Posted by: Trina | September 7, 2009

Comparative Advertising (or On the Campaign Trail in NRW)

As an American I’m more than familiar with comparative advertising. I pretty much grew up on TV ads in the States in which one brand tries to establish itself as the biggest, best and brightest in its class by directly comparing itself to the competition. Whether a comparative ad works strictly with the facts

or chooses to push the consumers’ emotional buttons on perceived added value,

these brands attempt to boost awareness and market share by going toe-to-toe with main competitor.

Although comparative advertising was long forbidden in Germany, subsequent EU advertising rulings loosened these restrictions in the 90’s. With baited breath many manufacturers and ad agencies wondered if – and how – an American-style commercial slugfest would translate for the German market. We didn’t have long to wait. Preliminary market research quickly showed that the majority of German consumers were very turned off by this type of advertising. You can talk positively about yourself all you want. Talking negatively about your competition, however, touched the wrong chord. With the exception of the occasional Pepsi-/Coke-type taste tests, German ad agencies have continued to steer clear of comparative ads for that very reason.

That makes it all the more confusing that Jürgen Rüttgers, CDU Minister President of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, would resort to this type of “advertising” in support of Germany (esp. North Rhine Westphalia) as an industrial center while recently on the campaign trail. During a speech delivered in Bochum, Rüttgers touched on the fact that NOKIA had recently closed down their German plant there only to relocated to Romania. This plant closing (despite heavy state subsidies) caused many people in the area to lose their jobs; a painful blow in an already struggling economy.

Addressing apparent difficulties with production in the new plant, Mr. Rüttgers resorted to some comparative advertising of his own. According to Rüttgers, Romanian workers don’t arrive at work punctually at 7am and stay for their entire shift like their German counterparts, but “come and go as they please, and don’t know what they’re doing”.

Ok. We all know that Germany has a good name internationally for their manufacturing prowess, and “Made in Germany” is viewed as a signal of high quality around the world. And though positive stereotypes are often just inaccurate generalizations (and I’m sure Nokia employed a percentage of non-German workers at their plant here, too), no one will argue that being punctual or a bit of a perfectionist in your work is a bad thing.

Still, this harsh statement by Jürgen Rüttgers quickly began to make waves in the German news and online forums. Was he just being a consummate politician and overstating his point to make a point? Or was he – in the midst of a recession that has not only Germans hunkering down financially and losing a lot of the superficial cosmopolitan, open-mindedness more secure economic times had brought with them – stoking a xenophobic fire that is already threatening to get out of hands in some corners of the republic?

Maybe Mr. Rüttgers should consult his ad agency?


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