Tuesday, 6 June 2023

Bloomin’ lovely!


Now here’s an idea that takes outdoor advertising to a whole new level. It’s spectacular, good for the environment and right on-brand. And it involves collaboration between one of Germany’s branding giants and a small start-up agency. Plenty of boxes ticked aleady.

The project, “Magenta Blossom” is a nature sponsorship for Deutsche Telekom. Fields near Euskirchen, an area as big as 56 football pitches, have been planted with millions of wild flower and herb seeds. Come August, the whole lots will bloom in the form of a “T” logo in the brand’s distinctive magenta colour, as well as the sustainability hashtag #GreenMagenta.


The agency involved are a (as yet) small outfit from Munich who specialise in uniting the interests of framers, nature and companies. They’re called GEOXIP   and are whizzes at precision sowing, amongst other things. As well as looking magnificent and colourful, all those blooms will atrract bees and help to regenerate the land, improving soil quality.

Everything will be coming up roses. Or similar.

I’m also wondering how long it will be before more of those stories about farmers selling advertising space on cows will recirculate. Moo. 

Thursday, 1 June 2023

RETROWURST: Vegetarianism June 2005


For this month’s Retrowurst, I’m biting into a rather meaty topic. Or not. Back in 2005, I could count the number of true vegetarians that I knew in Germany on the thumbs of two hands. And I remarked that vegetarianism seemed rather less militant and in-your-face here in Germany compared to the UK. How have things developed in the last 18 years? Has Sauerkraut Strudel taken over the world? Or is Schlachtplatte still the order of the day?


The other day, I came across a rather unusual situation in Germany - at a lunch for twelve people, half of these decided that they wanted a vegetarian option rather than the roast pork (no surprises there!) that was on offer. The restaurant was extremely obliging and managed to conjure up six portions of something rather tasty involving aubergines in less time than it takes to say Schweinshaxe und Sauerkraut.


What was unusual was that so many of the party wanted a vegetarian option: maybe, predictably enough, all were female, but, interestingly, no-one was actually a “real” vegetarian – it was just that it was a hot day, we were eating outside and fancied something a bit lighter than slabs of roast pork and gravy. In fact, I can count the number of “real” vegetarians I know here in Germany on the thumbs of two hands, whereas almost everyone I know in the UK is either a vegetarian, a “demi-veg”, a poultry-and-fish only, whatever that’s called, trying to cut down on red meat, has given up beef since BSE or is going through some phase involving some combination of the above.


I tried to find some figure on the internet to support this apparent absence of vegetarians and found that, actually, there are more vegetarians in Germany than in the UK, in terms of pure numbers and that around the same % (about 7-8%, depending on which survey you look at) in both countries are actually vegetarian. These figures seem to contradict people’s experience: for visitors from the UK who have a vegetarian inclination, Germany does not seem a particularly vegetarian-friendly place. I often hear complaints that even innocent-sounding soups, fried potatoes or salads turn up with pieces of bacon or other meat in them and that there don’t seem to be very many vegetarian options on menus, let alone vegetarian restaurants.


My first observation on this apparent paradox is this: in Germany, vegetarianism is perfectly acceptable but the vegetarians themselves are not as vocal and “militant” as they may be in the UK. In good restaurants, vegetarian options are always available, but you have to ask for them. The chef will then prepare something almost tailor-made to your tastes and to what is in season. In Italian, Turkish or Greek restaurants, the usual meatless choices are there for the taking (or eating-in) but no menus are emblazoned with V-Signs or other symbols of militant vegetarianism. There are no trendy vegetarian cooks on the TV or blatant “veggie-only” brands of ready-meals in the freezer cabinet. Vegetarians in Germany hide their light a little under a cabbage leaf. What vegetarian restaurants there are tend to be in a bit of a 1970s sackcloth and sandals time-warp- humble, worthy and unassuming. Although vegetarianism has grown since the BSE crisis, there just doesn’t seem to be the “noise” about it that one finds in the UK. Perhaps it doesn’t help that one of the German-speaking world’s most famous vegetarians was He Who Must Not Be Named.


In contrast to the unassuming vegetarians, meat-eaters in Germany are a proud and loud lot. The Germans are totally unapologetic about meat, and no-one is regarded as a pig or a glutton if they manage to devour three or four large steaks at a barbeque - and that’s just the women! A good proportion of red meat in the diet (as long as it is from pigs or cows of German origin) is regarded as normal and healthy and certainly not something to be ashamed of or to try and cut back on. There is a total lack of squeamishness about meat and its origins here. Whereas meat is trimmed and shaped and then wrapped in layers of plastic in the UK supermarket, traditional butchers here still enjoy a roaring trade; meat is minced, sliced or carved with skill and pride before your eyes in Germany. No-one gets too upset about bones, meat on the bone or identifiable parts of the animal here. At one wedding I attended, the main dish was Spanferkel or roast suckling pig (and no, there wasn’t a vegetarian alternative although one could have gnawed on a pretzel or two) and the pigs’ heads were put on display and even photographed amid the other decorations on the buffet table, something that my UK sensibilities found a little odd. Small Gasthofs and pubs will regularly hold something called a Schlachtfest, where meat and sausages from a newly slaughtered pig will be consumed with great gusto. And I remember another occasion where a vegetarian friend of mine from Switzerland turned an interesting shade of green and almost had to leave the table as he watched a group of slim young girls (the types that look as if they survive on lettuce leaves and grated carrots) devouring boiled pork knuckle off the bone in an Apfelweinkneipe in Frankfurt.


So there you have it – it is not so much that vegetarianism is absent or frowned-upon in Germany- it is simply that it can’t make itself heard above the raucous meaty cacophony that is integral to German life. Perhaps it is because the German meat industry has, as yet, proved itself to be BSE free or perhaps it’s because the Germans are so much closer to the land than we Brits, but the day of getting the average German to swap his Schnitzel for a courgette crumble looks to be in the far-distant future, if at all.


The first thing that struck me, reading this again, is that I have zero memory of that aubergine lunch, which is rather worrying. Perhaps I made it up. The second thing that’s interesting is that there’s no mention of “vegan”, “plant-based” or “climate change” whatsoever in that article.

Diet has become political in the last 18 years, here in Germany too, with the Greens in power. And this makes it difficult to figure out what is actually happening. I found plenty of articles in UK news sources to suggest that Germans are going vegetarian en masse. But on closer inspection, these are mainly based on interviewing young trendies in Berlin, and an excuse for dreadful punny headlines involving the word Wurst. Who on earth would resort to such cheap journalism?

What reasonable-looking data I could find suggests that vegetarianism is around 10% of the population in both the UK and Germany. And I’d probably have to summon fingers and thumbs on both hands now, especially when it comes to my son’s friends. But on the other hand (hang on, I’ve used both already in the last sentence), meat consumption in Germany is still pretty high compared to the UK and not really falling that much.

I suspect that, as usual, the answer is “both”. More flexitarians and people dipping into veganism and vegetarianism when it suits them, but also more people enjoying the increasing variety of meat and meat products offered. 

And one brand that has got catering for all down to a fine art is Rügenwalder Mühle - a trusted brand that’s been making sausage and cold meat products for nearly two centuries, but is also knocking out credible vegan products faster than you can say Bierwurst.  

Monday, 22 May 2023



I’ve got a list of books that isn’t so much To Be Read as At-Some-Point-In-My-Life-This-Looked-Terribly-Interesting-And-I’ll-Make-A-Note-Of-It-And-Read-It-One-Day. Many of these never get read and drift to the oblivion of the depths of the list. The Savage Girl by Alex Shakar is one that I rescued just before it floated off into obscurity. I’d noted it about ten years ago, when the book was already ten years old.

Here’s the review I published. I wasn’t too savage, but it wasn’t an easy book to read:


The Savage Girl


Without giving away too much, the subject of cryogenics features in “The Savage Girl”, and I felt rather as if I’d defrosted something frozen in time, or opened a time capsule as I read this novel. It was written at the turn of the 21st century, certainly pre-social media and Web 2.0 which makes it oddly quaint in places. 


The novel is a satire on marketing, trend-forecasting and the consumer society. Not the sort of book I normally read for leisure, but I’ve worked in advertising and marketing more years than I care to mention, so thought I’d give it a go.


I found the novel quite difficult to get into. Because of its age, a lot of what may have seemed futuristic at the time of writing seems a bit - so what, or what the? - today. One character sits looking at an array of giant computer screens, pulling out patterns. Well, today we have ChatGPT and tomorrow who knows? The characters are by-and-large grotesques - not human enough for you to care about any of them, yet not outrageous enough to be amusing. Sometimes, it all seemed a bit pretentious and just too clever for its own good.


Having said that, there were some excellent ideas along the way. The story forsees lots of stuff going on today - the metaverse and virtualism, shifting truths and echo chamber bubbles. I did cringe at some of the passages evoking those ghastly bullsh*tty brainstormings and insight sessions that I’ve participated in. And the concept of “Paradessence” - paradoxical essence or “two opposing desires that a product satisfies simultaneously” (such as stimulation and relaxation) - is spot on. “The job of a marketer is to cultivate this schismatic core, this broken soul, at the center of every product.”


The question of whether we are heading for the “Light Age” - the optimistic view - or the “Lite Age” was also interesting once I finally got the distinction.


All-in-all, thought-provoking in places, but wish I’d read this novel when it (and I) were 20 years younger.  


Theres a long lecture by one of the obnoxious characters in the book, which examines Ernest Dichters The Strategy of Desire, Soviet propaganda and American marketing, and the development of irony and now - post-irony. All interesting ideas, which are commented on in this review and interview with the author. 

The “Paradessence” idea is one I’ve banged on about frequently in this blog - and I liked the examples in the book:

Coffee - stimulation and relaxation

Air travel - sanistised adventure, exoticism and familiarity

Ice cream - eroticism and innocence

And while one character refers to this as “a schismatic core/broken soul”, his less cynical colleague expresses it as the “magic” - the sneakers that enable you not just to grip the earth and stay grounded, but to soar into the air and your dreams, too.

I wonder how much money has been made over the years from touting the paradox-resolution brand essence idea around, dressed up with a clever-clogs name and a fancy model?  

Friday, 12 May 2023

Find the gap?


A recent campaign from Nurofen has alerted me to a whole rich seam of Home-Grown Problem: Solution advertising that brands can dig into. An appropriate metaphor, as this is all about digging your own gap, and presenting your brand as the superhero that’s going to come along and right all wrongs and injustices.

It all started, probably, with Equal Pay Day and the Gender Pay Gap, which I remember working on with IKEA back in the 2000s. Nothing wrong whatsoever with bringing this inequality to public attention. Equal Pay Day itself was set as how far into the year women must work for nothing to be on the same standing as men. It’s cheering that the date has moved forwards from 26th March in 2010 to 7th March this year. Still work to be done, but good progress.

Now, back to Nurofen. This brand has discovered a “Gender Pain Gap” and created a campaign called “See My Pain” to help to close it. According to Campaign, “Fifty per cent of women feel ignored or dismissed by their GP when it comes to their pain compared to 36% of men.”

Aha! A villain of the piece - UK GPs. A quick search and I found that in the UK, 55% of GPs are female and 45% are male. Hmmm. If I was a  GP and had studied for years to get there, I don’t think I’d take kindly to brand and advertising people giving me a lecture about being sexist and ignoring women’s pain.

It doesn’t help that the creative execution is painful in the extreme. All the usual suspects are there in the film: plinky piano music, tearful testimonials, “victims” telling their authentic stories. And on the website, there’s a ghastly line that looks as if it has escaped from a potboiler paperback in the bargain bookshop’s sale: 5 Women. 5 Stories. 1 Painful Truth.

It’s the sort of thing that feels like a parody and makes me ashamed to be in advertising.

Unfortunately, Campaign is behind a very expensive paywall (a topic for another time) but reading the list of credits for the campaign, my jaw dropped. I won’t name the agency as you can look it up, but it’s one that has a main bit and a specialist health bit. Credits used to mention the main people who created and produced a film. But just looking at my line of work, the following were named from the main agency: Head of Planning, Planning Partner, Planning Director, Planner. Then from the health agency: Planning Director, Senior Strategist - Social Sciences, Senior Expert Strategist. 

7 Planners. 7 Excessive Salaries. 1 Crap Commercial?

Going back to those gaps. Yes, seek and ye shall find. Gaps, seams, unlevel playing fields. All humans are vulnerable to injustices of one sort or another. 

But that doesn’t make us all victims.  

Wednesday, 3 May 2023

RETROWURST: Public Holidays May 2005


Here we go on another trip back in time, to my reflections on the merry month of May in Germany, with its glut of public holidays. Off I went, following the tipsy processions through the fields and woods, slurping down Maibowle on the way.

I must have got bored of that topic as the article then lurched into the subject of greeting cards in Germany. If my memory serves me correctly, I had a project on the go on this theme.


It’s May and that annoying time of year again, if you work in the UK, when every time you call your colleagues in Germany or other continental countries, they seem to be having yet another public holiday or, worse still, they had a public holiday yesterday, which was Thursday, and are having the Friday off for good measure.


Public holidays come thick and fast after Easter here in Germany; there’s the first of May, of course (although we don’t move this around if it inconveniently falls on a weekend as it did this year; it would be most un-German to call the third the first, or whatever) and then we’ve just had Father’s Day and Mother’s Day in quick succession. Mother’s Day is understandable enough; this is the same as in the UK (on a Sunday) except that it’s in May instead of March, possibly to provide a better fresh seasonal flower selection. Father’s Day is a little more difficult to understand- it is actually Himmelfahrt or Ascension Day in the Christian Calendar but has been hi-jacked somewhere along the way to celebrate all that is manly and fatherly. Typically, it is a good excuse for men to go out for a long walk through the woods and fields, pulling a little cart heavily stocked with beer and Schnapps. These expeditions start fairly early in the morning and the progressively drunken procession lurches from one beer garden to the next, occasionally topping up in-between from the little cart. Sons are often included from a relatively early age, usually as an insurance measure to pull the cart or find the way home once the fathers become incapable. All this is rather different from the genteel coffee, cake and flower arrangements that constitute the typical Mother’s Day. So much so, that, recently, in the spirit of equality, groups of women can now also be observed on Father’s Day, crashing through the foliage to enjoy the odd glass of Prosecco.


No sooner are Father’s and Mother’s Days over than is Pfingsten or Whitsun and another long weekend (elongated even further in Frankfurt with the celebration of Waldchestag, or Woods Day on the Tuesday- yes, you guessed it- more drunken lurching and frolicking in the woods!) upon us. Sometime in late May or early June is Fronleichnam (or Happy Cadaver as I once heard it charmingly referred to; actually Corpus Christi) then that’s the lot in most of Germany except a few extreme Catholic strongholds until the frightening-sounding Tag der Deutschen Einheit in October.


You would think, what with Christmas and Easter and birthdays to add to all this, that the greetings card industry in Germany would be huge, but there you’d be wrong. Whereas, in the UK, Hallmark and their ilk have capitalised on the North American willingness to celebrate or commiserate every possible event or non-event of human life’s rich tapestry in card format, the greetings card market in Germany is under-developed which may be a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. 


Starting with Christmas, the card selection is rather sparse. Maybe the Germans think that they are being damaging enough to the environment by insisting on real Christmas trees for all without then wasting the paper that’s involved in Christmas cards to every distant relative and acquaintance, including the dustmen. There are certainly no “bumper boxes” of 50 cards with the only nod to bulk-buying being packets of six postcards of snow scenes or candles. What cards there are have a very traditional flavour- you won’t find anything with “cool yule”, smutty poems about drunken reindeer or retro photos with 21st century captions here. And these cards are mostly sold singly.


When it comes to birthdays, there is a market but it’s somewhat limited. Your choice tends to be amongst “funny cards”, which resemble those “funny cards” you used to get in the UK in the 1970s- tall and thin with very thin sub-Carry-On humour, cards that even most grannies would find too twee or the pre-teen girl selection featuring either Diddl (a mouse with oversized feet who I think hails from Austria) or those grey patchwork teddies who look like baby seals waiting to be clubbed. For younger children, there is little sign of the whole character merchandising industry anyway and especially not on birthday cards. Whereas you’re confronted by Bob, Postman Pat, the Tweenies, the old Disney favourites and the latest Disney/animation heroes from the first birthday onwards in the UK, you would be very lucky to find a birthday card that even has an age on it in Germany (unless it’s an age over 60 - as I’ve said before, Germany is a very old-friendly country where seniority is a badge to be proud of!). 


For other occasions (with the notable exception of condolence cards), the choice is very narrow indeed: even those “no text all purpose” cards are rather hard to come-by. In addition, what there is tends to be very bland and generally inoffensive, verging on twee. Cards for new babies, for example, are almost never funny but show, instead, rose- or baby blue- tinted symbols and images of unrealistic infant perfection. No jokes about stinks or embarrassing noises here!


Perhaps the reason for this under-development stems back to the German dislike of superficiality. Many of the card-giving occasions themselves (those that are not traditional German celebrations) are regarded as another ugly and blatant attempt for the US capitalist machine to squeeze more money out of us. Halloween and Valentine’s Day are two examples of occasions that have been “pushed” in recent years and are treated with increasing cynicism. Furthermore, the thought process in Germany tends to go- if you really care about the person who is celebrating, then put some time, money and effort into doing something personal and relevant to them- giving flowers, picking up the phone, making a card yourself and so on, otherwise, don’t bother. Card-giving tends to send out signals here of a “halfway house”; you’re doing the simplest, cheapest thing out of duty more than anything else.


In a way, they do have a point. Anyone who has suffered a deluge of those corporate Christmas cards signed in a rush by people who neither know nor care about you or has wondered how many two-year-olds really appreciate the full cast of the Teletubbies, Tweenies and Balamory in cardboard form may well wonder if we wouldn’t all be better off forgetting the card and enjoying the celebration instead, even if it does involve trees, rain and some very dubious Schnapps.


Greetings cards are still pretty low-key in Germany, although there are loads around at the moment for Konfirmation. I wonder if the generation being confirmed at the moment (born around 2010) are a little bemused by these analogue relics. A popular alternative to cards for birthdays and the like seem to be those rather gaudy helium balloons. 

Fests are, thankfully, back on the calendar following Covid. Out here in the country, it’s not just Public Holidays, but almost any form of local produce, flora or fauna, from asparagus to apple blossom to potatoes that gets its own Fest.

I think I’ll give the Grillfest at the rabbit breeders’club a miss, though.

Monday, 24 April 2023

Artificial Politics?


There’s a certain knack to getting "cultural relevance” (my jury’s out on that term at the moment ...) just right, but today I’ve got an ad that does it 100%.

I am sure I’m not the only one whose Instagram feed is swamped with AI-generated art. Some of it fascinating, clever, thought-provoking. Some, less so.

This ad from Fridays for Future (by Fred & Faris, Los Angeles) was released for Earth Day and timing doesn’t get much better than that. I reckon that even within a month, we’ll be sick to the back teeth of AI-generated artwork in advertising. But this is the first campaign I’ve seen where it’s been used to really good effect.

“Earth is no toy”  is a clever idea, well-executed. It’s topical, arresting and fits the “brand” (I expect Greta would smack me round the chops for using that expression) perfectly. OK, I didn’t get that the politikids were meant to be holding the earth like a ball until I read the background, but does that matter?

I would love to see a version shpwing what the G20 leaders really looked like as children. 

Saturday, 15 April 2023

Ve have ways of making your talk work


It’s awfully easy to get carried away with AI and machine learning and become convinced that us human-beings might as well give up and crawl back into the primordial soup. Especially if most of those breathless trend and future reports can be believed.

But every so often, in the real world, there’s an amusing reminder that the machines aren’t quite there, yet.

A couple I know (German) have an Alexa device. They’ve had this thing for a few years and it’s always been a source of immense frustration that it just doesn’t understand me. Or rather, my voice. The thing is, these friends have a different taste in music to mine, but every time they (kindly) offer me the possibility of choosing something, Alexa goes on strike.

But no more.

Last night, I discovered the secret.

Just for a laugh, I tried pronouncing the song titles and names of groups in a dreadful cod German accent, worthy of a 1950s British war film.

Was it my threatening tone, or simply what she was used to? Whatever, Alexa obliged, no problem.

From Vigvem Bem to Vair doo yo go to my lofley to Zree leetle birds to Shildren of ze revolusion, all my orders were understood and played by Alexa.


Just have to remember now to ham it up next time I’m on the phone to the bank.

Tuesday, 4 April 2023

RETROWURST: Red Bull April 2005


In my collection of articles that I’m recycling for the purposes of Retrowurst, most cover a product category or perhaps a theme with some pertinence to advertising and marketing in German-speaking countries.

But one or two are about specific brands, and I’ve dusted off this one today. Not that Red Bull needs any dusting - the velocity of this brand is something else. Still. 

Here I was in April 2005, musing over the unlikely success of Red Bull.

Was it just another Austrian oddity, like Germknödel or DJ Ötzi?

How much design, how much luck?

Should Dieter Mateschitz sell-off at this point, take the money and run? (I was definitely underestimating him here.)


In Forbes’ list of European billionaires, somewhere between the Russian oil barons and the heads of French luxury goods dynasties is Dietrich Mateschitz, an Austrian who has made most of his rapidly growing $2bn from one of the unlikeliest brand successes of the last twenty years. Herr Mateschitz is the father of Red Bull. Red Bull has grown from an unlikely-sounding proposition launched on the Austrian market in 1987 to a 1.9 billion can brand last year.


For those of us who first came across Red Bull in an Austrian ski resort in the late 80s or early 90s, the success of this strange beverage continues to surprise. Some of us who may have first encountered Red Bull in these days may well have written it off as a strange rather kitsch Austrian phenomenon along with vibrant turquoise toilet-cleaner coloured Schnapps, Germknödel or D.J Otzi. After all, here was something that tasted at best like melted boiled sweets, appeared to be full of all nasties known to man and seemed to defy any code of “food values” with its packaging. But Red Bull has remained a success in its native market and in Germany, as well as building up a firm following in other notoriously hard to penetrate markets such as the US, where it commands a 47% share in the $1.7 billion energy drinks market.


The secret of Red Bull and Herr Mateschitz’ success seems to be this: start with something of substance and integrity, certainly, but then break every rule in the marketing text book. This, of course is completely the opposite formula to most other new brand launches, be it the new breakfast cereal with added cranberry wholewheat yoghurt or the latest Popstars incarnation with its carefully balanced pre-teen, Mum and Dad appeal. For all its seeming artificiality, Red Bull is actually based on a real product. In his job as international marketing director for Blendax, Mateschitz discovered a syrupy tonic drink sold as a revitalizing agent in Thai pharmacies. He found this stuff really helped to overcome jet lag and decided to make a go of transplanting the idea of a tonic drink in Europe with the help of a Thai-based Blendax colleague who also owned a tonic drink company.


The main substance of the idea was kept intact: the key ingredients taurine, caffeine and glucuronolactone and the name, more-or-less. The original Thai name actually means red water buffalo, so Mateschitz kept within the genus! As a concession to Western tastes the drink was carbonated but the positioning was uncompromisingly clear and based on Red Bull’s key reason for being- “The Energy Drink”. An advertising slogan was dreamed up by Mateschitz and his friends, if the story is to be believed: “Red Bull gives you wings.” 


The next part of the story is rather interesting. Apparently, Mateschitz put his proposition to test via market research. The results were, according to legend, a complete disaster. One does wonder why someone with the strength of conviction that Mateschitz otherwise seems to exude should have had what seems like a moment of doubt about his idea and it’s not difficult to imagine that perhaps this was a set-up, maybe the first stepping-stone in Red Bull’s uncompromisingly anti-marketing position, in the same way that ageing creatives relish all those urban myths about such-and-such a now legendary advertising campaign “bombing in research”. After all, what could possibly be more appealing to a young target audience than hearing (on the grapevine) that a new product was considered totally unacceptable to the general population?


It is also questionable whether Red Bull’s marketing success was achieved by design or luck. It could be that we’ll never know as Mateschitz seems to be something of a master of post-rationalisation in interviews. What is certain is that it is one of the first brands to achieve global status via non-traditional, “grassroots”-up marketing. From the start, classical mass-media were all-but-excluded in favour of a program of steady and subtle infiltration into the desired group of people’s lives. In the early 1990s, Red Bull was never something you came across through TV advertising; it was discovered in off-beat bars and alongside alternative sport and music events. What would be considered as negative PR by many traditional brands simply fuelled the interest to add to the Red Bull mystique and aura of being dangerous, from rumours that it was made from bulls’ testicles, the lack of availability in certain markets through to some pretty serious stories about deaths associated with Red Bull.


Interestingly, while Red Bull claims it never actively encouraged promotion as a mixer for vodka, it seems that this was never discouraged in the way that it might have been for a drink with a bigger and more child-orientated parent brand. Again, it is interesting to speculate whether use as a mixer was pushed in a subtle way. There was certainly a base of existing behaviour in Germany and Austria for caffeine/alcohol mixes where brandy and Coke is a staple of any student party or local Fest. In the early stages, Red Bull’s distribution was mainly through bars where beverages other than milkshakes were consumed, rather than the sports clubs one would expect if one was positioning strictly along an energy-giving route.


The question now is: has Red Bull gone mainstream? Is it part of the establishment? More recent introductions such as a “Lite” version seem a bit against the character of the brand. If Red Bull is really selling out, maybe Herr Mateschitz may really be best off selling off now to one of real big boys and get going on his next odd idea.


Although my account covered the “grassroots”-up approach - and the importance of mystery in the story, there’s zero mention of racing, Flugtag or extreme sports. Further research shows Red Bull Racing was only established in 2005, and by 2012, I’d found that piece of the jigsaw.

Dieter Mateschitz got his own wings in Oct 2022, but the legend lives on. Here is my tribute to a big, bold, bullish brand.

Tuesday, 21 March 2023

“Ist der neu?” Recycling ads

When you’ve had a top-notch ad campaign back in the past that still unlocks positive brand associations, you can do a lot worse than resurrecting it.

Nostalgia is frequently mentioned in this year’s trend reports as a way to escape to a simpler time, when the world appeared to have a little more stability. At least when viewed through rose-tinted spectacles.

Perwoll, the fabric softener, has done just that. This ad, from Heinat TBWA, is brilliant in so many ways:

    - it’s just right for the target audience - people who remember a glorious pre-internet childhood

    - it’s not simply a recreation - the ad shuffles, twists and turns the original idea and elements in a playful way

    - it’s the perfect blend of the familiar and the surprising

    - it affectionately evokes both the style and the positive bubblegum mood of the 80s in its execution

    - the idea of the whole spot reflects that of the long-running campaign: “is it new?”

I do wonder how much of today’s brand communication might be resurrected in 35 years’ time.

Monday, 13 March 2023

The pylon wears Prada


I’ve been known to come back from ski holidays with an Extrawurst or two hidden in my bag along with the smelly socks, and this year is no exception.

For 2023, it’s a very striking campaign spotted on ski lift pylons, of all things. For Prada, no less - and there’s something rather splendidly unexpected about the combination of high fashion glitz and heavy industrial utilitarianism. Like Gucci and trainspotters. The campaign for Prada Linea Rossa may already be in its second year, as the case study from the agency responsible is dated 21/22. alpdest position themselves as “the alpine media experts”, offering out of home advertising in ski resorts throughout Europe. Media opportunities include ski racks, branded gondolas and, yes, 150 lift pylons across Switzerland’s swankiest ski resorts.

Sadly, though, I don’t think I’ll be splashing out on any of the Prada gear, gorgeous though it is. A €4,250 ski jacket is a swank too far for me.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

RETROWURST: Fast Food March 2004

This article from 2004 is a juicy one that’s close to my stomach: the topic of Fast Food in Germany. Written in the days when I’m lovin’ it was hot off the press, and Burger King was finding its feet in the German market, I was a little cynical as to whether US-origin fast food would take over the “unchained” Imbiss culture in Germany, or indeed whether Germans could ever be persuaded away from their beloved Metzgerei.


I was talking with a German colleague recently in McDonalds (!) about the subject of Fast Food or Food on the Go which is a very different kettle of fish (or Bratwurst in a bun) here in Germany to what one finds in the UK. It seems a little ironic that it is a German advertising agency that is McDonald’s great hope to rebuild their tarnished image. Whether ‘I’m lovin’ it’ will do the job or not remains to be seen, but maybe it’s the start of the American giants looking to Old Europe for help?


But back to the Big Macs, Big Tastys or whatever they call themselves these days. McDonalds has never been a roaring success in Germany and in the last couple of years with a dramatic explosion of new restaurant openings, Burger King looks as if it could do McDonalds some serious damage. Although it is a chain, the whole concept of Burger King is closer to German tastes as far as food and especially Food on the Go goes. The tradition of Fast Food in Germany is distinctly ‘unchained’. That is, there has always been a tradition of the Imbiss, or snack stand, but this is very much a local, independent thing. An Imbiss is typically a stand where you can buy various types of Wurst and grilled meat, served with bread or chips. Popular dishes include Currywurst, which is a Bratwurst sliced up and covered in ketchup and curry powder, Steakbrötchen, which is grilled pork steak in a roll, Grillhänchen, which is half a roast chicken and Nierenspieß, a sort of kidney kebab. The Turkish population have also been active in the Imbiss trade and one often sees Doner Kebabs and other Turkish-influenced dishes alongside the sausages and chickens. In contrast to the UK equivalents, the Imbiss stands do not have such a greasy, unhealthy and unhygienic image. Rather, because the food is of good quality, the hygiene standards are high and, most importantly, the Imbiss owner can probably tell you the exact origin of his sausages, almost down to the pig’s name, the Imbiss stands generally have a positive image of providing good, honest, real food, freshly-cooked for a good price. In fact, there is more concern about eating McDonalds, due to the additives and processed nature of the food than there is about the possibility of food-poisoning from the Imbiss.


A lot of these perceptions can be traced back to the difference in the way that the Germans buy their meat. The butcher’s shop or Metzgerei is alive and well in German High Streets and shopping centres. Although there are some small chains, many of the butchers are local independents. A typical Metzgerei will sell more than simply fresh meat, with a delicatessen section selling Wurst, Schinken, other meat products and salads, possibly a cheese/eggs and dairy products section; probably an Imbiss section for hot snacks and no Metzgerei worth his sausages would overlook the sale of Sauerkraut and Brötchen. Germans are quite happy to make separate trips to the Metzgerei and to stand in long queues, admiring the many Master Butcher Certificates and Awards for the best Fleischwurst in the region that decorate the spotlessly clean tiled walls. Some Germans are even happy to visit several shops, stopping at one for the Schnitzels, another for the Blutwurst and yet another for the Kartoffelsalat.


Even in the Supermarkets, the bulk of the meat trade is done via the butcher’s counter. Although pre-packed meat is available, it does not dominate as it does in the UK. Indeed, in some supermarkets, meat can only be bought over the butcher’s counter with the pre-packed section being confined to poultry only. Most Germans would be somewhat horrified at the idea of buying mince pre-packed that had not been freshly minced before their eyes!


With this strong culture, it is no wonder that there is a heavy distrust of meat and meat products which are processed, frozen, pre-packed or otherwise of ‘uncertain origin’. This can be seen in the area of frozen food, which, apart from fish and vegetables to some extent, has a rather poorer image in Germany overall. And, to get back to our friends the Burger giants, it is clear that the Burger King positioning of ‘closer to real grilled meat’ strikes a chord with the Germans. Interesting, too, that the only ‘indigenous’ fast food chains of any note in Germany are Nordsee and Wienerwald, which specialise in fish and chicken, rather than meat, respectively.


On a similar note, the ‘Sandwich Culture’ that we see in the UK is more-or-less absent in Germany. While one can find sandwiches in every supermarket, CTN and Boots as well as in the Sandwich chains in the UK, one is hard-pressed to find a pre-packed sandwich in Germany. What one does find are butchers, bakers and corner shops who sell fresh made-on-the-premises filled rolls. Again, it is all a local independent business with no chains involved. 


So what does this all suggest? Two business opportunities are clear to me: firstly, a German Bratwurst (and beer?) Imbiss concept in the UK and secondly, perhaps the introduction of a Real sandwich chain in Germany, along Pret-a-Manger lines. Whatever, I fear that it will take more than ‘Ich liebe es’ for McDonalds and their ilk to kick the Imbiss stands out of the German people’s affections.


Well, as always, my glance back has revealed a lot of new items on the fast food menu - with some from unexpected quarters. 

I did notice a few years ago in London, that some enterprising fellow had picked up on my “German fast food” idea. Sadly, Herman ze German appears to have been a victim of Covid. 

McDonald’s and Burger King are still battling on in there, changing with the times with digitalisation and Vegan offers, but dare I say they both seem a little lacklustre and part of the furniture? The McDonald’s in Hanau town centre has recently shut down, and I noticed that Five Guys has made it to Frankfurt. No doubt the cost-of-living crisis will have a major impact on the fate of the burger giants.

The local Metzgereien are hanging on in there, but I suspect the number has decreased over the last couple of decades. The plus points are supporting local businesses and farmers, the minus points the big “is-meat-sustainable-and/or-healthy?” debate as well as convenience and the price - see cost-of-living, above. There’s certainly been a clear increase in pre-packed meat in the supermarkets over the last couple of decades - yet also an increase in labelling and concern over animal welfare.

But the whole Imbiss scene is alive and well. There’s a kind of healthy co-existence with the whole “Food Truck”/“Street Food” category, as well more internationality on top of the tradition German and Turkish. Lieferando and Co. have worked to the favour of the small independent. And finally, there are a few “micro-chains” popping up, such as this one in our own area, although they’ve also opened in München, too.

Guten Appetit!

Friday, 24 February 2023

The proper way to the beach


I was taught the planning cycle at a relatively early age - not quite as early as my times tables, but I had it drummed into me in a similar way. 

Where are we now? (With our brand or business)

Where do we want to be?

How do we get there?

Are we getting there?

I have the feeling that because the whole area of marketing has exploded into so many specialisms, t the focus has slipped right onto “how do we get there” in its intricate detail of touchpoints, new tech, personas and all the rest without any consideration of where we’re going with this and why.

I recently had a brief that went along the lines of - we have to develop an app that’s going to do x, y & z - without any thought given to why, or even who this app might be for.

I’ve seen this wonderful picture recently from The Proper Marketing Club (Matt Dillon) , which gently reminds marketers of the starting point if you want to be the brightest brand on the beach.

Even if your business can’t afford stacks of ad-hoc quantitative surveys, desk research on markets and trends plus a couple of questions on an omnibus and a few intelligently-conducted stakeholder interviews are always a good start.


Thursday, 16 February 2023

The new Caroleans


I’m skulking around my country of birth at the moment - nothing exciting, dealing with the aftermath of a burst pipe. These visits satisfy - to some extent - my yearning for home, and a simpler place and time. Although again and again, I’m reminded that it’s probably a yearning for something that never really existed, except in my mind.

I was here for Queens Elizabeth II’s funeral last year, but it looks like I won’t make the coronation in May as musical commitments call. However, it was nice to be here as the emblem (not logo) for the coronation was announced (not launched or - heaven forbid! - “dropped”). It’s rather lovely and rather charming, with the rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock reflecting the King’s love of nature. The designer describes it as “gentle” and that hits the spot.

It’s infinitely better than some of the ghastly Olympics logos we’ve seen - and I suppose at least it doesn’t look as if His Majesty picked it up at Fiverr or 99Designs.

But. Part of me remembers a past when Britain was brave and bold and forward-looking, at least in design terms. It happened long before I was born, but the Festival of Britain posters and style is something that has always been at the back of my mind when I think of the start - and promise - of  the New Elizabethan age.

And I make no excuses for linking to this for all design fans to revel in. Perfection.  

Friday, 3 February 2023

RETROWURST: Armani meets Aldi February 2005 Mark 2


Sometimes trends become - quite simply - part of the accepted fabric of life and you wonder what on earth the fuss was about, or why such a phenomenon was ever considered worthy of comment. Apart from giving journalists and trend forecasters a chance to exercise their creativity in coming up with a silly name.

But back in 2005, a younger me was excited as anyone about the mind-blowingly amazing news that Karl Lagerfeld was putting out a collection for H&M. Imagine that!

Was this a taste of things to come? Could we maybe expect the much-maligned “middle” to disappear in a puff of mediocrity by 2020?


This month, I’m going to write about a general trend that I’m sure is prevalent in other markets too, but I thought you might like to hear how this is affecting the German market in particular. It’s the trend variously called “Armani meets Aldi” or “Prada and Zara”, which is best symbolized by legendary designer Karl Lagerfeld putting out a collection for H&M last summer. Now, the collection will probably never be repeated (apparently Lagerfeld was upset that H&M produced his designs in sizes a little bit bigger than those to fit the average stick insect, which is rich coming from him as he used to be quite a porker himself!) but what the whole action represented was an important milestone in the development of this trend.


The trend itself is characterized by the growth of the luxury and discount sectors of many markets and the consequent shrinking of the middle. It’s estimated that in 1980, the middle-price segment represented 49% of sales but it is predicted that this will fall to 20% by 2010 at the expense of growth from the luxury and discount sectors. In contrast, discounters are estimated to have accounted for 38% of sales in 2003. Companies such as Porsche and Gucci on the one hand and Aldi and Lidl on the other are enjoying growth, while the traditional middle segment, such as retailer Karstadt-Quelle or car manufacturer Opel is suffering here in Germany.


The consumer behaviour that is fuelling this trend can be variously described as “trading up/trading down” or “mixing”. Instead of spending our cash on the ‘safe’ middle, we are ploughing what we’ve saved at the discounter into the new luxury segment. This behaviour can be traced back to a number of factors in Germany; shopping at the discounter was a necessity for many, including new groups of people hit by the last recession from which we’re just beginning to emerge. Another factor is the new responsibility that people are beginning to take for themselves; instead of relying on the tried and trusted ‘safe’ brand names, I’ll decide for myself in which areas I save and in which I splurge! This feeling has now translated into a perception across all bands of society that it’s no longer prestige just to buy expensive things; those who are really clever and ‘in the know’ can tell you exactly which manufacturer produces which Aldi goods! The discounters have not been slow to pick up on this trend and are broadening their offer accordingly. Aldi, for example, makes €1bn from clothing alone and is the 7th largest textile retailer in Germany.


Within areas other than retail, brands are picking up on the trend. A good example is the Korean car manufacturers Hyundai and Kia. These brands are deliberately attacking the value end of the car market with emphasis on quality and design. Hyundai recently ran advertising under the headline “Es gibt wieder richtige Volkswagen” (“Now there are real Volkswagens (peoples’ cars) again”). Both these Korean brands are enjoying double-figure growth in a stagnating market. In all branches, those that offer design at a good price are winning, from H&M to IKEA.


Part of the problem of the middle market is that the discounter products are, in many cases, as good. It is really not worth paying a little bit more for a brand name, especially when Aldi is a strong brand name in itself these days. The middle-market brands can no longer rely on their brand name; they must find a way upwards to the new luxury market and offer something worth having. The new luxury market is based on the principle of offering ‘specialness’ in fields where the basic price is not so high. In this way, Danone’s Actimel yoghurt can sell quite happily at a price premium of 100-200%. It is expensive (but jusitified, due to the L.Casei bacteria!) but affordable.


Some of the traditional middle-market brands are beginning to incorporate ‘luxury’ elements into their offer or communication in the hope of winning back customers. It is certainly true to say that the boundaries of what is discount, what is mass and what is luxury are becoming more and more blurred but it is questionable whether these actions which are not unique or an integral part of the brand concept will be powerful enough to buck the trend. For example, the mass-market mail-order catalogue Otto now has collections from Heidi Klum and Claudia Schiffer (have they not noticed that the old Supermodel trick has been used to much better effect by H&M for the last ten plus years?). C&A now have TV advertisements with super-high top fashion production values but at the end of the day, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.


Maybe the German middle-market brands should learn from M&S in the UK; increasingly, this is all about personalization, not about buying into a ‘blanket lifestyle’. It is about picking and choosing to suit oneself across categories, styles and price-bands. It is also about substance and attention to detail. A final example of the ‘new luxury’ is the Internet shopping site www.brot-und-butter.de .Here we see “everyday products but not everyday quality” (the cynical could add something about ‘not everyday prices’, too!).

This has all the elements of specialness, individualism, authenticity and a touch of luxury that I can afford. I imagine that it won’t be long before Aldi offer a similar selection of ‘special everyday’ products to go with the €12.99 champagne!


It’s true to say that this “trend” has simply become a way of life - fashion designers, influencers, TikTokkers and probably activists can all have a go at doing a collection for Lidl or Aldi. It’s no shame for Gucci and The North Face to use a super-nerd in their brand communication. And grocery discounters don’t just have “everyday luxury” food ranges, but ironically branded fashion items, too. 

And, on top of that, I think that sustainability and a shift in values have led to questions: what is luxury? There are some thoughts on that here. And what is discount? Is it cheap at any price (to the environment or society?). How do people’s priorities shift in times when we’re more cash-strapped? I’m reading a lot about the “lipstick effect” in all of this year’s trend reports. But the question is not so much whether but what - maybe this time we’ll be giving something a second life rather than splashing out on something new to treat ourselves. Doing good to the conscience and the wallet.

... and, well I never! I blogged on exactly this article this time last year. “Giving something a second life."Whoops. The system is out of sync. Oh well, I’d already taken the picture, and some of the thoughts are new.

Talking of which, the “middle" is still here - especially the “spare tyre”. It’s a mark of what does change. 

Can anyone imagine Karl - should he still be alive today - having the audacity to complain about his clothes being made in sizes beyond that for a stick insect?

Thursday, 19 January 2023



Do you know that feeling? You discover a perfect little restaurant tucked away somewhere, then before you know it, it’s featured in some fashionable magazine or the latest influencer swans into it. Your little secret is secret no more.

I feel the same about my working arrangements as a freelancer, especially now that the sharks are out for that recent acronym, WFH. The good, not so good, great and think-they’re-great of the Davos set are proclaiming that “remote working has not worked.” That was Larry Fink of Black Rock, apparently.

Meanwhile, at the other end (?) of the political spectrum, certain journalists are having a bash at “the pyjama classes” and “the laptop elites.” I have some sympathy with this view, having seen efforts from ad agencies in 2020 featuring every WFH cliche going: the pyjamas and jogging pants, the dog/cat/kids invading the Zoom conference with its silly, jokey background. Meanwhile, there weren’t any people featured in these Covid vignettes who were out there doing a job, keeping the world running. And yes, it make me wonder about the value of what I do here ...

But there’s a difference. I have been self-employed for twenty years now and I started without a laptop, just a cheap Aldi computer,  a Freenet email address and a trusty Nokia mobile phone. Within 18 months, I was lucky indeed: we bought a house and the top floor became my office. From the start, I was disciplined, although it was against my nature - but I had to be, starting out in business with a toddler in tow.

Having an office space (which happens to be in my home) does make the difference. There is a door, which I can shut. A whole weekend can go by without me going upstairs to the top floor. Sometimes I am up there evenings, or for a few hours on Sunday afternoon, working, but that’s usually my choice. The clue is in the term “self-employed."

This isn’t meant to be a whinge about being lumped in with everyone else who was forced into WFH in 2020, although it does sometimes feel to me like my experience with gin & tonic - something I’ve always enjoyed, which became terribly fashionable but is now on the wane again. All  I want is to make a simple distinction: I’m working from an office - which happens to be at home.


Friday, 13 January 2023

My most helpful brand of 2022


With all the trend reports and round-ups of 2022 I’ve been reading, I gave pause for thought. What has been my favourite brand of the last year? I was tempted to go for something that had done brilliant brand communications, but realised pretty quickly that I’d probably only seen those communications by reading Campaign and the rest of the trade press.

Rather, it’s a brand that entered my life just over a year ago, and one that, in the words of the “meaningful brands” questionnaire, I’d be genuinely upset if it disappeared. 

It’s DeepL. In November 2021, I was searching around for a decent online translator that would do a better job than my memories of Bing, or Google or Facebook. I’m still not sure whether DeepL found me or whether I found DeepL, but does that matter?

It’s a quiet, unassuming, unobtrusive brand - in fact, I’m not sure whether it officially thinks of itself of a brand or not. But it has a logo and a look, so I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt. What is certainly true is that I have developed an extreme loyalty to DeepL over the last few months and it has become ingrained in my working life, particularly when I’m working with predominantly German clients, as has been the case recently.

DeepL is just one of many AI-based brands that I’ll be getting used to using in my work. The next one could be ChatGPT - but that’s a story for another day. 

Tuesday, 3 January 2023

RETROWURST: Tchibo January 2005


What tickles me about some of the Retrowurst articles that I unearth is the sheer sense of glee I evidently had in writing them. Take the following article, written in January 2005, when I was clearly in thrall to Tchibo, if not completely enchanted by the brand. “Starbucks meets Innovations!” - not my words, but that obviously captured my imagination regarding this strangely German institution. No wonder, perhaps - Tchibo at this stage was Germany’s third largest “internet retailer” (how quaint) after Amazon and Ebay. Why, I even believed that Tchibo were aiming at offering mass market trips to the moon.


To start the new year, I thought I’d write a piece on a familiar face on German high streets for 50 years, which has recently also found its feet in the UK (if you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor); Tchibo.


In a retail climate which seems beset by losses, redundancies or desperate attempts at ‘pile it high, sell it cheap and scream about it’, Tchibo is one of the few retailers that are actually doing reasonably well here, along with Aldi and Ikea. This does seem to have something to do with having a good concept and sticking to it but Tchibo’s concept does really seem quite weird at first glance. I saw it described as ‘Starbucks meets Innovations’ on a UK website and I think it really is an example of a concept that has evolved through mutation and adaptation to be successful. That is, it is a concept that would have been strangled at birth had anyone had the audacity to come up with such an idea in the post-war 1949 German version of a brainstorming.


Tchibo is currently a concern with 10,000 employees and 54,000 purchase outlets in Germany. As a retailer, it has 99% awareness in Germany. Tchibo sells not only coffee but also household goods, flowers, mobile phone services, insurance and holidays. You can buy goods and services from Tchibo via their shops, from store-in-store in the supermarket or bakery, via the magazine or mail order or over the internet. Their ambition is to offer the first mass market trips to the moon.


However, none of this happened overnight and one can quite understand the initial wariness of the Dutch, Brits or Poles when confronted with the full-blown Tchibo concept 2005. Tchibo had very a simple and one-dimensional concept at its birth- the company was established by Max Herz and Carl Tchilling-Hiryan in 1949 as a mail-order coffee company. The name Tchibo actually comes from a mix of the name Tchilling with the word for ‘bean’ in German, Bohnen.


The first Tchibo shop opened in Germany in 1955; what was unusual was that people could actually try the coffee before buying. Moving this to its next logical step, Tchibo set up mini-stores in bakeshops in 1963, where people could eat a roll or cake and enjoy a cup of coffee at the same time, not forgetting to buy a pack to take home with them. In the next decade, in 1972, the third ‘prong’ of Tchibo’s concept was introduced; the launch of weekly-changing consumer goods under the TCM brand name. The first goods offered were not a million miles away from coffee, being mainly kitchenware. However, Tchibo gradually branched out into other areas such as home textiles and fashions. By 1996 the mail-order arm was established and Tchibo made its first offers in the holidays and tourism category. In 1997 Tchibo went online and is now Germany’s third largest Internet retailer behind Ebay and Amazon. The late 90s and early 2000s saw Tchibo continuing its international expansion with the first shop opening in the UK in 2000.


Perhaps the biggest clue to Tchibo’s success is to look at its customers. With a consistent promise of change, ‘Jede Woche eine neue Welt’ or ‘A new experience every week’, Tchibo taps into and reconciles one of the biggest paradoxes in our lives- the need for stability and consistency and the need for change and newness. The result of this strategy means that many customers simply become Tchibo junkies. Tchibo is like a drug, complete with withdrawal symptoms if one ‘misses’ what’s on this week. According to the market research company Icon, 42% of Tchibo’s customers are ‘Tchibo lovers’ or the extreme loyal. Even Ikea with its cult following and over 30 years in Germany can only boast 23% of its customers being ‘Ikea lovers’, according to Icon. On a consumer forum recently, a 23-year-old woman and self-confessed Tchibo-junkie admitted to being so impressed with an ‘Italian eating’ week at Tchibo that she immediately wanted to buy the full range of products on offer. Finding this a bit embarrassing, she bought half of the items at one Tchibo shop in the morning and the remaining half in another branch that afternoon!


What factors have made Tchibo so successful, apart from the consistent inconsistency (!) of its product range? First and foremost, Tchibo is part of German history which imbues the brand with trustworthiness, loyalty and a feeling that ‘you can’t go wrong’. This history is reinforced by the logo and colour scheme of a steaming coffee bean in gold and dark blue which acts as a positive emotional anchor, literally sending a warming glow straight to many (23m households) German’s hearts. For many Germans, Tchibo’s advertising campaign from the 60s and 70s, featuring the same actor throughout on a quest for quality coffee on behalf of the people remains fresh in their minds.


Tchibo also has a role in making life easy for people. Arranging the consumer goods by themes rather than categories and offering only one choice per item (or, in the case of clothing, only one colour and a limited range of sizes) takes much of the time and uncertainty out of shopping. One assumes that Tchibo has done the work and research to select the best asparagus steamer; if camel is not my colour then I need look no further at the cashmere sweater on offer- take it or leave it; everything is simple. Another element to take it or leave it is ‘take it now’ as it is almost guaranteed not to be there next time I look; with the weekly turnover of offers and a new theme each week, Tchibo thrives on impulse purchase. Tchibo also has a pretty good knack of choosing themes and items that hit the tastes of the early majority. Tchibo send their scouts to ‘where it’s at’ - Tokyo for electronics, Milan for fashions or Canada for skiwear to check the pulse of the market. They are generally very good at gauging what’s about to be hot for the middle-market; some classic successes in Germany are the asparagus steamer, which appears every two years and one-offs like the ‘Jan-Ulrich bike’; a specialist bicycle for only €399 which led to mass-hysteria in the Tchibo stores. Of course there are flops too; in Autumn 2003, Tchibo tried to sell 1000 special-edition Fiat Stilos but this went down like a cup of cold coffee. A flop on a similar scale was a planned ‘Concert Event of the year- The three Divas’, featuring Whitney Houston, Natalie Cole and Dionne Warwick. Instead of the 200000 planned, the audience was a mere 45000.


The factor that perhaps best encapsulates Tchibo’s success is another paradox. Despite their size (and it is well-known that they now hold a majority stake in Beiersdorf and have their eyes set on ownership, although this is played down in public), Tchibo still gives the German public the impression of a small, local concern. This impression is partly derived from the ubiquity on the one hand but small size on the other of their outlets and from the limited at any point in time but rapidly changing product range. Tchibo are well-aware that others are hot on their heels with their own version of some of these success elements; Aldi for one have started ‘theming’ their weekly offers, be it ‘riding’ or ‘back to school’ and Aldi products are even more reasonably priced than Tchibo, although there is never a cup of coffee thrown in!


Eighteen years later, Tchibo still operate on the “simultaneous need for consistency and novelty” principle, but in my eyes they need to dial up the “novelty” part of that. Too many others have latched onto the same formula. While I guess they haven’t actually drowned in the great digital transformation wave, I do feel Tchibo is stagnating, stuck in the doldrums, which is apparent from the sales figures which have declined since the glory days of the early 2000s. 

Every week, with reliable tedium, there’s a “new” world of loungewear, or yogawear, or mindfulness wear, all in drab shades of dirty rose, dull green and faded apricot. Even the promise of a loungesuit with cashmere for €208.95 isn’t tempting. 

Come on, Tchibo - where are those dreams of the moon? Or are you just past it.