Germany: The tide is turning

Uber-rational German advertising is starting to get emotional, and the industry's confident creatives are gaining international cachet, Ruth Nicholas says.

German creativity is no longer an oxymoron, but perceptions often trail reality like a truculent teenager dragging his heels behind a time-pressed parent.

Many German stereotypes are inaccurate, but still they linger. For instance, the country's ad industry was known for always having the largest number of delegates at Cannes and the smallest number of Lions, Christian Mommertz, the creative director at Ogilvy & Mather Frankfurt, says. This year, it came second only to that of the US, bagging 54 awards and beating the UK's haul into third with 49 gongs. True, German agencies fielded the second-highest number of entries - again, the US had the most - but this should surely be seen as a mark of confidence.

German agencies are savvy, and recognise the commercial value of winning Lions. Chris Perry, the managing director of Avenue A/Razorfish, says: "You get massive coverage in Germany for winning at Cannes. It is immensely valuable in terms of new business and attracting employees."

German agencies have become more sophisticated in the way they present their work. Tobias Gartner, the interactive managing director at Scholz & Friends, says: "We have learned that we must present and explain campaigns in an international manner. Before, we often only sent in our entries with a brief explanation, and it was very hard for anyone who did not speak German to really appreciate the work."

But the German industry's recent success at Cannes is down to more than translations and a greater number of entries - it is also due to an improvement in creative product. German advertising has long been characterised as lacking in humour, joy or, indeed, emotion of any sort. It was seen as uber-rational, overstuffed with information and suffering from poor art direction. Some of it still is, but the tide is turning.

"There are two sides to German advertising: the organised, rational side; and the aesthetic, emotional side," Perry says. "Look at Mercedes' advertising - it has a rich, emotional appeal. It is easy to miss that if you take a cliched view of Germany."

Mommertz agrees: "In contrast to the German stereotype, the Comedy Central campaign for MTV proves that we can do humour. Meanwhile, the campaign for Matchbox touches everyone without a single word - it is not German at all in the old way of thinking."

Jung von Matt's 3D magazine cover for Ikea, which won silver in the direct and promo categories at Cannes this year, was also lauded for its innovative approach. Like Nordpol's Fingerprints work, which won three bronzes and a gold, the fact that the Ikea work triumphed in more than one category is seen as validation of its creative worth.

However, film Lions continue to elude Germany, although it did pick up two bronzes this year. Nick Fox, the chief operating officer at DDB London, says this is partly because the country's clients are obsessed with research and afraid of risk. "Germany was late to get commercial television, compared with Europe and the US," he says. "Its clients are creatively cautious and focused on making sure that nothing goes wrong, whereas UK clients understand creativity's effect on the bottom line."

Mommertz adds: "German creatives are developing faster than German clients."

Things are changing in the German ad industry, whose practitioners believe they have got what it takes to create world-beating work. Outsiders who can see beyond the outmoded stereotypes agree.