Tuesday 2 July 2024

RETROWURST: World Cup Image Boost July 2006


Back in October, I regurgitated this Extrawurst, written originally in October 2005. It was all about Du bist Deutschland, a noble idea but rather worthy in the campaign execution. The idea was to give Germans and Germany a kick of positive self-confidence about the country’s place in the world. And I commented that the following year, the job was done by hosting the World Cup. 

This month, I’ve dug out the piece I wrote 9 months later, in July 2006. The World Cup had just wrapped up. As I put it then (rather pompously) “... the repositioning of Germany has been achieved on the pitches of Dortmund, Berlin, München et al.”

I don’t think the media had got completely obsessed with the word Sommermärchen at that point, but you can sense the euphoria in my writing. Rattling on about inclusiveness and a “new Germany” - warm-hearted, friendly, welcoming and open, progressive, modern and humanly efficient.


Well, it is over a week now since Germany crashed out of the World Cup to Italy. Since then, we have had the “little final” against Portugal where Klinsmann’s boys trotted out their stuff once more to the joy of the crowd, the real final in all its head-butting drama and even a “little victory parade” in Berlin the morning after the “little final”. Klinsmann has announced he’s standing down, but no-one here seems to begrudge him his decision and his life. The sun is still shining, the cars and houses are still sporting their flags and everyone, but everyone, is still talking about how fantastic it all was.


Turn the clock back three years and it was all a different story. The German Embassy in London, together with the Goethe Institute held a conference on improving the image of Germany in the UK. Numerous marketing experts were invited to discuss how Germany could overcome the dire perception the country has abroad, especially in the UK. I don’t know the outcome of the conference, but I think we can assume it was all talk and no Lederhosen.


Similarly, I wrote at length about the internal campaign here which ran at the end of 2005 to try and re-kindle some sort of national pride in a negative, depressed, Angst-ridden people, haunted by a past that most of them were not responsible for. If you want to have a look, check out Extrawurst October 2005. Although I claim no abilities as a clairvoyant, I did suggest that perhaps actions speak louder than words and that maybe one thing that would get Germany back on its feet would be winning the World Cup on home soil.


Well, what do you know? They may not have won the cup, but they all have nice little bronze medals to be very proud of (has anyone noticed that bronze is what happens if you mix the colours of the German flag together?) and Germany is still in a state of euphoria. Somehow, we could have saved the money from Bertelsmann & Co as Klinsmann and his merry men seem to have achieved a miracle. Just as the battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, so the re-positioning of Germany has been achieved on the pitches of Dortmund, Berlin, München et al. Who would have thought it?


Internally, it seems that the German Angst has packed up its bags and left (with Sweden, or, more likely, Argentina) and people are actually smiling and talking to each other. No-one is ashamed of the black, red and gold flag anymore and people are talking with enthusiasm about how wonderful the whole event was, how splendidly the team played and generally how much fun it was to have so many visitors from around the world. No-one is even that bitter or twisted about Italy winning: the Germans believe they are winners, too.


The German embassy could have spared their conference, too as well as the German Tourist Board’s rather limp efforts in the Tube with Geoff Hurst as celebrity endorsement for what a super place Germany is (it is, really!). Externally, people and papers around the world have been deluged with images of a new Germany: warm-hearted, friendly, welcoming and open, progressive, modern and humanly efficient. Those that actually experienced it all first-hand seem to be unanimous in their praise and the effect seems to have been particularly marked with the English fans and the British media. So much so that, by the end of the tournament, any England fan who tried to provoke by singing “Ten German bombers” or similar would have felt a complete yesterday’s plonker.


I am sure there are many, many lessons that we in branding and marketing can learn from Germany’s self-generated re-positioning. I’ll just go through one or two that seem to occur to me immediately.


First and foremost, as I hinted in October last year, it’s all about actions and doing rather than saying and telling. How a brand behaves, what it does and how a person experiences it directly is far, far more important than what the brand tells you about itself, which you may or may not believe - if you’re even bothering to listen.


Within a brand, you do have to be careful about choosing which of those facets of the brand to put on the public stage and I am more and more convinced that how to choose these is more a case of gut feel and experience than any amount of analysis or research. Let’s look at the managers of the German team 2002 and 2006, Rudi Völler and Jürgen Klinsmann. Although of roughly the same footballing generation, the two characters couldn’t be more different. Völler was a fine footballer but his appeal was mainly to German males. Unfortunately, his perm, moustache and very German old-school approach sent out the wrong signals to the world at large. Klinsmann, on the other hand, is known to have a more world-open approach and his lack of macho and aggression gave him appeal to the world at large with his earlier diving antics forgiven and forgotten! Or take two players at random – Oliver Kahn, the star of Völler’s squad who spent all but one game of the 2006 tournament on the bench, is an aggressive, snarling macho titan who threw a hissy fit when he wasn’t picked as number one goalie. Contrast him with Klinsmann’s favourite sub, David Odonkor, an agile, creative, African German whose sheer delight in running up and down that pitch couldn’t have been clearer.


Only plan so far: plan what can be planned. It is important for all the hygiene factors to be in place, but you have to leave room for luck, spontaneity and, importantly, people’s participation. People have to choose themselves whether they join in, and the brand has to grow of its own accord. We can only plant the seeds and guide the plant in the right direction. I heard that there were already plans for England’s victory celebrations in place before the kick-off of the first game. Mistake.


While we’re on the plant analogy, we can do a lot to provide the right conditions for a brand to grow and flourish. In Germany’s case the arrangements made for the fan fests, travel and policing were superb. And I didn’t hear any stories about the beer running out at crucial moments! Of course, there are other environmental factors that we can’t do much about, such as the weather.


One of the reasons for the success or turnaround of the brand Germany via hosting the World Cup was its inclusiveness. The motto about friends and guests really was lived-out: everyone felt welcome. There was never a feeling about football being an exclusively male domain or something just for those-in-the-know. Everyone really was invited, and it was extraordinary to see how many German women, including Frau Merkel, got caught up into the spirit of the whole thing.


An optimistic attitude carries a brand a long way. Before the WM, it was all doom and gloom here about Germany generally (the ageing population, the pension reform, the tax increases), the WM (hooligans, terrorist attacks) and Klinsmann and his team (hopeless) but Jürgen and the football fans carried on regardless, giving the critics and doom-mongers a sympathetic smile on the way.


Finally, I think you have to judge when enough is enough. From a P.R point of view, making it to 3rd place couldn’t have been bettered. I think that, if Germany had made it to the final, particularly through yet another “clinical” display of penalties, the new-found warmth for the country may have started cooling down as the old clichés about Teutonic invincibility crept back in.


And Klinsmann, too, has timed his exit well. He has saved the football team and the country. What is there left here for him to do?


Well, in 2024, Klinsmann has deserted his homeland for California. But Rüdi and Olli are still doing the football dinosaur stomp around press and pitches. English fans are still being warned to go easy on “10 German Bombers”.

The tournament so far has been rather plagued by crappy trains, bad weather, tales of beer running out and rumblings about right wing extremism around Europe.

Germany has had bad luck in the draw. I’m wondering how much longer they’ll be in. And how long England’s good luck will last.

Reading about Summer 2006 has made me feel nostalgic for a pre-social media age. The focus was on the big screens back then. 

But ... it’s not over until the final whistle in a couple of weeks. 

9 games is plenty of time to make history.

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