Pirates, Ad Icons and Digital Pranksters Invade Germany's Elections

Taking a Page From Michael Moore, New Parties Take Attention Away From the Major Players

By Published on .

Most Popular

Gunnar Brune
Gunnar Brune
Germany will elect a new parliament and a new chancellor on Sept. 27. Is it just another election? Surely not, given that we live in a post-Obama political landscape and the politicians all said they'll learn from the new American president.

In reality, they did not. But some have clearly learned from Michael Moore. Which means, it's not the politics that change the game, but the influence of ad-industry personalities, satire and the digital tomfoolery. What we've seen are great comedy performances and a lesson in how the election can be turned into an instrument for business.

Different from the majority-vote system of the U.S., many European countries like Germany have a proportional-representation vote system, which means a landscape of many parties that usually have to form coalitions after the election. This has led to quite astonishing new parties in the past and present. The funniest of them is probably "Die Partei," which is led by Martin Sonneborn, former editor in chief of Germany's biggest satirical magazine "TITANIC."

Die Partei already participated in the last elections of the parliament in 2005 and became a kind of advertising icon. In keeping with their satirical program they "sold" their airtime to the no-frills-airline "HLX" stating they would prohibit all product placement in a totally product-laced TV spot done by advertising agency Scholz & Friends.

This year they drove it further by bringing a motion picture about them into the cinemas. But they took it too far. On Aug. 27, the German Constitutional Court denied their right to participate in this years election.

This means Die Partei is apart of a non-parliamentary opposition together with another ad icon "Horst Schlämmer". "Mr. Schlämmer" is deputy editor in chief of a German provincial newspaper and the creation of the German comedian Hape Kerkeling. DDB used the character for one of the highest awarded car campaigns ever, the launch of the Golf V. Here's one of the virals:

Now the Volkswagen ad icon does its own electoral campaign for another "party" motion picture, this one for the "HSP" the "Horst Schlämmer Partei.." At this point the lines between satire and reality become totally blurred. A recent poll by Forsa gave a potential of 18% if the "HSP" participated in the election.

Already campaign strategists take the "fake" parties as real competitors in the war for attention in the last stages of the electoral campaign. The minister-president of the state of Niedersachsen, conservative Christian Wulff, complained in a TV talk show that "Horst Schlämmer sits in the grandstand...while he, Wulff, has to run on the field an score goals". Lines are blurred again: Mr. Wulff is in the supervisory board of Volkswagen, the brand whose campaign gave "Horst Schlämmer" such popularity.

The third party worth mentioning is the "Piratenpartei" – the pirate party. Inspired by the popularity of the Swedish bit-torrent-tracker The Pirate Bay and its affiliated political operation, the German Piratenpartei has not been quite as successful as its Scandinavian counterparts However, in a poll of users of Studivz, one of the biggest German social networks, the party won an impressive share of 48%.

The Piratenpartei is the party of many digital natives. Their different view on many cultural qurstions, especially concerning copyrights and data protection does not only attract great numbers of young voters but also represents a voice from outside of the traditional political community. Just like brands experience the voice of the consumer to gain more and more volume also European politics has found a new player.

When, on the evening of September 27 we take a look at the results of the election, we should not forget to take a close look at the results of the "Piratenpartei" because it will have a strong voice in future discussions about the rules of digital life. And we should take a look at the box office to see how elections can be a business platform for really funny satirical "party" movies.

Gunnar Brune is managing director of Lowe Deutschland in Hamburg.
In this article: