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.