Sunday 24 April 2022

Bloomin’ Lemons


In my last post, I referred to a talk by Orlando Wood, which sent me down an Orlando-shaped rabbit hole in search of more of his wise and wonderful thinking. He has published two books, Lemon and Look Out, which sound well worth reading. And as a preview, there’s a 20 minute film, produced in June 2020, those heady days when we thought the pestilence was as good as all over ...

I don’t think a marketing-related film has ever made me feel homesick before, but I’m afraid this one did, with halcyon scenes of the Thames in all its midsummer glory. Where the Lemons Bloom starts with an anecdote about Goethe, and how working as an administrator for the Court of Weimar stifled his creativity, so much so that he took off and fled to Italy in the middle of the night.

This reflects Orlando’s premise: that advertising has become less effective over the last fifteen years or so, due to a shift to the left-brain mode. Flatter, more abstraction, less holistic, less employment of metaphor and humour. No doubt a consequence of the obsession with being “data-driven”.

And it’s not just marketing communications. Culturally, the effect is only too apparent - intense focus on particular words, often taken out of context. Obsessions with categorisation and labelling people. A widespread sense of humour failure and lack of appreciation of nuance. 

Is human intelligence becoming more artificial, I wonder?

Thursday 14 April 2022



I am not normally a fan of “social experiment” ads. There was a nasty spate of them a few years ago - either manipulative codswallop by beauty brands for “poor me” narcissists. Or po-faced offerings from previously jolly beer brands jumping on the latest Twitter trend. Patronising, preachy and pretentious stuff, instead of being informative, entertaining or useful.

However, when we’re talking life or death rather than cans of cheap lager or mostly-water body lotions, maybe such ideas can make a point. 

“First Aid for Humanity” is an ad by VMLY&R Poland for the Polish Red Cross, supported by BNP Paribas. The idea was a first aid training course that used dummies that not only looked like real people, but were modelled based on real people who have faced discrimination. These were a homeless man, a Muslim woman refugee and a genderqueer activist. The participants in the course were encouraged to set any prejudices they may have had aside. At the end, they met the people behind the dummies in real life to hear their stories.

Have a look here.

I listened to a talk by Orlando Wood the other day, and he mentioned that advertising that gets noticed employs metaphor, connections and relationships and is in some ways like a parable - it’s not telling you what to think, but leaving you to process it and work that out for yourself.

And of course, “First Aid for Humanity” is a 21st-century retelling of one of the greatest parables of all time - The Good Samaritan (see Luke 10: 25 - 37), about the man who “fell among thieves” and was ignored and left for dead by both a priest and an assistant priest of his own religion before he was rescued and cared-for by a man of a different and opposing religion. 

“First Aid for Humanity” is an effective piece of communication, but I did wonder if it could be have been even more effective if the dummies had gone beyond the “acceptable” victims of discrimination. 

What if your neighbour is a skinhead football hooligan with a few dubious tattoos?  

Monday 4 April 2022

RETROWURST: Alcopops April 2004

 Eighteen years ago in Germany, you couldn’t switch on the radio or TV without hearing Alcopops and Komasaufen discussed in hysterical, frenzied terms. This would be the ruin of an entire generation! Remember, this was back in the pre-smart phone and social media days, not to mention a certain pandemic, when young people went clubbing and dancing and raving and generally having a wild and crazy time. Retrowurst this month is from April 2004 and chronicles the market at that time.


There’s a bit of a Sturm brewing in a cocktail glass here in Germany at the moment with lots of talk in high places of dangerous drugs and teenage addiction. It’s probably a bit of a yawn to you in the UK, but the subject is ‘Alcopops’. While the UK and other European countries went through this in the 90s, the subject is only just becoming a matter of hot debate here. The question that is being mooted in the government is whether or not a Strafsteuer (penalty tax) should be applied to Alcopops. The consequence of this would be to double the price and (hope the government) collapse the market, which is exactly what happened in France in 1997. The reasoning behind this is that Alcopops are seen as a dangerous, seemingly innocuous but potent introduction to the slippery slope of alcohol addiction for young people. In an internet survey conducted via (one of the main news magazine programmes), 60.3% of the respondents agreed that Alcopops should be subject to a higher tax level.


I thought it might be interesting to trace the history of Alcopops’ development here in Germany and to take a look at the range of products currently available (maybe before they disappear for ever!). I think that one of the reasons that Alcopops took rather longer to take off in Germany is that there was never the same tradition of mixed drinks in this heavily beer/wine/schnapps dominated market. While the UK was in a Happy Hour frenzy of cocktails in the 80s, the German fad for ‘long drinks’ in clubs and discos and at Fests was rather more modest. Instead of the exotic concoctions served up in Rumours and the like in London, German ‘long drinks’ were restricted to Asbach Cola (German brandy), Bacardi Kirsch (Bacardi with Cherry) and Wodka Orange


However, two very interesting developments took place on the back of this, in the late 80s and early 90s. The first of these was Red Bull and its push as a mixer, typically with Vodka. Red Bull Vodka could be said to be the first German Alcopop, with its lurid colour and taste of melted Gummibärchen. The second development is even more interesting and does not show signs of slowing – and this was the development of individual sweet Schnapps bottles.


Small (0.02l) bottles of traditional Schnapps, such as Obstler or Korn had long been available, often worryingly (to UK eyes) placed with the sweets at the checkout of the supermarket or (even more worryingly) petrol station – a sort of impulse purchase, one assumes. However, in the late 80s, a trend started at Fests and parties for the social consumption of these little bottles, often accompanied by strange rituals, such as unison banging of the bottles on the beer table before opening, putting the cap on the end of your nose or making a spectacular domino display from the empty bottles. The new Schnapps leading this trend were sweeter in taste and slightly (but only slightly) less alcoholic (around 20% proof) than traditional Schnapps. The brands who led this trend with quirky advertising and very visible marketing campaigns were Kümmerling, Jägermeister and Kleine Feige. Other notable brands are Kober’s Pfläumchen and Berentzen Minis. The latter brand comes in a variety of flavours such as Sour Apple, Plum, Wild Cherry and Apple and are packed just like sweets in a plastic bag of ten little bottles for €4.99. Pfläumchen is packed in boxes of 25x 0.02l which sells at €8.99.


These little bottles of Schnapps were the forerunners to Alcopops, which really only arrived on the scene about 3 years ago. The big boys in the market, who seem to set most of the rules, are Bacardi Breezer (4x 0.275l for €6.29; available in full range of strange flavours) and Smirnoff Ice (6x 0.275l for €7.99). Bacardi Rigo (lime mix) is also available at €1.59 for a 0.35l bottle. These are, of course, off prices. Other players include Puschkin Vibe, 5.6% proof at €1.49 for 0.275l. This is a vodka mix and available in flavours called ‘Green’, ‘Black’ and ‘Red’. Caipi is a Cachaca mixed drink with lime and soda and is also €1.49 per bottle. Caipi is 5.4%, produced in the UK and imported by Borco-Marken Import, Hamburg. Another interesting product, which describes itself as a ‘wine cocktail’, with Lemon-Lime and Lemon-Ginger variants, is Viala Carma. This is also 5.4% proof and costs €1.49 for 0.275l.


The small, sweet Schnapps brands also offer Alcopops; for example, ‘Feigling Eyes’, a vodka mix drink from Kleine Feigling. This is 5% proof and only €0.99 a bottle. There is a website under


Aldi are also never slow to recognise a profitable idea when they see one and offer a range of Alcopops at very reasonable prices. Interestingly, most of these are produced in the UK. There’s Czerwi Fresh, which is Vodka and Lemon, 5.6% proof, 6x0.275l for €4.99 and Czerwi Sunseeker, a vodka mix in more exotic flavours such as Blue Orange, Red Berry and Mango. This sells at only €0.75 for a 0.275l bottle. Aldi also have a rum variant, ‘Old Hopking Whitey’ which is 5.4% proof and sells at €4.59 for 6x0.275l.


There’s a whole website dedicated to these drinks if you are interested, under


Whether the government legislation will go through or not remains to be seen but, despite all the talk, the problem of drunken teenagers doesn’t seem quite so visible here as in other countries, such as the UK or certain Scandinavian countries. It may be simply because alcohol is not so ‘prohibited’ at the moment, being available for next-to-nothing at every local Fest or fair, and all hours of the day and night at petrol stations, that there isn’t so much ‘bravado’ attached to drinking by young people here – it’s simply part of life.


The bubble burst not long after - on 1st July 2004, the Sondersteuer on Alcopops was introduced, putting around an extra €1 on each bottle, and naturally, sales went down as the government’s coffers were filled. I tend to think that Alcopops were never destined to make it quite so big in Germany, as you’re allowed to drink beer and wine here at 16 anyway, and the age limit for Alcopops is 18.

On top of that, Germany, like many other European markets, has seen a decline in alcohol consumption amongst the young. There are many factors at play here, some of which are highlighted in this report from 2018.  

Mixed drink marketing has concentrated more on the slightly older, more sophisticated drinker, with the Aperol revival and both gin and rum taking Germany by storm.

But that’s the official, commercial side. I do notice that those strange little sweet Schnapps bottles still seem to be widely available - and at remarkable prices that wouldn’t have been out of place in 2004: €8.49 for a 25 x 0.2l pack of Pfläumchen. 

And walk into any local yokel Fest and you’ll likely see buckets and watering-cans of Jacky-Cola and various Jägermeister mixes being swilled back as if it’s 2004. Only the age of the drinkers has changed: Alcopops are now officially nostalgia.