The British attitude towards Germany seems to be ambiguous: there are still many World War II movies on television, there are serious newspaper articles and hostile tabloid cartoons, unfriendly governmental memos (as we shall see later) and – last but not least – advertising: The people who deal with this issue are of different political background. Therefore, they have contradictory intentions and express either friendly or hostile opinions: Nevertheless, certain stereotypes of Germans are recurrent, regardless of which attitude is represented.
The two following lists of German attributes have only recently been compiled: The first one is the result of the Chequers-conference in March 1999, when Margaret Thatcher discussed the aspects of German reunification with some confidants: The conference’s consensus on „eternal“ German characteristics was1: “insensitivity to the feeling of others, [...] aggressiveness; assertiveness, bullying, egotism [...].” (Moyle, 110).
The memo was not designed to be published, therefore one can assume that the participants spoke frankly.
Several other „German“ features can be found in a poll in which students were asked about national characteristics: According to the majority, Germans are2:
orderly, (disciplined, organises, efficient, obedient to rules, inflexible, punctual); hard-working, (laborious and ambitious); arrogant (particularly in intellectual matters); complex (difficult to understand, Angst-ridden): (Husemann, 15).
My paper will focus on the occurrence of several of these images in advertising, especially in four campaigns released between 1993 and 1997: Three of them deal with German products promoted for German consumers, one of them deals with a British product for the British market, but refers to Anglo-German conflict in order to tell its story.
We will see that especially the stereotypical German virtues (see above) are applied in order to emphasise the value of the goods: In contrast, the first example shows how negative images are used to show British superiority.
1.1. The Story of a Label
An essential constituent of Anglo-German trade has always been the label “Made in Germany“. In 1887, when political and economic rivalry between Britain and Germany was rising and German industrial products were sold under the label “Made in Britain“ in order to have better chances on the world market, Parliament introduced the “Merchandise Marks Act“ to protect the British economy. It said that every product of the German empire had to be marked as such in order to prevent consumers from buying it under a false assumption. The consumers‘ reaction was completely unexpected: they realized that they especially appreciated German products and bought even more of them. According to David Head3, this kind of approval still exists; also today, the indication “Made in Germany“ works as a marketing argument for quality and durability (see Head, 91).
2. Examples of Anglo-German Advertising
The examples will be presented in the chronological order in which they appeared.
2.1. Television Advertisement for British Beer: Carling Black Label Lager (1993)
The film has the following plot: the setting is a hotel where numerous elderly men, who are nearly bald and German-speaking, are woken up by their alarm clocks early in the morning. They jump out of their beds and hurry down the stairs in order to be the first the pool and get a sunbed in time. In contrast to this, a handsome young man holding rolled towel appears and steps outside; he is in no hurry and there is a superior smile on his face. He throws the towel over the pool, it bounces three times on the water, then reaches its target, a sunbed, and enrols: its design is a Union Jack, inside there is a can of Carling beer. The film ends with the young man lying on the sunbed, enjoying his beer while the others are speechless and puzzled.
2.2. Print Advertisement for Bavarian Beer: Löwenbräu (Autumn 1994)
On October 24, 1994, Der Spiegel reports on a British Löwenbräu campaign that deals with famous English funny questions and Germans who do not know the correct answer – something which every English child is supposed to know4. The picture below shows the company’s British manager on a camel on the day the posters were released:
The pattern of the different jokes is always the same: a person with a German name is asked a funny question, e.g. “Helga, what do you call a camel with three humps?“. Helga replies: “Mutant?“. The answer should be – according to a popular pun – “Humphrey“ (this is not explicitly said. The last line is: “What we Germans lack in humour, we make up for in our beer“.
Another question is: “Franz, when is a door not a door?“ – „A door is always a door, Kurt“. According to the British joke, the answer should be: “When it’s a radio or a vase““. At the bottom of the poster, the same last line follows (see Der Spiegel, 259).
2.3. Print Advertisement for German Gardening Tools: Gardena (Spring 1995)
The following advertisement appeared in several Sunday papers‘ garden sections in April 19955 (see next page):
2.4. Television and Print Commercial for a German Car: Volkswagen – The New Passat (Spring 1997)
Volkswagen’s New Passat television campaign consisted of five different stories, two of which are remarkable in this context6:
The first film is about a serious looking elder man who is obsessed with round shapes wherever he sees them: fashionable hats, classic buildings, avocados, heads. He always examines them very thoroughly and even secretly takes photos of a bald man. His behaviour is rather weird. In the end we see him at work and find out that this very man is Karl Schneider, Design Kapitän VW and that the new Passat meets the classic aesthetic standard of the round shape.
The second film concentrates on a middle-aged man who is very thoughtful since he has got up very early in the morning. He tests every lock he is confronted with in everyday life, e.g. windows, cappuccino jugs, doors, dustbins, briefcases or gates. He tests them on his way to work, but they all leave him unsatisfied. He is so obsessed with opening and closing them again and again that he does not realize that other people obviously think that he is insane. In the end we see him at work in the car factory, opening the door of a Passat, smiling relieved and happily. The name badge on his chest reads: P. Fischer. Qualitätskontrolle VW. The print advertisements (see next page) belonging to this do not deal with Karl Schneider and P. Fischer, but show several people standing around the Passat. Although the car has obviously been finished, they do not stop checking and controlling it, especially the man who is crawling under it. All of them – note the person inside – have an air of adoration and happiness about the perfect machine they have created. The two men in the background even seem to stroke it tenderly.
1 Moyle, Lachlan. “The Ridley-Chequers-Affair and the German Character. A Journalistic Main Event“. In: Husemann, Harald (ed.). As Others See Us: Anglo-German Perceptions. Frankfurt am Main, 1994. 107-120.
2 Husemann, Harald. „I Think, Therefore I Stereotype, Therefore I Stereotype, Therefore I Am“. In: Herrmann, Karin, Harald Husemann, Lachlan Moyle (ed.). Coping with the Relations. Anglo-German Cartoons from the Fifties to the Nineties. Osnabrück, 1995. 10-19.
3 Head, David. “Having the Last Laugh. ‚Made in Germany‘: Advertising in Britain Today“. In: Cullingford, Cedric, Harald Husemann (eds.). Anglo-German Attitudes. Aldershot, 1995. 91-103.
4 Löwenbräu. “Komische Kampagne“. In: Der Spiegel 43. 24.10.1994. Hamburg. 259.
5 Gardena. “Gardena. Serious Gardening Equipment from Germany“. In: The Guardian Weekend. April 15, 1995. London.
6 BMP DBB Needham Limited Agency. Volkswagen. Karl Schneider; Doors (films). Obsession. From Laboratoires Volkswagen (print). London, 1997.
- Quote paper
- Cornelia Neumann (Author), 1998, Made in Germany - A proof of technical perfection. Stereotypes of Germans in British advertising, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/8987