By Hanna Lutz
Wandering around my part-time hometown Magdeburg (the capital of Saxony Anhalt, Germany) these days one encounter its advertising spaces being paved over with giant posters that reveal that a guy named otto is a researcher, makes history, participates at the Olympic Games, makes politics, is a climate protector and likes to sing and drive electronic cars. Having a look at back streets, small cafés and private house parties one can find more printed information about otto – a bit less glamorous though: otto sleeps in, otto is procrastinating and otto even shuts down clubs. But it’s not what you think – otto isn’t a schizophrenic personality or an allround talent. otto is the result of a Scholz & friends city marketing campaign and what Magdeburg’s residents made out of it.
Since 2010 the East German city Magdeburg bears the slogan “ottostadt magdeburg” and therewith refers to its history which is connected to two great men who were – what a coincidence – both called otto: Otto the Great (in German: “Otto der Große”) who made the city his “capital” and from there ruled the Holy Roman Empire. And Otto von Guericke who revolutionized the sciences in the 17th Century by establishing the physics of vacuums (remember the eight horses that won’t be able to pull apart two hemispheres of metal because of the vacuum inside them?). The campaign itself aims to raise the identification of Magdeburg’s residents with their city as well as to raise national and international awareness in order to attract investors, tourists and students. The residents should be “reminded of the rich and eventful past of their city and look to the future with great confidence” [my translation] whereas tourists, students and investors shall become curious about Magdeburg (1).
The “ottostadt magdeburg” marketing tools consist mainly of posters that A) show more or less well-known persons that are somehow connected to Magdeburg and holding up signs referring to their own background or talents and transfer them directly to Otto. Stephan Michme, a two or three hit wonder and radio moderator, holds up a sign saying “Otto sings” while Nadine Kleinert, participant in the Olympics, shows the claim “otto is Olympic”.
B) They show simple claims just like “otto loves animals” (reference to the Magdeburg Zoo), “otto parties at the town hall festival” (reference to a city festival) and “otto protects the climate”/ “otto drives electric cars” (reference to Magdeburg’s activities in the field of climate protection and energy efficiency).
While the city’s marketing team is still talking about an “Ottogenerator”, an online-tool for Magdeburg’s (creative) residents to create their own otto-posters and claims (this idea is not only based on the will for “identification through participation” but also on the fact, that by the end of 2012 there won’t be any money left for the campaign’s efforts…), the residents themselves have already used the campaign for their own purposes.
Magdeburg’s best known Sushi-restaurant uses the campaign for its own marketing efforts and distributes flyers in otto’s corporate identity (“otto eats sushi”). But otto doesn’t only serve as a marketing tool but also for (political) statements: Due to the Mayor’s refusal to be the patron of Magdeburg’s annual Christopher Street Day, people showed up at this event holding up signs saying “otto gives blowjobs” and an ominous initiative spread stickers saying “otto shuts down clubs” as a reaction to restricted closing times. The alternative cultural scene of Magdeburg “stole” the idea of “Magdeburg’s VIPs” and created posters with pictures of themselves using claims just like “otto is procrastinating” to maybe make a subtle joke about the structured and stressful life of Cultural Managers.
Stefan Wegner, Managing Director at Scholz & friends, considers this development to be positive: “Those existing reinterpretations of the campaign indicate that the residents are involved in it and actually deal with it. It would only be alarming if people fully neglected the campaign. Our agency knows that a campaign was successful as soon as people start joking about it and – at its best – is taken up by the satire magazine “Titanic” (3). [my translation]
Even though the “ottostadt magdeburg” campaign has been caught in a crossfire of criticism by Magdeburg’s residents, it is far more successful than its predecessors (i.e. “Magdeburg surprises you”) (2). I don’t know how the success was measured, but I myself would totally agree with Stefan Wegner and interpret all the resident’s contributions in terms of modifications, destructions, reinterpretations, conversions etc. listed as a “best of” outcome of a marketing campaign and do not see it as an “otto kalypse” at all.