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.