Miroslav Klose thundered in Germany’s second goal against Australia to get Germany underway. Over 90 minutes, Germany were by far the most impressive nation seen in the first round of the Cup. And yet the headlines next day across all media had one common quirk. They were extremely reluctant to use the word ‘brilliant’ in the same sentence as ‘the German team’.
Germany has long suffered from bad PR in football. A nation that invented two of the most eye catching skills in the game, the overhead volley and the sliding tackle, has often been relegated to pale adjectives like ‘clinically precise’ and ‘ruthlessly efficient’.
The Germans could well find that their most challenging opponents might not lurk on the pitch. It is the set perceptions of the footballing audience which they are up against.
And to win that match, extra time and sudden death seem imminent!
A mapping of the human mind might reveal how incredibly rigid perceptions can be. How immune we are to subsequent corrective efforts by the brand in question. Because once the neural pathways are fired in a certain manner it seems to take something special to make us look at the same entity with a different lens.
No talk of something special in India can go much further than the Big B. AB has successfully managed to shift perception in minds over the last decade or so.
There’s a lot the German team can derive the Big B story.
‘All the world’s a stage’
The first significant step in the change of image of the Big B came when he hosted KBC. A transition to the small screen had the critics signaling that the control of his future now lay in remote hands. But puns aside, that change of platform had some stirring effects.
Firstly, it made the man a lot more approachable, compared to his earlier persona of the angry young man. His role as a host, where the focus was also on the participant, opened minds to accept him in less dominating, more fallible avatars. But it took the landmark step of completely changing the performing venue to achieve this.
The Germans play largely in their own league, the Bundesliga. The scant that have (like Ballack) have done so on the downward side of their careers. Perhaps it is time to send young promising Germans in droves into the most keenly followed league in the world. Seeing the same German perform for a leading premiership team might almost magically affix words like ‘talented’ and ‘skilled’ on the back of his jersey. Having to cheer for them week in and week out might also force the British people and media, to find good things to say about them.
He’s got the look
Marcel Proust said something to the tune of, ‘time not being able to change the image that we have retained of people.’ Conditionally true, prior to a visit to an appropriate salon. The Big B was introduced on KBC with a new look and that possibly helped clear the ground for a brand new start.
The Germans traditionally play in white and black. While those colors are iconic, they do little to rectify their ‘black and white’ perception. West Germany did perform with a modified jersey in ’90, winning the World Cup along the way, but for whatever reason that experiment was abandoned. It is surely time again for them to add some colour to their kit, hopefully brightening their image along the way.
Reach out your hand…
…As the TELCO jingle went, to get to higher places. A decade ago, an interview with the Big B was an absolute rarity. Today, he is one of the most frequently encountered faces. The lowering of guard on his part and the increased interaction, many under the aegis of brands, have gone a long way in building a new image relevant to present times.
Is it time for German football to reach out to the world as well? Club level brands like Manchester United, Barcelona and Real Madrid already do this with a vengeance, having interactions with audiences all over the world, achieved through forums like training schools, events and the like.
It’s time German national football with its distinctive ‘total football’ accent made an attempt to include people in their fold through similar such initiatives. After all, for success both on the pitch and off it, it is necessary to connect with the people around.
Eventually some things never change. And just maybe the perception of the German team is set to continue in the same vein. But their football surely deserves better, even if it means getting back to the very basics of rebuilding an image. Though for this new learning exercise they might choose to begin with the letter B.
Vinay Kanchan is a brand consultant, creative thinking trainer, patron saint of Juhu Beach United and author of ‘The Madness Starts at 9’