What makes a for a successful campaign these days in Germany, a politician's positions or a slick marketing campaign? German politicians are revamping their strategies, fine-tuning them to fit public tastes.
The times, they are a changin´, and so are the marketing strategies of Germany´s top politicians. In the past, Germany has tended toward a more conservative approach when it comes to selling political candidates.
But these days in Germany, as the country prepares for parliamentary elections on September 22, political campaigns are sporting a modern, new look and spending 70 million euro to get it.
Gone are of the days of campaign posters featuring stern-looking, stiffly posed candidates. They've been replaced by attention-grabbing images, slick Internet sites and flashy television spots.
Selling the Product
Today's politicians are focusing on marketing techniques made with a consumer-based society in mind, namely, the creation of an eye-catching product.
Taking former US president Bill Clinton´s lead, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder introduced this new campaigning style to Germany during the 1998 elections that brought him to power. Now he's continuing the tradition in the current election campaign, and Germany's other political parties have jumped on the bandwagon.
All over Germany, posters have popped up with various "on the job" images Chancellor Gerhard Schröder - talking business on his mobile phone in a car or pounding away late at night on a laptop.
“I interpret this new packaging of Schröder as an attempt to show him as competent - a man who gets things done,” Oskar Niedermayer, a political scientist at Berlin's Free University told DW-WORLD.
“That's the same image Schröder used in the 1998 campaign," he said, "but now it´s harder for him to uphold this image, in light of the the fact that the unemployment rate has gone up during his time in office. “
What Schröder does have going for him is personality – something that has become more important in the minds of voters, according to Niedermayer.
“A personalization of politics has taken place in Germany. We have observed that people are voting more for a person these days, than a party," he said. "But this tendency is not quite as extreme as it is in America.”
If Schröder's charisma is strong enough for him to win the elections while his party lags in the polls, remains to be seen, he said.
A Kinder, Gentler Stoiber
The PR-packagers of Schröder´s conservative challenger Edmund Stoiber have been busy as well. One of the main images of his campaign is a close-up of Stoiber, a silver-haired, grandfatherly-looking man. His head is resting thoughtfully in his hand. He's looking stright into the camera.
Wahlplakat der CDU/CSU mit Bundeskanzlerkandidat Edmund Stoiber zur Bundestagswahl 2002
“The message in that image is that of a competant politician, who can communicate things”, Florian Haller of Serviceplan, one of the agencies responsible for Stoiber's campaign, told DW-WORLD.
“He is perceived as competent and successful, but he has a weakness – less sympathy potential in comparison to Schröder," he said. "So from an visual standpoint we went in closer than we usually would, which makes him more approachable.”
Florian Haller claims the creative tools, as well as the direction used in marketing of politicians, have evolved tremendously over the past five years.
“If you look into earlier campaigns, you see a huge difference from the advertising of today," he said. "We now try to do advertising that packs content into a more emotional package.”
Means to an End
Joschka Fischer, current foreign minister and prominent Green Party member, has no problem with the new strategy to sell political parties, or with seeing himself as a product. He´s ready to do whatever it takes to get his party´s position out to the people.
"Joschka Fischer is no ordinary product," Fischer told DW- TV. "The product speaks, comes around, fills halls and squares," he said, referring to himself in the third person. Being marketed as a product and not a personality may be a bit de-humanizing, but Fischer is quick to shrug it off.
"The product is a person and promotes policy, his own policy and that of his party," he said. But, he added, there's a big difference in this case from a normal product.
"Most of them just lie around," Fischer said.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer«s portrait, the Green party«s top candidate for the general elections in September, is at the election campaign bus in Berlin Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2002. The portrait in the background is fixed at the balcony of the Green party headquarters and the election slogan reads: "Green works - Outside minister, inside green". Today Joschka Fischer starts for his election campaign tour through Germany
The poster of the Green party, known best for its pro-environment position, has an simple, Kermit-the-Frog green backdrop, with an photo of Fischer looking very human; imperfect features, and character wrinkles in full view, his expression verging on goofy. Not an Übermensch, but a man. Fischer, as real-people package.