another great German passion is DIY (I’m sure you’ll all have heard that here, the DIY enthusiast doesn’t just stop at a few shelves, he is more than likely to build his own house!). Another bronze lion went to the Berlin agency Heimat for their work for Hornbach DIY stores. Here, the German members of the jury had the difficulty of explaining the underlying concept of a member of a surrealist-nihilist-punk group reading the Hornbach catalogue aloud, but they succeeded, the films are a hoot in any language and Heimat deservedly won.


What appears to be a bit of an oddity on the prize list is Jung von Matt’s silver for K-Fee, which is a coffee product. Not a category so close to German hearts, you may think. Furthermore, the creative idea is a downright weird (if highly effective) demonstration of the product’s stimulating powers. You are lulled into a false sense of security by what you think will be a typical, clichéd advertising spot when something suddenly pops up and screams at you at a high decibel level. But here’s where the link happens. Guess what kind of cliché is used to lull you into that semi-comatose state? That’s right - a typical scene of a beautiful car driving through a rolling rural landscape. You can almost hear the “Sound of Summer” before the scream so rudely interrupts you.


Well, Hornbach are still making great ads, eighteen years on. 

What I perhaps wouldn’t have predicted is that the ‘Dr So-and-So’ syndrome has really caught on. Worldwide. Even in the UK. Ad people desperately trying to demonstrate their gravitas to keep the management consultants after their jobs at bay. The geeks and nerds really have inherited the earth.

Back then, I said that a PhD is something a London-based creative is about as likely to own up to as having piles.

These days, I think they’d probably own up to their “lived experience” of haemorrhoids, too, in the interests of empathy and authenticity.

I’m off to make some - ahem - mozzarella and cherry tomatoes on sticks.

Tuesday, 22 August 2023

Hip to be square


If anyone asked me which German brands have cracked it in terms of consistently distinctive and entertaining advertising, Hornbach would be on the list. Maybe top of the list. And here comes the latest campaign from HeimatTBWA for the Autumn. 

I remember from my IKEA days that living space per person is on the decline, through choice (sustainability) or necessity, or both. The creative idea in this camapign is to bring the (increasing)value of each square metre to life.

And what better way to do that than to use the little-used square film format to show that “every square metre deserves to be the best in the world.”

The beautifully conceived, constructed and produced commercial shows the life of a man who lives in a world of tiny spaces. A little bit Alice-in-Wonderland. The film features actual built room sets rather than special effect-trickery. It’s nicking a little from IKEA but nevertheless shows what’s possible when you let creativity and ingenuity loose in a small space.

And the music is brilliant!

Ja Ja Jippie Jippie Yeah!

Monday, 7 August 2023

BA: A quantity of quality


When I worked on the BA account, decades ago, the passenger survey struck me as one of the top reasons why quant surveys got a bad name. How could the categories of business or leisure really sum up the multiplicity of reasons for flying? Even (from memory) the third alternative, which may have been added later - visiting friends and family - didn’t add much. Well, that could cover anything from a wild and exotic party to your granny’s funeral.

I’ve been a bit sniffy about BA advertising in recent years, but since October last year, I’m sniffing no more. The brand launched their new campaign (by Uncommon Creative Studios) in October 2022. It’s based on the brand essence of “A British Original” - which is pretty neat, by the way, as the phrase can be applied to passengers, staff, journeys, innovations and the rest. The idea acknowledges that there are far, far more travel purposes than those described in the two boxes “business” and “leisure”.

This campaign is remarkable in its variety - 512 print, digital and outdoor executions plus numerous second spots. And, simultaneously, its coherence around one strong creative idea. None of the visual old or new cliches associated with airlines. Just great copywriting and clever art direction/use of media. The idea used contextual OOH - buses, tube stations - and also adapted to the weather, to the time of day, to news events. There were no surprises when it won the outdoor Grand Prix at Cannes.


This month sees an expansion of the campaign in OOH, print and social media with some clever contextual jiggery-pokery. From boat sails and jumpers ...

to cheese ...

And finally, BA isn’t the only big old mass-market brand getting it right with its advertising. I’m also a great fan of this cheerful follow-up to “Arches” for McDonalds.

Find your originality - then use it!

Tuesday, 1 August 2023

RETROWURST: Greece August 2005


Retrowurst was in holiday modus in August 2005, full of the many and varied joys of Greece. Food, football, holiday fun - but was this a short-term infatuation on the part of the Germans, following the Greeks’ Euro 2004 success?


The news is official- in Germany; at least, Greece is the new Italy. While that may sound historically incorrect (wasn’t it the other way around in the old days?) there does seem to be a gathering body of evidence here that Greece is taking over Italy’s pride of place in the Germans’ minds, hearts, stomachs and suntans!


It all started about a year ago with football. The surprise winner of Euro 2004 were the Greeks, who, from the opening game on surprised the crowds in the stadiums and in front of the TVs. While critics continued to point out that the football that the Greeks played was uninspired and ugly and others muttered about luck in a sort of sour-Retsina-grapes fashion, the Greeks progressed through the first round, the quarters and semis to the final itself. Now, criticism for playing ugly football and muttering about good luck are well-known to any supporter of the German football team and, if this wasn’t enough to get the Germans behind Greece once their own luck was (uncharacteristically early) up, a quick glance at who was on the sidelines was.


Otto Rehhagel, a not uncontroversial veteran of the Bundesliga as player and trainer, coached and trained the Greeks to victory. Rehhagel has often been criticized for his “old-fashioned” methods in his home country. He famously answered his critics with the reply “winning is what is modern.” Herr Rehhagel has not only gained a couple of name changes since the tournament (“King Otto”, Rehakles”) but also is now an honorary citizen of Athens and was voted “Greek of the Year” by a leading Greek newspaper.


The drama of Euro 2004 was followed closely by the excitement and pageant of the 2004 Olympics, the Opening Ceremony of which also featured Herr Rehhagel/Rehakles. Two weeks of surprise, scandal and achievement under the Greek sun certainly continued to whet German appetites for the country.


Some rather less culturally mighty events also saw Greeks triumphing. In the first German series of “I’m a Celebrity- get me out of here”, Costa Cordalis was crowned Jungle King. Costa Cordalis is a German-adopted Greek singer who had a couple of hit records in the 1970s which are still played at Karenval when people are too drunk to care how cheesy they are. For Costa Cordalis, you need to think Demis Roussos minus the kaftan and a few kilos. And, on the subject of tacky Europop, the Eurovision song contest was won this year by none other than Greece.


On the holiday destination front, many people in Germany, scared-off by terrorist activity in Turkey and Egypt or by natural disaster in the Far East are booking up holidays in Greece. Even the recent Helios plane crash has not much dented the impression that Greece is a “safer” holiday destination than many. Greece has never been associated with the sort of Club 18-30 excess (as in Kardemena for example) in Germany that certain Greek islands and resorts are known (and avoided) for in the UK. While Germany spawns just as many undesirable holiday-makers as the UK does, most of them tend to congregate in certain unsavoury bars and resorts in the Balearics. For historical reasons, the Greeks are probably more prepared to tolerate drunken Brits than drunken Krauts.

Greece has always been a little overshadowed by its two Mediterranean neighbours, Italy and Turkey, from a German point of view. Italy has long been a popular travel and holiday destination for the Germans from Goethe’s time onwards. After all, it’s just over the Alps and these days you can drive there in a day from all but the northernmost areas of Germany. Italy is to the Germans as France is to the Brits - the epitome of the desired lifestyle, food, drink and culture. Turkey is a more recent influence but a very noticeable one with the presence of a large Turkish community within Germany. Turkish shops and restaurants are widespread and popular with many Germans and Turkey itself is a well-loved holiday destination.


This year, however, tourism to Greece has really taken-off. It is almost impossible to get a flight at this stage of the season to any of the islands and many tour operators seem to be booked-out. At least every second person amongst friends, neighbours and colleagues seems to be holidaying in Greece this year.


The discount retailers have really picked up on this trend with Greek-themed offers throughout this summer. For example, Plus ( have a wide range of Greek products on offer this week. There is Imiglykos wine for €1.49 (you’d probably be prepared to sing-along to Costa Cordalis songs after this!), Eos Ouzo for €4.99 (ditto), Olive Oil from Krete, Zeus Zaziki and all manner of stuffed and marinated olives and peppers. It’s not just consumables on offer either: Plus also have a mosaic garden chair and table set, olive and pistachio trees, special dishes for the stuffed and marinated olives and all manner of table linen with an olive design on offer.


The other discounters such as Aldi and Lidl have also had their Greek ranges with everything from cookbooks to garden statues. So it certainly seems as if those that are unlucky enough not to have booked their flights to Greece early will never-the-less have ample opportunity to create their own Taverna in the back garden, sit back in their mosaic stools, slug back a bit of Ouzo and sing along to Costa Cordalis. For my part, I’m off to Paros at the end of September although it may well be that we’ll have had enough of Greece by then!


Sometimes, looking back at Retrowurst, I wonder where to start, as the changes are so fundamental. But, I can safely say that the German passion for Greece is still very much alive and kicking like a mythical winged horse. The discounters are still celebrating Greek weeks with regularity, offering Mythos and other goodies.

Fifty friends of ours celebrated a 25th wedding anniversary in Matala recently, and the Greece newbies were every bit as enchanted as those who’d been visiting for decades. And last Sunday, our local band managed a rendition of Griechischer Wein just before the heavens opened and rain stopped play - and Fest.