CAMPAIGN REPORT ON GERMANY: Home truths ... Germany's reputation for creating stoic ads may no longer be valid as agencies increasingly pick up more pan-European work

Creatives from other parts of the world are used to poking fun at ads from Germany, criticising them for being austere and conservative.

But in some cases the perception is lagging behind the reality as creative hotshops in Germany increasingly appear on the radar of big clients.

Just recently, the Hamburg-based independent shop Shaken not Stirred beat off competition from the hip and highly regarded Amsterdam shop Strawberry Frog to the international EuropCar business.

And Mercedes-Benz chose Scholz & Friends' London and Berlin offices to handle the creative work for the pan-European launch of its new people carrier, the Vaneo, building on its existing relationship with the Cordiant-owned network.

What helps to perpetuate Germany's reputation for dull work is that there is no obvious creative centre. Whereas other big European markets can boast a capital city as their creative heart, Germany is carved up into so many regions that it effectively has several hearts beating to different tempos.

Munich and Hamburg are Germany's main creative cities, with Hamburg housing many home-grown agencies such as Springer & Jacoby. Certain agencies have offices in Frankfurt and Dusseldorf where the creative output is commonly seen as more workmanlike.

And since the German government moved from Bonn to Berlin two years ago and settled into the impressive Reichstag building shown on the front of this report, Berlin is more on the map from a creative point of view.

Berlin even boasts its own version of Soho in Mitte, a district in the former eastern sector frequented by the city's artistic community.

In terms of agency life, it may surprise those from other cities who see their clients' infidelity as a way of life, that German clients tend to be less promiscuous. They favour monogamous relationships with agencies, and as a result, marriages tend to be loyal and long-lasting. As clients settle down with their agencies, the market enjoys more maturity. One consultant says: "Relationships appear to be more formal (than in London) but are deeper. Many Germans don't like change very much and that helps to stabilise things."

Economic pressures have also meant that big account moves have become a rarity. Media agency chiefs are not predicting any dramatic turnaround in the domestic economy until the fourth quarter of 2002, so pressure on the purse-strings means that clients are being more conservative than ever.

So can anything be done to ensure more money is pumped into the economy?

Dirk Wiedenmann, the chief executive of Initiative Media Germany, knows exactly where to point the finger."Our Government is not doing its homework. We haven't seen any structural changes in our social security system and that's fundamental to see investments in Germany,

he says.

Germany's media has certainly been feeling the pinch. Kirch's pay-TV platform has bombed, having a ripple effect as far as Rupert Murdoch, who is keen to claim back his original investment in the flop. In terms of popular TV programmes, quiz shows are magnets for huge ratings. Quiz Show Mania gripped the nation last year, and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? has been a strong performer for a long time. However, not all of the global ratings-spinners have worked so well. The German version of The Weakest Link was axed after an Anne Robinson lookalike with added sex appeal achieved only a flaccid performance.

Newspapers are still the most popular medium in Germany, and the weekly news publications such as Stern, Focus and Der Spiegel have a firm place in a society that likes to mull over the week's events at leisure. The latest print launch, a national Sunday from the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, has tapped into this desire, keeping the weeklies on their toes.

But it's not all highbrow. Sex and scandal sells in Germany just like anywhere else. Bild, Axel Springer Verlag's tabloid paper with topless women on the cover rather than hidden away on page three, is the most widely read paper in Germany with a circulation of more than four million and an estimated readership of more than 11 million. As for magazines, men's titles have picked up the pace after a slow start. Men's Health has been booming in Germany for many years now, and FHM, GQ and Maxim have jumped on the bandwagon too.

Perhaps with a more eclectic media, the creative hotspots in Germany will come to the fore.

And surely the proof should lie in the country's creative outpput. Cinemas across the UK have recently been treated to Saatchi & Saatchi Frankfurt's ad for Audi, "The fan", featuring a gyrating Elvis doll. What's more, audiences have been genuinely laughing.

A humorous German ad being shown in the UK? Whatever next? Watch this space.

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