You are Deutschland, too (just kidding)

Spreeblick is currently getting quite a few hits from people outside of Germany. This is due to the fact that by the time of this writing, „Du bist Deutschland“ is Technorati’s number one top search, meaning that there’s either nothing of real interest happening in the world right now or that the German blogosphere is indeed getting some international attention.

Since Spreeblick has had its share of discussing the social marketing campaign using the claim „Du bist Deutschland“ („You are Germany“, but let’s call it „YAG“ from now on so I don’t have to type that much), I guess it makes sense to write down a couple of sentences from my point of view. Of course, as my English teachers in school used to say, „in English, please“.

As you might have guessed by now, Spreeblick is mainly a German language webblog (you can read some more info on the site at the end of this article if you’re interested), so the links in this article will all link to German posts. I’m guessing you all know how to use Google’s translation service so feel free to try it that way, I can at least guarantee a few laughs with the often not so correct results.

When one evening in May 2005 I read about the planned marketing campaign „YAG“ on a German blog called supatyp, I got pretty annoyed. The campaign claimed to address the alleged „bad and depressive spirit“ in Germany by telling citizens to rise above themselves and go out and do something to end their misery. When the campaign was released in September 2005, it did so by showing successful examples of historic or contemporary German artists, VIPs and business people and telling people that they could reach the same heights of success. If only they wanted.

Now, being a self employed citizen almost all of my life and being the all-in-all quite optimistic and self-reliant person I am, I knew that things weren’t that easy. Though I have no problem whatsoever with being German (in fact I quite like it), I couldn’t accept such a profane and in my opinion stupid campaign. Not by exactly the same people that brought us claims like „Stinginess is cool“ and who therefore helped to raise a greedy atmosphere amongst people. Not in a country where, while finding out that the level of general knowledge amongst children in Germany had reached a new low, Kindergartens were closed or sold and social institutions had less and less money. Not in a country where kids who copied music or films were treated as criminals. Not in a country with five million unemployed people. Not in a country where the social structures that were once under government control to retain a certain balance were more and more often privatized.

Telling those people that their fate was all a matter of self esteem and a „better vibe“ sounded, and still sounds, very cynical to me. I believed that a lot of people in Germany were upset exactly because they had the feeling that being responsible didn’t change anything anymore, that working your ass off wasn’t of any use and didn’t get them anywhere. I believed that a lot of people thought that the country wasn’t theirs anymore. It belonged to Them. To the 3.7 percent of Germans who own 96.3 percent of private means in Germany.

As it turned out in the comments following my angry article and a later, deeper explanation of my feelings, a lot of people agreed with me. And a lot of people didn’t. While we were in the middle of this very healthy and emotional discussion, mainstream media picked up on it.

So the topic was already pretty hot when the campaign finally started in autumn 2005. When it came out and proved to be even worse than I had feared, with a corny video clip of German millionaire celebrities telling me what to do with the Forest Gump soundtrack playing in the background, I wrote an article about how I’ll participate, released a photoshop template based on the original campaign and invited everyone to join a special flickr group, which at this point boasts over 500 submissions – mind you, not all of them are great, but a lot of them are!

Things started to erupt again in blogs and in the established media with those satirical collages but slowed down a little later. Until November 2005, when a picture was found in a history book showing that the claim of the campaign had already been used by some Nazis (it wasn’t a common Nazi slogan) in 1935. Though the vast majority of bloggers didn’t accuse the makers of the campaign of being Nazis or of having used the slogan on purpose, things heated up again in the comments and blogs all over Germany and again the „old media“ got involved. Even the campaign makers now started to comment and explain themselves in blogs.

For my part, by that time I was pretty fed up with the whole thing. I felt as if we, the bloggers, were almost doing the campaign a favour by talking about it so much so I wanted to just not mention it again.

Enter Jens Scholz, a German blogger who had recently published a newsletter written by Jean-Remy von Matt, the head of one of the campaign’s lead agencies, JVM, two weeks after the campaign had started. In the mail, von Matt calls weblogs the „toilet walls of the internet“ (now think about it: where’s the toilet, then? Is it the whole internet?) and asks „since when can everybody who owns a computer just say whatever they want?“. I don’t have to tell you how many sidebar-buttons saying „toilet wall“ immediately appeared on German blogs.

Jean-Remy von Matt apologized for parts of the letter. But the discussion isn’t really dealing with the campaign or mails or claims anymore anyway, I guess. It is dealing with powers of communication and a certain change in those powers. The companies that are so keen on „guerilla advertizing“, „innovative marketing strategies“ and „bringing it to the streets“ now find themselves caught up in the middle of a PR disaster. Or, to look at it differently, caught in one of the most successful guerilla communication campaigns ever.

After all, most of the German bloggers wanted to add an intelligent point of view to the discussion, so they did exactly what the campaign suggested: They spoke up. Maybe a little too loudly for some people.

(Please find Jens Scholz‘ english text on the topic here, it has a translation of von Matt’s letter.)

Note: If any Spreeblick reader feels I forgot something important, please add thoughts and links. It was kind of hard to re-think the whole story, so I might have missed something important.

Some info on Spreeblick: This blog is mainly written by me, Johnny Haeusler, a 41-year old ex-musician, ex-radio-journalist, ex-webdesign-company-founder, now a close-to-fulltime blogger loving life in his hometown Berlin. Since Spreeblick is not only about stupid marketing campaigns, feel free to check out the handful of English entries written by Charles, our man in the US. There’s also a Spreeblick podcast in English that you might enjoy. Thanks for reading up to here.

48 Kommentare

  1. 01

    Yeah, it is a top search entry today.. I got a few hits in just 10 minutes.. :-)

  2. 02

    Servus ! Thanks for the info.. :)

  3. 03

    Thanks for taking the time to explain. My german is very bad, sorry. Dankeschon!

  4. 04

    Mach doch ein wöchentlich ein Multi-Kulti-Special. Gern auch für Parallelgesellschaften in der BRD.

    Ich wollte den Kommentar eigentlich in Englisch verfassen, allerdings schein Parallelgesellschaft in keinem Online-Übersetzer verfügbar zu sein :)

  5. 05
  6. 06

    I´m a Bielefelder in New Jersey.
    Living in this „it´s-up-to-you-country“, I´m rather amused about the whole thing.
    This whole nation (the US) seens to base on the philosophy that everyone gots the same opportunities and if you didn´t make it, you just didn´t take your chance. Don´t blame anyone else!
    This is so cynical, but most people seem to agree that it IS their country.
    I´ll never understand it.
    Maybe I´m too Deutschland!

  7. 07

    Thanks for directing me here. This is truly fascinating. In particular:

    I believed that a lot of people thought that the country wasn“™t theirs anymore. It belonged to them. To the 3.7 percent of Germans owning 96.3 percent of private means in Germany.

    . . . sounds a lot like the US. But it’s the message of the Du bist Deutschland campaign that resonates with me: all it takes is high self-esteem; you are the agent of your salvation. That, too, is very American, and so sorrily untrue.

    Think I’ll blog tonight about the merits of poor self-esteem

  8. 08

    This is absolutely hilarious ! I think the U.S. is headed in the same direction, with a total concentration of wealth in the hands of very few. We may be behind you a few years, but we are headed over the same cliff. I’ll have to take a look at the Flickr site, I assume the addy is above ?

    proschai !


  9. 09

    >This whole nation (the US) seens to base on the philosophy that everyone gots the same opportunities and if you didn´t make it, you just didn´t take your chance. Don´t blame anyone else!

    That’s exactly why I think most Americans would totally approve of that campaign.

    While I think that this attitude accounts for some of the success the US has, I also believe that the total opposite is true: There is no such thing as a „free will“. Genes and environmental factors 100% determine our character (including willpower), decisions and success.

  10. 10

    i tried to make visible the problematic way, this camapaign ist working. in their ads jvm wants german people to identify with celebrities to let them feel better. all the way, i did this in a very provocative way, which made the conservative youth write a polemical press information. to me that would be funny, if it wasn’t that sad. to me all that happens around this yag campaign shows, that there’s a kind of „clash of civilizations“ ist going on in germany, dividing the people by half into those who reflect and those who don’t.

  11. 11

    I cannot understand the problem of the author!

  12. 12

    Steve, there must be some mysteries left in life…

  13. 13

    Hey Johnny, do this in german as well – i think, it’s the best summary of this topic I’ve read so far.

    Plus: I’m fed up explaining non-net-citizens what the whole anti-campaign is all about ;)

  14. 14

    I picked this conversation up over at the Technorati blog today and I think that the topic making Technorati’s most blogged post-of-the-day is great. Thanks for providing the English-language summary (I’ve been able to enjoy the row „auf Deutsch“ as well).

    I live and work in Germany and am familiar with the ad campaign „Du Bist Deutschalnd“. Whoever said that the Bundesregierung and Jean-Remy von Matt’s PR firm missed the mark is right. Germany is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, international society today but there remains many many problems with Germans and Ausländer (foreigners) accepting the fact that they must work hard together to become a significant part of the whole (the whole = a healthy and vibrant Germany). That’s just one angle and of course there are many other aspects pointed out so well by German bloggers writing about this subject.

    Nonetheless I feel that over time (a lot of time) many people living here will figure it out for themselves and there won’t be any need for such a campaign. „Du bist Deutschland“ will just be a matter of fact. Great stuff though (German bloggers), keep it up. Yo, Germany is „in the House“!

    BTW: Jean-Remy von Matt is as out-of-touch with the Blogosphere as he is with people in Germany. Where’s he from, France?

  15. 15

    Switzerland :-)

  16. 16

    I’m also from Germany. Isn’t it kinda crazy that this campaign became such a big issue and is discussed all over the world?

  17. 17

    do you know that people who born in the gdr and over 32 years, don’t speak english?

  18. 18

    Nice write-up.

    I recently saw this campaign being discussed in the international English version of Spiegel.de. Really weird that it makes fresh rounds online even though it’s months old. Why does interest seem to peak now?

  19. 19

    That’s a really excellent article!
    Great summary on the YAG-campaign, I wouldn’t know what should be added to that.

    Johnny, frankly I do not think that, despite being in everyone’s mouth, the campaign would be considered a success, especially with regards to the blogosphere. Certainly it is said that any promotion is good promotion, but as the initiators do not want to sell material goods (this time… and while selling out Germany’s infrastructure) to the German people, it should be much more crucial that the campaign receives positive responses here. Instead, at least with the blogosphere it has become a laughing-stock – and rightly so!

    Yeah, Germany is walking in the shoes of the US nowadays: pursuit of happiness, „equal opportunities“, and individuality – all those cool buzzwords the manifestation of which only exists for the upper crust, while the rest of the people is brought down and low, and officially deprived of all individualism by our new laws (government presents: „Hartz IV“ featuring „extreme structural violence“).

    It would be ridiculous if things were not becoming more and more desperate…

    Sometimes I think the best answer to such a hypocritical, cynical campaign as well as to the current political course would be something like the dock workers reactions at Bruxelles upon a decision of the EU commission. And if only for temporary relief and the knowledge that this one time they can *not* ignore the poplulation.

    But as a general observation, it is interesting:
    The more a people is deprived of opportunities to climb the social ladder, the louder it is proclaimed that everything just depends on one’s own efforts.

    …And some people actually do believe it…

    Hell, but we are blind!
    Maybe it’s time for Darwin, anyway…

  20. 20

    Well that’s a beautiful and comprehensive round-up of the whole story. Thx Johnny!

  21. 21

    und das so wenige Tage vor dem 1. Todestag der herrlichen JungUndMatt-Kampagne…

    Vielleicht haben die Kreativen das mit dem Verorten etwas zu wörtlich genommen. Vielleicht sind sie einfach auf das schmierige Vulgäre Du verfallen, weil man in der 2. Person noch am besten einen Befehl in einem Appell verkleiden kann.

    Trendiger wäre dann BISTE DEUTSCHLAND!, so wie etwa TV-Lolle aus Mitte das gesagt hätte…

  22. 22

    Sorry, but I´m a proud German Woman. I would love to drink a RemyMartin or JohnnyWalker. I must be drunken. What else could I explain? *Du bist Deutschland* should have been a successfully step to understanding and feeling beloved in this multikulti nation. Parallelgesellschaft? !!
    My slogan: Step by step together. Buerokratie fuer alle? Nein, Danke!
    Vier sind das Volk, also passt auf, ihr Purschen ;-)

  23. 23

    Du bist Deutschland – und ich ein cooler Stiefel!
    Ergebenst – Stiefel

  24. 24

    Nachtrag zu deppensicher kommunizeren – deppensicher bloggen:

  25. 25
  26. 26


    Ich schrieb noch des Abends als Jung von Matt und Klowand
    noch auf #3&4 waren eine erklärende mail an die Technoraten,
    um blogamerica nicht dumm sterben zu lassen…

    aber diese undankbaren *g* Blogstatistikier haben
    dann wohl lieber euch und SpOn als Quelle gelinkt……..
    ….Undank ist des bloggens lohn *jammer-rum*

    Wir können jedenfalls alle mächtig stolzierlich sein
    und eine Art „Purple-Heart“ vielleicht in grün an unser
    virtuelles Revers heften – als Teilnehmer und Veteran
    einer Schlacht im virtuellen Wasserglas.

    – Proud2bePartofitregierung.

  27. 27

    Using the provided template I made a little mock-up of Jean-Remy’s Deutschland.

  28. 28

    Jeremy, where is it? Can you link to it?

    Weltregierung, wo ist denn der Artikel, finde ihn auf deinem Blog nicht. Wenn die dich verlinken sollten, musste auch was zum Verlinken haben, nicht nur ne Mail schicken. Oder?

  29. 29

    Jeremy: Oops. Saw it on your site. Why don’t you put it in the flickr-pool?

  30. 30
  31. 31

    Danke für das Info. Fand‘ ich interessant!

    Gruß aus Israel

  32. 32
    gerdt petersen

    not only „wir sind deutschland“ your are also. more then you can imagin.


  33. 33

    Doofe Frage:
    Wieso geht spreeblick.de nicht mehr?

    Verwirrte Grüße aus der Lesezeichen-Leiste

  34. 34

    corleone (no. 20), maybe you are interessted in translating it into russian?

  35. 35

    und jetzt sind wir schon bei „Du bist Niedersachsen“…
    siehe http://www.ekm-consult.de/blog

    Aber ich glaube, ich will kein Jadebusen sein ;o)

  36. 36

    Piss heute wusste ich noch nicht, dass Faust mit dem Gedanken (frei zitiert): „Die Geister, die ich rief, werde ich nicht mehr los!“ auch Gutes gemeint haben konnte ;-) Ich pin pegeistert und kein desperated houswive mehr :-)

  37. 37

    I was an analyst in Germany living in Munich during 1995-1998 and covered the Telecommunications industry. The problem with Germany now and then is the fact that the German people have been neutered of their identity. I think this campaign is an attempt to regain some of that nationalism.

    Moving the capital to Berlin, high taxes (I paid 54% when I was there) and socialist „reforms“ have all but relegated a once proud people to a country where over 12% of the population receives handouts. It’s a shame to see great country like Germany to slowly decline into a 3rd world socialist state. Even Poland’s economy is starting to eat away at the German GDP.

    If this doesn’t give Germans a new sense of nationalism what are some of the other ideas?

  38. 38
    Gerhard Fricke

    Having lived in Australia for the last 27 years, it is sad to see that the „am amerikanischen Wesen soll die Welt genesen“ movement is making more and more inroads around the world. Here, thanks to the influence of an ultra-conservative government over the past ten years, one could be forgiven for thinking, at times, that Australia is part of the U.S. already. So, „wehret den Anfängen“ and resist the manipulation.

  39. 39