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The Corporate Come-On

Business is all about the bottom line, right? While the rest of us might drift along in a miasma of desire and fantasy, business executives are making their decisions on the basis of hard facts, cold calculations, and careful strategic assessments. After all, would you decide to invest millions of dollars on the basis of a whim in the heat of the moment? Well, you might, but surely they would know better.

The Federation of German Industry, in conjunction with the German government, is betting otherwise:

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For the record, you are looking at fashion model and actress Claudia Schiffer wrapped in a dress–or towel–in the colors of the German flag. From the look of it, she can’t be wearing much else. I don’t know about you, but this is not the image that would have come to my mind if you had asked me to visualize “Germany–Land of Ideas.” It does, however, give new meaning to investing.

I doubt the ad actually will cause some CEO to hang around the stage door of the Federal Republic, but it does reveal a thing or two about the “serious relationship” between capital and the nation-state today. Germany is completely feminized, needing to attract a man to be economically viable over the long term. He might like what he sees, but he always can go elsewhere. She might not like waiting, but he will decide whether to put his money into her or some other woman–maybe that slut, Italy. The state is in the role of seducing capital–and not, for example, regulating it.

Of course, the guy who buys this is in for a surprise or two. The German labor force is not as uniformly Aryan as Claudia, and German labor laws might seem like a cold shower to the American CEO. The ad itself may be not so much contradictory as tongue-in-cheek clever. It’s a fantasy, but we know it’s fantasy and can chuckle along. Fair enough, but look at two more in the series, which make the erotic framing increasingly bizarre:

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What started as a soft sell has become something between a gang bang and a challenge. Come on, boys, have you got what it takes? There’s still the irony–the second ad says that “roughly half of Europe’s nanotechnology companies are based in Germany”–but the text is going one way and the image another. One might debate whether Germany is the Land of Ideas, but the idea here comes from that great German advertising executive, Sigmund Freud: the German nation needs the phallus of capital, and the bigger the better.

I learned of these ads due to a fine presentation at my recent conference by Melissa Aronczyk, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. Melissa’s research focuses on the phenomenon of nation branding and its implications for national identity, state policy and citizenship. She can be reached at melissa.aronczyk@nyu.edu.


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The Corporate Come-On

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