Marketing inspiration from the most creative city in the world

most creative city

By Mars Dorian {grow} Contributing Columnist

As a creative, I’m often strolling around the streets of Berlin, hoping to get inspired by the people I observe and the curious places I find (according to at least one source, Berlin is among the most creative cities in the world!)

Unfortunately, most small business and billboards I come across are boring. They offer bland and safe slogans I forget the second I pass them.

But sometimes, very rarely, I stop and grin when finding unexpected creative fun. These daring ideas stay with me, long after I’ve passed the billboard or sign. Brand awareness for the win!

I thought I would share a few creative inspirations from Berlin. May they inspire you to level up your marketing!

1) Corporate lingo versus honesty & humor

Corporate speak is like the Force; it surrounds us everywhere and is impossible to escape. It’s dull and pretentious, especially in the form of bland excuses that have been carefully crafted:

We’re incredibly sorry that X happened. We believe in Y and want to ensure that every employee is Z. We will strive to do better and hope that…

Sigh.

It reeks of lawyer-approved, penned-by-committee drivel.

So what’s the remedy?

Enter the Berlin’s public transport called BVG. It’s known for its late-arriving trains, mumbled announcements, and bus drivers closing doors when you’re just about to enter the vehicle.

Now, what would most companies do with these screwups? They’d release a half-hearted excuses like everybody else.

But the Berlin public transport company chose the opposite. They released a hilarious advertisement revealing the reasons behind their shortcomings. I’ve posted below. It’s in German, but here is the gist of it:

  • The reason why the trains arrive late is because the organization has a lottery run by a squirrel, picking which train’s going to be late today.
  • Their announcements are hard to understand because the announcers stuff their cheeks with candy and sandwiches while speaking into the mic.
  • And the bus doors happening to close right in front of you? Fabricated by a technical system to keep passengers from entering.

If you can’t see the video watch on YouTube: BVG video

The campaign went viral (more than 3 million views) and was featured in mainstream business magazines and newspapers.

Lesson: Using honest humor can help your excuses more than half-hearted corporate lingo. It shows you’re aware of your faults and that you actually have a human side behind your brand.

2) Beware the word plays

most creative citiesIt’s usually the hip and cool companies that use funny slogans and mottos, because that matches expectations. But what if the most boring and inconspicuous company comes up with grin-inducing slogans?

You stop and stare, because your expectation has been subverted.

Believe it or not, but Berlin’s trash collection department has the most entertaining public slogans. Whenever I run by one of their service cars or trash bins, I HAVE TO SMILE because they’re almost always funny.

Here are some slogans from their fleet vehicles:

You’re leaving the dirty sector

A take on Berlin’s divided past where the Allies controlled different areas of the city and put up warning signs, e.g. You’re leaving the American Sector.

Mülltitalent
A mix between the German word for trash (Müll) and multi-talent, implying the department’s service variety.

Kehrarri
From German Kehren “to sweep” and Ferrari, the iconic Italian sports car. The wordplay is shown on the department’s cleaning vehicles.

Kot D’Azure
“Kot”, German for (animal) poop, mixed with the name of France’s lavish and premium tourist coast, Côte D’Azure. The pun is shown on trash bins and tells dog owners to properly dispose of their pet’s excrements.

Or how about the location-relevant slogan showcased near the British Embassy–“God save the clean.”

Lesson: When creating slogans and mottos, think about how you can mix your offer with a wordplay that’s brand appropriate. The Berlin cleaning department mixes words related to their services (cleaning, trash removal, road sweeping, dog poop removal, etc.) with something popular, i.e. a sports car, a tourist attraction, a well-known idiom.

3) Hijack an already popular ad or slogan

Similar to newsjacking, where you adapt your marketing to a trend or event, take a popular spot or campaign and spoof it.

Mustafa’s Veggie Kebab is Berlin’s famous kebab place. Every time I ride by, there’s a long line, even in frosty winter. Heck, when entrepreneurial icon Elon Musk came to Berlin, he stopped by Mustafa’s Kebab and shared it prominently on his social media accounts.

Their claim to fame is not only the kebab, but also the viral marketing behind their shop. In their most popular ad, the Mustafa Kebab managers make fun of an iconic baby food brand. In the ad, the owner walks across a cozy German landscape, praises the baby food product and its carefully-selected natural ingredients.

Mustafa’s version involves an employer walking across a similarly cozy landscape, praising the shop’s kebab and the carefully-selected veggies that go with it.

The campaign became so popular that Claus Hipp, the business executive of the baby food company, wrote a personal letter congratulating the Mustafa Kebab owners on their successful spoof.

Lesson: Take an ad or slogan that’s already popular with your market and make a spoof that’s relevant to your product or service. You not only make your potential customers smile but also increase brand awareness.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these examples. Do you have any favorite examples from your city streets?

Mars Dorian is an illustrating designer and storyteller. He crafts words and pictures that help clients stand out online and reach their customers. You can find his homebase at www.marsdorian.com and connect with him on Twitter @marsdorian.

Original illustration by the author. 

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