Mon, Nov 17, 2003 - Page 7 News List

`Cool' Germans lash out at stereotypes

`VORSPRUNG DURCH TECHNIK' The World War II bad guys are polishing their image, focusing on skimpily clad ravers rather than their beer or industrial stalwarts


Hard working, dull and humorless?

Germany, which has been saddled with negative stereotypes since World War II, is actually hip, hedonistic and laid back. This is what a team of image consultants is trying to persuade Britons to believe.

"We are known for being aggressive, thorough and pushy," said Ulrich Sacker, director of the Goethe Institute in London. "The media does not show contemporary Germany, history lessons focus on Hitler and few people realize that strong brands like Nivea, Hugo Boss and Puma are actually German."

Fighting back against this image problem, Sacker led a brain-storming session with advertisers earlier this year and has started a rebranding offensive in Britain, a big step for a country which has been a reluctant self-publicist since 1945.

Reminiscent of the Cool Britannia media fanfare in the late 1990s, designers have chosen to sell Germany with images of skimpily clad ravers at Berlin's Love parade rather than its famous beer or industrial stalwarts like BMW or Siemens.

A Claudia Schiffer poster with the slogan "learn German -- and look good" is just one of the ways they are trying to revive waning interest in German in British schools. Similar advertising campaigns are underway in France and Japan.

Britons may like to buy Miele washing machines and can reel off "Vorsprung durch Technik," the catch phrase from glossy Audi adverts, but there is widespread lack of interest in their big European neighbor.

Whereas some 2.5 million Germans visit Britain every year, just around 500,000 British holidaymakers went to Germany last year.

Similarly, a recent survey showed young Britons are nonplussed by German culture. Market researcher Gfk found that most Germans aged between 16 and 25 knew of British celebrities, but a slim minority of their British counterparts could name a single living German star.

A case in point is Germany's best-known pop star, Herbert Groenemeyer, who is thronged by crowds in his home country but seldom recognized on the streets near his London home.

Skewed media coverage is part to blame, said Detlef Thelen, communications manager at the British Council in Berlin.

"In Germany we always see TV shots of Beckham and lots about the UK music scene," he said. "In Britain, tellies focus on World War II."

Advertising and branding professionals say a country's international image is vital, affecting tourism, foreign investment and everyday shopping decisions like whether to buy a German Riesling wine or a French Bordeaux.

In the face of stalled spending and rising unemployment, there is little doubt that Europe's biggest economy needs a jumpstart. The German Government has recognized the need to sharpen its national image.

Interior Minister Otto Schily has said he aims to use the 30-million-euros (US$33.86 million) publicity drive ahead of Germany's 2006 World Cup to portray it as a modern and open-minded nation, newspapers reported.

But corporate Germany seems less convinced of the pulling-power of Germany as a brand.

While industrial giants like car maker Volkswagen accentuate their links to Germany, many other firms play down their roots.

Adidas and Puma, famous for their sports shoes, are run from the quiet Bavarian town where they were founded more than 50 years ago, but neither sees itself as a "German" firm.

At the Adidas "World of Sports" headquarters, there is no sign of Bavaria's famous lederhosen. In fact, only half of its board members are German and English is the main language spoken at the company.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top