Beck's salutes its own Cherman-ness

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Advertiser: Beck's North America

Agency: Saatchi & Saatchi, New York

Ad Review rating: Three stars

Well, for starters, you've got to admire their nerve.

Beck's imported beer is on the air with a campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, that calls attention to its German character by poking gentle fun at the German character. The joke is that the exacting Teutonic personality so suited for brewing perfect beer is correspondingly ill-suited for other things.

Stand-up comedy, to name one.

"Good evening, ladies and cherms," says an intense young comic in a nearly empty club. "I chust flew in from Berlin and, boy, are my arms tired." The only response to this tired gag is a series of three mournful claps from one polite audience member. The comedian shields his eyes against the glare of the stage lights to peer at his audience. "Sank you," he says. "I'll be here all of zeh week."

Then, to the sound of a Beck's bottle being clunked to a tabletop, the voice-over--in a similarly accented English--gets to the point: "Chermans don't do comedy. Zay do bee-uh. Beck's. Zeh best of what Chermans do best."

It's a very funny commercial, and so are the other two.

In one of them, a stiff young man walks into an austere Bauhaus-design room--it has the look and echoey ambience of a modern-art museum--and turns on a CD player playing a soft-tone music disc titled "Das Kalm." He looks like he could use it. This guy is tightly wound. His haircut, his necktie knot, the metal cleats on his shoe soles all scream of world-class anal retentiveness; it's like he were toilet trained in utero. Herr Rigid reclines on an uncomfortable-looking chaise as the CD plays: "Azzume zeh comfortable pozition. Relaxation is achieved through extreme focus. Commence wis relaxation ... NOW!"

"Chermans don't do laid back," the voice-over says.

The third, and the funniest, borrowing a bit from the "Saturday Night Live" sketch called "Sprockets," depicts the balcony scene from "Romeo & Juliet" as performed in the stilted stylings of German neo-expressionist theater. The stark, exaggerated costuming and sceneography--and the actors' robotic-erotic mannerisms--are hilarious.

In this one the voice-over observes, "Chermans don't do romance."

That's a sentiment Goethe and Brahms might have an argument with, but we take the point. You don't associate Germans with having their hearts on their sleeves. If you associate them with having anything on their sleeves, it's armbands.

Which, of course, is the danger in relying on ethnic or cultural stereotypes--namely that the characteristics you are trying to evoke aren't the first ones the audience finds springing to mind. As an answer to the question "What do Germans do best?" let's just say that "beer brewing" is the most innocuous, but not necessarily the most obvious. Nestled somewhere in there with oompah bands and precision engineering is goosestepping and the worst of what Germans do best.

That probably explains why advertising, which so often looks to comedy to get across the selling proposition, has occasionally invoked German-ness but seldom joked about it in promoting German products. On the other hand, damn it, Germans do do beer. Beck's is a wonderful product that could challenge the Dutch Heineken if it could break through on distribution. But first it must break through the consumer consciousness. The previous campaign, some nautical nonsense, was useless. This one should register.

Chust azzume zeh comfortable pozition und LAUGH.

Copyright November 1998, Crain Communications Inc. ;

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