| Claudia Schiffer
Frankfurt, Nov. 16 (Reuters): Hard working, dull and humourless'
Germany, which has been saddled with negative stereotypes since World War II, is actually hip, hedonistic and laid back, a team of image consultants is trying to persuade Britons.
“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 realise 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 Audi adverts, but there is widespread lack of interest in their European neighbour. While some 2.5 million Germans visit Britain every year, 500,000 British holidaymakers went to Germany in 2002.
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.
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 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 recognised the need to sharpen its national image. Interior minister Otto Schily has said he aims to use the 30-million-euros ($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 like Adidas and Puma, play down their roots.
Given the weight of scepticism about Germany at home and abroad, advertising executives say the task of rebranding will not be easy. “It’s much more complex than branding Coca Cola,” said Eberhard Beutler, managing director at Saatchi and Saatchi in Frankfurt.
Commentators say that Germany needs to modernise its reputation to shake off persistent World War II prejudices.
In Britain, while the tabloids often return to headlines about “krauts”, young Britons like Lee Anthony, a 28 year-old postman, have other stereotypes for the rebranders to worry about.
“Everyone says the war but I wasn’t around,” he said. “I always think of football when I think of Germany, that and the beer and the fact that they nick the sunbeds on holiday.”