EUROPE: The packaging of German politics

Not only have German consumers to come to terms with new-style ads for packaged goods but also their political parties. CDU has just hired McCann-Erickson to handle its election campaign.

Readers whose job involves contact with continental Europe may have noticed that the phone lines have been a little quiet over the past month. Despite a general trend towards standardisation of working practices, communication between the UK and Europe remains all but suspended during July and August as entire communities “disappear” for the summer break.

For the French, this year will more likely than not involve a trip to the beach. Some 53 per cent of those surveyed in June by Direction du Tourisme, the country’s tourism authority, cited the seaside as their preferred destination while, of those travelling abroad, one in five planned to visit Spain. German tourists, too, favour the sun, and this year record numbers will be travelling to Turkey. Of the 13 million visitors anticipated by the Turkish tourism authorities, over 3 million are expected to be German.

Alongside typical pursuits such as windsurfing, scuba diving or simply soaking up the sun, these tourists would be well advised to take advantage of their holiday to develop skills in an activity close to Turkish hearts but largely unfamiliar to Germans – namely haggling.

Since last month’s official withdrawal of the “Rabattgesetz” – a law governing retail prices, permissible discounts and other promotional offers – German newspapers have been full of articles detailing the confusion felt by shoppers entering into discussions to buy goods of which the price, for the first time is negotiable. While the marketing industry lays plans for sophisticated loyalty programmes, the introduction of freely advertised, two for the price of one offers and similar promotional schemes, German shoppers – already unsettled by the impending replacement of their trusted Deutschmark with the as yet unfamiliar euro – are coming to terms with basic principles of commerce familiar in other, less-regulated economies.

This rule change is a sign of how Germany, a traditionally conservative country, is changing its commercial practices in line with their European neighbours. In a country where the principal retail chain, Aldi, limits its advertising to a stark representation of this week’s featured products and prices under the headline: “Aldi informiert” (Aldi informs), it may also contribute to the development of more competitive and dynamic commercial communications.

This month Germany’s leading opposition political party, CDU, has appointed McCann-Erickson to handle its advertising in the run-up to next year’s general election – the first since 1998 when CDU, headed by ex-chancellor Kohl, lost power to the SPD party of Gerhard Schröder. Amid open talk of treating the CDU as a “brand”, the agency is to be retained partly on performance-based terms to ensure that a CDU-CSU alliance is returned next year as the largest party bloc.

As with promotions, Germans are unfamiliar with the packaging of political parties through sophisticated advertising campaigns and the novelty of McCann’s appointment prompted headlines such as the Berliner Zeitung’s: “CDU goes Coca-Cola.” Putting two and two together, who knows? The days of the “two for the price of one” politician may not be far off.

John Shannon is president of Grey International

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