Germany: Germany's creative challenge

It may be a victim of its language, the economy or its manufacturing history. Lucy Aitken discovers reasons for Germany's lack of creative heritage. When McDonald's turned to its agencies last year and asked them to participate in a worldwide "competition of ideas", there were gasps when a German agency was declared the winner.

Heye & Partner's "I'm lovin' it" marked a new brand direction for McDonald's and served as the endline in the fast-food chain's first global campaign.

Jurgen Knauss, a partner and the Heye & Partner's managing director, explains the thinking behind "I'm lovin' it": "It had to be a campaign that changed the company's philosophy, so we related this sentence to a change to McDonald's advertising, its interior design, uniforms, packaging and internet presence."

The agency's hard work paid off. This year at Cannes, "out-takes", Heye & Partner's TV ad for McDonald's, won a bronze Lion. It was one of a small bunch of German agencies to return from the French Riviera with an award.

Germany is the world's fourth-largest advertising market. So why is it headline news when a German agency develops an idea worthy of global attention?

And why doesn't it perform better at advertising festivals such as Cannes?

In certain media, Germany still performs pretty well at award shows.

In print, for instance, Scholz & Friends' three executions for Weru's noise-protection windows scooped six gold Lions for its gently humorous campaign.

Sebastian Turner, the chief creative and chief executive officer at Scholz & Friends, and the president of the Art Directors Club in Germany, explains why print always performs better than TV at awards: "Everyone grew up with first- class print advertising in Germany, but TV came late to Germany - it's only carried advertising for the past ten years."

Turner also thinks that Germany's manufacturing history is partly responsible.

"More production-driven countries such as Germany and Austria and everything east of Germany function differently from trade nations such as the UK, Holland, Spain and Norway."

Certainly, German engineering is world-famous, although, ironically, it was a British agency - Bartle Bogle Hegarty - which dreamed up the line Vorsprung Durch Technik (progress through technology) for Audi. VW recently took a similar path with its new line Aus Liebe zum Automobil (for the love of cars).

The German language may be a selling point when it comes to advertising cars, but it's not particularly seductive. The preference for logic over lyricism can make sparkling copy problematic.

Ralf Zilligen, the chief creative officer at BBDO, whose print work for Pepsi was shortlisted at Cannes, says: "German is ideal for writing instruction manuals because it's so precise. But I have serious problems writing a love letter to my girlfriend because our language is so rigid."

Deneke von Weltzien, the creative director at Jung von Matt, thinks that the ubiquity of the English language can't hurt when it comes to international award shows: "English-speaking nations are far better off because everyone in advertising speaks English - even jurors from China understand English."

Also hampering German creativity is geography, Zilligen says. Being regionalised, there are pockets of creativity in Frankfurt, Dusseldorf, Munich and Hamburg, but ad agencies don't tend to flock just to one city. "We don't have a strong community such as Soho where everyone gets to know each other and all the great talent is concentrated in one place," Zilligen laments.

Berlin is rapidly establishing itself as Germany's creative heart and it's becoming a magnet for international talent. The drawback is that Germany's biggest spenders tend to be headquartered in more industrialised cities such as Frankfurt and Dusseldorf.

For several years, Scholz & Friends, Springer & Jacoby and Jung von Matt, which won at Cannes with its press ads for BMW and DHL, were the holy trinity of non-networked ad solutions. But a new breed of agency is revitalising the independent scene. Among the best is Kolle Rebbe, which picked up a bronze Lion for its TV spot for Gauloise and three print golds for Bisley office equipment.

Von Weltzien says: "The development of these agencies is good because the networks are doing so badly. When you go to a network, you give up doing creative work." Ogilvy & Mather Frankfurt might have something to say about that, having won more Lions than most of its peers. But "that's how things are regarded here", Weltzien insists.

Certain schools of thought also believe that creativity has been dampened by economic anxieties. Germany has been dogged by a recession more severe than the downturn in the UK, so clients have largely been spending less while expecting more. "Everyone has been sitting on their money," von Weltzien says. "Decisions have been difficult to achieve, no- one wants to be particularly daring and that's been reflected in the advertising."

Although Zilligen agrees that the recession has meant creative teams have had fewer resources, he doesn't believe that creativity has suffered.

"I think the opposite is true, because the standards have been raised over the past two years," he says. "Necessity is the mother of invention."

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