Friday 22 December 2023

Time for altered images?


The last couple of times I’ve signed on to my internet banking with Commerzbank, I’ve had a lovely little seasonal surprise. The visual, above, drawing my attention to the bank’s Christmas charity drive. They have partnered with brotZeit e.V an organisation that provides free breakfasts for schoolchildren. And, sad as it is, there are plenty of children in Germany at the moment who could benefit from this charity.

Why am I commenting on this? Well, the visual itself is striking and eye-catching, with its healthy snacks in the guise of seasonal characters. Pictures do paint a thousand words and fun, hope, cheerfulness, children, health, colourfulness, yumminess, friendliness, cosiness, kindness, imagination and creativity are just a dozen to start with. This is so much richer than the type of visuals that usually confront me on opening the website.

Typically in the last year, these will either be the usual grinning plastic people looking thrilled and excited over their laptops. Or pairs of said plastic people smooching. I’ve written about these plastic people here, and I don’t think it needs repeating. 

What I wondering is - in the obsession with representation, diversity and “people who look like me”, have we forgotten the power of the abstract and the symbolic? Long, long ago, we handled the Commerzbank account at Saatchi. We created a striking look, and from what I remember, there were no visuals of human beings. Everything was symbolic, from squirrels to oak trees. And plenty of less expected, yet rich, evocative imagery, too. 

Why does everything have to be so literal? Surely communication works harder when the visual is not merely a reflection of the text? The problem with using the thrilled and excited plastic people is that everyone else is using them too. Within the banking category and without. 

Advertisements from the golden age of posters are now regarded as art

Isn’t it time to give the thrilled and excited plastic people and their laptops a rest?

Wednesday 13 December 2023

Everything, everywhere, all at once


According to Interbrand, Amazon is the world’s third biggest and most valuable brand. Next year, the company will clock up 30 years in business. I’ve watched it grow from an “internet bookstore” (how quaint) through a destroyer of the small and local to a paragon of customer-centric brand virtue (according to Interbrand). And back and forth again. Amazon nows occupies a position of what I’d call uneasy ubiquity.

My own relationship with Amazon illustrates this perfectly. I resist Amazon as default, in the same way that I avoid And yet - I’m trapped with my Kindle. And sometimes, Amazon is the only practical option. 

This is what Amazon have understood. And it’s what they understand by customer-centric (rather than people-centric). When people are in customer mode, when there’s something they really, really, want, and they want it quickly and cheaply, reliably delivered, noble principles go out of the window. Amazon understand the power of “make it easy, make it convenient.”

So, when you already offer “everything”, where can you go from there to make things even easier? You try at “everywhere”. So people don’t even have to leave their favourite social media app, let alone their armchair for (almost) instant gratification. Amazon have partnered with Meta, as well as Pinterest and Snapchat to link your account and shipping address for a check-out without checking-out of the app. 

I won’t be joining in, as I’m old and contrary. But I doubt that’s of much concern to Amazon. They are probably more perturbed that, at this stage at least, TikTok aren’t playing ball, either.

Friday 8 December 2023

Trad and all that jazz


I’ve said it once and I’ve said it again - I’m a little bit queasy about the idea of brands “owning” anything. But if there’s a UK brand that has a claim on Christmas, it’s John Lewis.

The agency - and strategy - has changed this year. The retailer is moving from “thoughtful gifting” (or is it giving?) to “let your traditions grow.” Whether or not you’re a fan of the festive Venus Fly Trap, you have to admit this is a clever strategy. It’s the perfect mix of the personal and the collective.

One part of the campaign is something for market research nerds like me - The John Lewis Festive Tracker  . This investigation into the UK’s tinsel, turkey and traditions has been put together with YouGov.

Fascinating festive facts on what’s changing - “two-tree” households, all day pyjamas and combining celebrations from other cultures with Christmas. And what isn’t - family & friends, baking & crafting, board games and watching films. And, I presume, church and carols, although these are a strange omission in the report.

There’s also a little look into history so you can see that John Lewis did “do” Christmas prior to 2007. In the world of advertising, memories are very short!

Monday 27 November 2023

Penny for your thoughts?


I’ve been writing an article for one of my clients about Christmas advertising. Because it’s for an international audience, most of the focus is on ads from the UK and other English-speaking markets. In Germany, Christmas advertising is a thing, but not such a colossal humongous thing (literally, in the case of this year’s John Lewis ad) as it is in the UK. 

You can see what I mean if you scroll down this article about German supermarkets’ Christmassy commercials. Apart from Edeka’s slightly weird meaty mumblings, there’s nothing really unexpected and many of the ads are a little lacklustre and conventional. 

There’s cuteness, kids,  magic and animals with Lidl and REWE. Some “get the tissues” from Co-op. And a bit of fun and nostalgia from Aldi with grown-ups behaving like big kids.

But that’s me with my London ad person hat on (also looking a bit lacklustre these days, to be honest). Time and time again, we hear that the ads that do well at Christmas are those that do all the cuteness, tears, smiles, entertainment and general warm fuzziness. And do it well.

So what the heck were Penny thinking? Over 3 minutes, entitled “The Kids” with the message “It’s our future, please listen to us.” Four youngsters, discontented, sad and angry about the grown-ups in their immediate family, or society in general. A girl forced into ballet when she’d rather dance freestyle. A little chap who can’t bear his mum’s social media obsession. A young lad upset by all the “six-pack” bodies he sees on his phone. A junior environmentalist striding around the house switching lights and appliances off.  

Then a montage of sulky glum faces, school protests, “Fridays for Future”-style activism clichés accompanied by a childrens choir rendition of a song from P!nk (I think).

Maybe it seemed like a good idea when the agency made this back in the Spring or Summer. But at this time of year, and given the news of the last few weeks, it feels completely tone deaf. As I said last year, no-one wants to be reminded of misery, hate and division. Especially not now. 

A long time ago, when I worked on P&G, I’d often have to steer the clients away from anything that felt like finger-pointing. I’d remind them that new mums often felt inadequate and hopeless enough without ads suggesting that if they didn’t use the new-improved super-ultra-Pampers (or whatever), they were a crap mother. Especially if they couldn’t afford better than Aldi.

That attitude from advertisers and their agencies is sneaking back into commercials, and this is a prime example. Finger-pointing, parent-shaming (if you like) manipulative stuff to make people feel lousy about themselves. Backed up by some sort of agency bullshit that they’ve “got out there” (where is “there”, anyway?) and listened to “real” children’s wishes. Well, I have my own experience of that.

I quoted an article from Richard Huntington in my last post and this was one of the stand-out sentences for me:

Everyone is trying in their own way to be a good person living a good life.

In the end, it shouldnt be more complicated than that.

Thursday 16 November 2023

Perennial bloomers


The older I get, and the more years I notch up as a one-woman band here in rural Germany, the more amusing I find the antics of some of my marketing and advertising partners-in-crime. It’s that slight shake-of-the-head, roll-of-the-eyes kind of amusement with a muttered “what planet are they on?” under my breath. 

I heard a marketing director speaking on a panel discussion yesterday, who was (I think) seriously suggesting that the following could be a good idea. AI could, in the future, “serve” an ad featuring a person of the same skin colour as the recipient - presumably all in the name of personalisation, diversity and “feeling seen.” 

Where do I start on how wrong this is? What next? I’ll be “served” an ad featuring someone of exactly my age, so I don’t feel ancient, left out and invisible? What a ghastly notion!

Whenever I’ve ventured onto LinkedIn these days, there do seem to be plenty of people (at least in my feed) talking about bursting bubbles and getting back to reality. A recent WARC article by Richard Huntington is titled The Future of Strategy 2023: Marketing is in desperate need of a reality check. 

Richard makes the point that we both work and live in a parallel universe he calls Marketingland. I’d rather use that nasty, twee “Adland” moniker. By the way, when did that creep into the language? It’s not the word itself, it’s the way people use it, as if it’s some exclusive place to be proud of. Whatever, this universe is populated by the well-educated, metropolitan, relatively young middle class.

And why do people not just work but live there, too? Because this world is conjured-up “through distaste for the real one with all its ugliness, mess and complexity.” Richard then takes aim at various of Adland’s favourite tools (so to speak), including “the stinking edifice of generational marketing". This is described as “a charlatan’s business” and “should be given as much credence in sensible organisations as astrology.”

I’m with him. The whole Generations stuff, beloved of lazy journalists and denizens of “Adland,” is more full of holes than a Boomer’s string vest. Or was it the lot before them that wore those? Not only do the generation years chop and change as often as the UK cabinet, but the whole thing is utterly US-focussed. Where you are born is just as important as when, as Ipsos show. And I’m quite tickled that “GenZ" are refusing to behave as many marketers want them to, as Nick Asbury points out.

What to do? Richard Huntington makes a call to “love and respect the people we serve”. I’d leave out the love part, personally, but respect and value their perspective (even if you don’t agree) - I’ll take that. As Richard says, “Everyone is trying in their own way to be a good person living a good life.”

Another perspective on the generations thing is to Adopt the Perennial Mindset as in this article by Tara McMullin. The thinking is based on a book by Mauro Guillén: The Perennials: The Megatrends creating a Postgenerational Society. This challenges the idea of linear lives, moving from play to learn to work to leisure/retirement, and age-appropriate activities. Getting rid of the concept of milestones beyond referring to babies and child development. A Perennial is defined as someone not constrained by their age and what theyre supposed to be doing at any given stage of life.

Despite being a Planner, Ive never been that great on planning my own life. I recognise the inevitability of change and the unexpected. But I liked what this article had to say about a broadened definition of work whereby people can stay active and connected to friends - work more along the lines of mentoring and support as one grows older and hopefully wiser. Tara writes that the idea of retirement feels elusive to anyone under, say, 55 today.

Well, that just proves a point. Its a while since I was 55, and although I do have a bookmarks file of retirement jobs (mentoring, teaching, pivoting) the idea still seems pretty elusive to me!

I know this way of thinking cant be a replacement for all that generations guff. Or indeed for media planning based on age breaks. But I do like the principle of getting away from pigeon-holing and rigid categories of age, life-stage, or when exactly you were born. Away from the sequential model of life. And from many of these frameworks when they are too strictly applied. I have said here often: The Map is not the Territory.

And, back to that panel discussion and what AI can do. One point that does give me hope are the increasing opportunities for contextual media planning. Catching me in the right mood, at the right place and the right time is going to be far more effective than serving me some old bag with pasty-white skin who doesnt look a bit like me. 

Wednesday 1 November 2023

RETROWURST: Nutella November 2005


Eighteen years ago, I was celebrating the 40th birthday of Nutella in Extrawurst, and my hm-hm-hm-hmth birthday. For those with a sweet tooth, here’s the history and cult status of the chocolate hazelnut spread as I saw it in 2005.


As I have recently been celebrating my birthday, I thought I would write a piece about a brand that is celebrating its 40th birthday this year in Germany.


On the subject of brands having birthdays, this does seem to have become “this year’s thing” for marketers here, perhaps in the absence of anything new to say. We had thirty years of IKEA last year and now every corner shop, local newspaper and frozen pizza seems to be celebrating some birthday or another. Just as the market here has been deluged with “flavour of the year/season” for the last few years, we now seem to be beset with birthdays. Most of it seems to be an excuse to dig out some “retro” pack designs and revel in the worst excesses of the 70s, 80s or whatever decade your brand was born into in a rather self-congratulatory way rather than offering people any new benefit or real reward for buying you in the first place.


In this case, however, I feel that the celebrations are justified: the brand in question is Nutella which I believe is one of the most “present” brands in the German psyche. Over 100 million jars of the stuff are sold per year with the average buyer consuming something like 1kg of the stuff per year (oh dear, think of the calories!) and Nutella really is a brand that one could say has achieved cult status in this country. A client of mine (non-German) recently made something of an error of judgment (in my opinion) when she recently turned down the prospect of a co-operation between her brand and Nutella on the basis that Nutella “was too unhealthy”. While, of course, she is right in thinking that Nutella is not among the list of top 5 healthy things to put in your mouth, what she missed is that Nutella is allowed to be unhealthy just because it’s so loved here – like  Bratwurst and Pils it may pile on the calories but it is an integral part of German culture – a rare accolade for a non-German brand!


Although officially only 40 years old, Nutella’s origins go further back: to the 1940s in fact. During the war years, chocolate was a rarity, a delicacy and cocoa was in short supply so the Piedmontese confectioner Pietro Ferrero experimented with making a cream out of cocoa and roasted hazelnuts. From the beginning onwards, Ferrero’s experiment was a success and even incorporated an interesting retail concept in 1940s/50s Italy whereby schoolchildren could go to the local corner shop with a piece of bread and get it spread with the forerunner of Nutella.


In 1964 the nut-nougat crème got the name Nutella. Ferrero Germany had already opened its doors in 1956 and introduced Nutella in 1965. Nutella really created a whole new market in Germany for a country used to either jam or honey as sweet spreads for the breakfast bread.


There are now several generations of Germans who have grown up with Nutella – it’s rather like Marmite in the UK but it doesn’t have quite that extreme love-hate relationship: everyone loves Nutella except for a few extreme health campaigners. Nutella signifies childhood and family: there is something very motherly and reassuring about the name, the pack design (almost unchanged from the original of 1965), the shape of the jar and the sweet, creamy product itself. And, unlike Marmite, it is pretty versatile stuff: you can make cakes with it, slap it on pancakes and Nutella seems to be a fairly major component of most of the confectionary products that Ferrero produces these days.


The cult status of Nutella in Germany is observable through the sheer presence of the brand in Germany. It’s not just on practically every breakfast table but also highly visible on pancake stands in the city centre or at Fests, on T-shirts (the aforementioned unchanged pack design), in bookshops (“Das große Nutella Kochbuch”), on e-Bay (collectors of promotional jars or giveaways) and there are even Nutella cafés in some city centres where you can have a cup of coffee and eat your fill of various Nutella concoctions – all this in addition to the expected supermarket and classic media presence. Of course, anything that is successful and cult spawns cover versions. In Nutella’s case they are numerous and quite blatant in their copying of the mother of all hazelnut spreads, from Lidl’s Choco Nussa to Aldi’s Nutoka but none of them have quite managed to copy the subtleties of Ferrero’s secret recipe.


Of course, cult status brings you more than your fair share of urban myths. In Nutella’s case these include the positive (“Nutella is a wonder cure for cold sores and other forms of Herpes.”) and the not-so desirable (“Nutella gets its colour from cow blood.”). But none of these myths seem to be so extreme as those associated with McDonald’s or Procter & Gamble’s brands – maybe Nutella’s “Italian Mamma” personality makes it less vulnerable to attack than those brands which are assumed to be run and controlled by George W. Bush doppelgangers.


Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of Nutella’s cult status is that much of this comes not so much from TV advertising but from in-store and on-pack promotions. While there have been some memorable TV campaigns (involving some of the usual suspects here such as the ubiquitous Boris Becker), it is the special promotions that have become collector’s items. A 2kg jar was available in 2000 for the millennium, for example, and the 40th birthday promotional packs were soon sold out. These included stencils of characters from Asterix concealed in the lid which was a repeat of a promotion originally from the 1970s or 1980s.

It seems to be fitting, then, that Nutella celebrated its 40th birthday with a spectacular promotion: the biggest breakfast in the world. No less than 27,854 Nutella fans turned up to the event which earned Nutella a place in the Guinness Book of records. So, here’s to the next 40 years unless the extreme healthy-eating killjoys get there first!


Only a few months after writing this article, I suffered a public humiliation that I’ll never live down. I took part in an on-air radio quiz and was asked to name which German football players featured in the Nutella ad for the 2006 World Cup. I didn’t know. Me, working in advertising, with a football-crazy husband. 

I still hang my head in shame.

As for Nutella, well, the healthy eating police are still stomping around, but not to any great effect. The latest member of the Nutella family is biscuits.

And me? Sorry, but I still prefer Marmite. I’m not that German.


Thursday 26 October 2023

Miss you

Is British advertising getting its mojo back?

I've noticed a couple of ads - very different but on the same theme (or insight, if you will) that have made me wonder if British humour and general silliness is making a comeback after all those dreary plinky-piano angsty offerings.

I mentioned Yorkshire Tea's Skipton Alfie in my last post.  And now, along comes this one from Heinz - "Too Good to Leave Behind."

Now, of course, I don't see "someone who looks like me" in this ad. But, boy do I identify with it!

I've suffered delayed luggage recently and can seriously understand this chap's pain on missing his beans. My trips to the UK usually involve stocking up on various comestibles. This article - not sure how old it is, but its probably from the last couple of years, lists the Top 10 most popular British products globally, via The British Corner Shop. And the Top 3 are Warburton's Crumpets, Heinz Baked Beans and Cadbury's Flake. So Heinz and their agency, Wieden & Kennedy London, have even done the data-fuelled, fact-based thing, yah, boo, sucks!

None of my absolute favourites made the Top 10, funnily enough. No Marmite, Colman's, or Gordon's Sloe Gin. But maybe these are acquired tastes, given that this is global sales.

I do hope that the ad world will see a return of self-deprecating, batty British humour post-Brexitpermacrisisetcetc. After all, it is Too Good To Leave Behind. 

Thursday 19 October 2023

Love, peace, piss-ups and brass music


Ten years ago, if you’d told me the gin market would shortly explode and still be gaining sales in 2023, when young people are allegedly drinking less alcohol, my head would have been surprised. 

But not my heart. I’ve always loved gin and know that its a damned good thing. It just needed the right time, the right conditions and some clever marketing to get it back in vogue.

I came across something that reminded me this a few weeks ago, on a late summer holiday to Baska, on the island of Krk in Croatia. Something I had always loved given a bit of reinvention, a bit of borrowing from popular culture - and being lapped up like crazy by people young enough to be my grandchildren.

The event in question was Brass Palmas . This is the beach party event associated with the Woodstock der Blasmusik  . The experience was quite surreal. At one end of the beach at Baska there’s a nudist resort.

At the other there are trumpets, tubas, trombones, saxophones.

Buckets of beer and cocktails.

Dirndls, Lederhosen and plenty of Skipton Alfie-style loud beach pyjamas.

Imagine the slightly staid world of oompah music given a large shot of festival/club/Ibiza atmosphere, and there you go.  The kind of mix that sounds ridiculous on paper, but just works in reality - and how!

There’s a party boat, a pool party, and non-stop music, dancing and drinking from stupid o’clock onwards.


And behind it all is some very neat marketing - brilliant brand name and logo ... and of course all the merchandise you could possibly want.

It’s a blast!

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.


Monday 24 July 2023

Coutts, Farage and the inclusivity paradox


A couple of years ago, I wrote a post entitled Your customers choose you. At the time, I believed that it was nigh-well impossible for a brand of any size to pick and choose its customers. Much as they’d like to. Coutts for example, state on their website that “Coutts clients are trailblazers and pioneers, the disrupters and challengers who help to shape the fabric of UK society.”

Dream on, Coutts, I would have thought a few weeks ago. You may have a few photogenic dazzling young movers and shakers, who you’ve displayed prominently on your website. But you’ve also got a heck of a lot of retired brigadiers and boring old conservative farts. And, people like Nigel Farage.

Well, we all know that didn’t end well. But while FMCG brands from bog cleaner to baked beans would have difficulty stopping Mr Farage, Mr Trump or anyone else from buying their product, banks can close accounts. Social media platforms, too. What has been revealed in the case of Farage is that the resaons were nothing to do with insufficient funds in the account, or being a politically-exposed-person. It was a case of Farage’s views and opinions - as catalogued in a multi-page dossier - “not aligning with the bank’s values.”

I’ve done a lot of work on brand (rather than corporate) values, and the challenge was always three-fold. First of all, finding descriptors that could legitimately be described as “values” - generally nouns. Secondly, for the combination - and I’d advise not picking more than four - to be distinctive and fitting to that particular brand. And finally, things that weren’t so vague, intellecually airy-fairy or obscure that no-one had a clue how to put these into practice.

Whether it’s the B-Corp/ESG movement or the interest in Purpose, I don’t know. But values - whether applied to corporate or brand - seem to have become simultaneously samey and vague over the last years. Many companies don’t divulge what they’re for, rather what they’re against - all the usual suspect -isms and -phobias along with hate and toxicity in general.

Is “diversity” a value? I don’t think so, any more than “equity”. These words have taken on very particular meanings in corporate-speak. 

And when it comes to the third member of this particular trio, then Coutts are really tying themselves up in knots. Even putting aside the financial requirements to become a customer, just take a look at the screenshot from their website. Under the section on “Inclusion” comes the text “when you become a client of Coutts, you’ll be part of an exclusive network.”

To me, it all illustrates a lack of that good old-fashioned brand value, integrity.  

Monday 10 July 2023



During the 20-teens, pre-Covid, I got terribly excited about “The Sharing Economy”. My trusty trend-forecaster newsletter contacts did, too - forever sending little examples of apps for sharing anything from leftover food to power tools to skills. My response was always the same - wow! Great idea! Must try it out. Then I’d look at the app, or the website and remember that I live in Bruchköbel, a German town in rural Hessen with 20,000 inhabitants who are unlikely to be early adopters of such gizmos. Why not? Well, I’ll come to that, but the clue is in the photos above.

There’s an article about the death of the Sharing Economy in Fast Company. Or at least what we all got excited about ten or fifteen years back. The article goes through the history of the idea - how tech put us on the path away from ownership and towards collective peer-to-peer good. Looking back, some of the orignal Sharing Economy players are still going strong - from Airbnb to Uber. And I think the food sharing app OLIO is doing OK, too, having gone into toys, toiletries, tupperware and stuff. Ditto, Peerby - although the nearest neighbourhood I could find is in Holland.

But generally, the article concludes that the sharing power drills with neighbours concept hasn’t really taken off. While people like the idea in theory (and of course, it ticks a few virtue-signalling boxes), in the end they can’t be a**ed because for a few quid more you could get the thing delivered from Amazon. Many of the original Sharing Economy players that have survived have - rather like ebay - started off peer-to-peer then ended up becoming more and more dominated by companies and corporates rather than private individuals.

I still get those newsletters, though - and here’s a recent-ish sharing economy thing that’s trying to make fashion more sustainable with its “community of expert seamstresses” - Sojo. And looking at the website, I was reminded the following:

    - someone in the Bruchköbel Facebook Forum offering a box of limes and lemons to whoever was        first to come and collect

    - a hand-written sign on a garden gate to say that they had fresh eggs to give away today

    - walking past the two local tailors/seamstresses that are practically next door to each other (and I am sure there are one or two others in the town)

And I wonder - who needs the diversion, the middleman, the app? Both from a point of view of fiddliness and inconvenience, but also something more fundamental when it comes to “local” and “community.” I’ve had hotel owners requesting me to please, please book direct rather than through one of the big booking websites. It’s to do with money, of course, but also maintaining individuality and integrity.

I can understand the reluctance of many small local businesses to get caught up on these global platforms - in the same way that I won’t be touting my wares on Fiverr.