Hosting the 2006 World Cup offers Germany an unparalleled opportunity to present itself as a modern and attractive place to visit. But with less than 18 months to go, the event's organizers are failing miserably.
Is this the pinnacle of German design?
Often thought of as uncool and boring, Germany has an international image problem. People around the world frequently consider it a gray and uninviting place. Want passion or good weather in Europe? Look to France or Italy. Dynamism or hipness? Spain and Britain top the list. In comparison, stereotypes peg Germany as an orderly yet utterly dull country.
Shaking such preconceptions can be difficult, but large sporting events can go a long way toward refashioning the popular image of a nation abroad. Portugal successfully used the last European soccer championship to shake off the notion of it as a sleepy backwater forever in Spain's shadow. And despite big reservations about Greek organizational skills, Athens showed it could carry off the Olympics without major problems.
Of course, as the EU's largest country, Germany is anything but a sleepy backwater. And there is little doubt that the Teutons will easily master the organizational aspects of the upcoming World Cup. But soccer's most important competition is also arguably the planet's biggest sporting party. Every four years, fans come together to celebrate "the beautiful game" and revel in a month-long multicultural soccer (or football, if you prefer) carnival.
The logo for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany.
That makes hosting the spectacle a national marketing opportunity that comes but once in a generation. Germany last held the World Cup in 1974, when West Germany even managed to win the tournament by defeating the Netherlands in the finals.
It will be a tall order for the German squad to repeat such a feat on its home turf this time around. But regardless of the outcome on the pitch, Germany still has the chance to present itself to the world as a modern, stylish and attractive country, banishing all-too-common perceptions of it as part of the unhippest corner of Europe.
So far, unfortunately, the German organizers are completely botching the job and risk losing the PR game before it really gets underway.
Undeniably, preparations are already in full swing a year and a half from kickoff. The venues have been set and tickets will go on sale Feb. 1. As with any major sporting event, the tournament also has its own official logo and mascot. And that's where the trouble begins.
Germany the tasteless
The official 2006 logo in all its glory.
The logo, essentially the shop sign Germany is hanging outside its door to the world, is anything but inviting. Instead of showing off sleek Teutonic flair – like the logo in '74 – the new one ended up a horrendous orgy of form and color. Rather than come up with something original, someone has thrown together a few vapid smiley faces in an attempt to grin the world into submission.
Who created this masterpiece of dilettante design? Franz Beckenbauer's 12-year-old niece?
One shutters to think what FIFA and the German Football Association shelled out for its amateur loveliness. Especially since Germany is chock full of creative graphic designers who could have come up with something better.
So forget merchandizing revenue. This logo is so painful to look at, who in their right mind would buy a t-shirt with it emblazoned across the chest? You can almost hear foreign visitors in 2006: "That's the best they could come up with? My God it's true, the Germans really don't have any taste." So much for shaking that image of being a land of mustard-colored blazers and mullets.
Which brings me to Goleo, a mustard-colored, mulleted lion recently presented as the World Cup's next official mascot. Looking like a furry version of a member of the German rock band the Scorpions, he will do little to update the world's preconceptions of what German soccer fans look like.
Goleo, Germany's mullet-wearing, furry bundle of fun and his pal Pille.
Even Beckenbauer, who had the unenviable task of introducing the lumbering lion to the world, said it was up to "personal taste" whether he was the right mascot for the job. It doesn't help matters that Goleo's sidekick is a plasticky talking ball named Pille, which means "pill" in German and absolutely nothing to anybody else.
But the ball is relatively harmless compared to the furry mullet. One German friend has expressed concern about Goleo's penchant for strutting about without pants. Her fear is the mascot's exhibitionist tendencies will reinforce the stereotype of Germans that like to strip naked in public at a moment's notice.
Despite the organizers' lamentable marketing campaign, there is, of course, always hope that visitors to Germany during the World Cup will realize that there's more to the country than design-challenged, mustard blazer-wearing, exhibitionists with mullets.
Just don't count on the country's famous beer to help set things right. FIFA has given the beverage concession during the tournament to America's Budweiser.