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How to be a dictator and sell cola at the same time

DUF is a Dutch-language book-magazine for 12- to 18-year-olds. It’s a ‘cluster bomb’ of text and visuals. Edition three is out now and acts as a primer in navigating our world’s media insanity. Buy it. It’ll blow your mind and your kid’s. There’s even dirty pictures. Below is my contribution in its original English.

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COLA & PROPAGANDA

Do you want to lord over your friends, parents and – why not? – the whole freaking world? Learn now how you can become a dictator and sell cola at the same time! In seven easy lessons!

by Steve Korver, for DUF 3 (2012)

What is the difference between advertising and propaganda? Um, good question. Advertising aims to sell a service or product (‘Mmm that’s the best cheeseburger ever!’). Propaganda aims to sell a particular ideology (‘Yippee, we’re the happiest country in the world!’) or goal (‘This war is justified.’) Meanwhile in most Spanish-speaking countries, when people say ‘propaganda’ they mean ‘advertising’.

Both advertising and propaganda tries to influence human behaviour – to get you to open your wallet for a cheeseburger, or to sign along the dotted line at an army recruitment office. They both play on your emotions and not your intelligence. So it’s not ridiculous that both dictators and marketeers use the same box of tricks.

BIG SECRET NUMBER 1:
People are sooooooooo stuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuupid! But…
‘There’s a sucker born every minute,’ the American circus showman PT Barnum allegedly said. And it’s true. So keep it simple. But remember that people NEVER consider themselves as stupid. Half the time they are not even aware they are being brainwashed. Yes, humans suffer from overconfidence.

So it’s very important to not make your target audience feel stupid otherwise they will find someone else to get brainwashed by. The easiest way to do this is by dumbing down. Be folksy. Be a regular person who represents regular wants and needs. Be the Joneses or be Henk & Ingrid. In short: posh it down and sincere it up! Continue Reading…

Posted: November 29, 2012 at 3:44 pm.

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‘BLACK PETER’ MAY OR MAY NOT BE RACISM… BUT ST. NICK IS DEFINITELY SATAN

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[Spoiler alert: Not recommended reading for those who believe in Santa Claus.]

Each year in the Netherlands during the Christmas season, the tone around the debate on whether Zwarte Piet (‘Black Peter’) is a form of racism gets darker. This year, the discourse was further inflamed by the rather violent arrest of ten protesters with ‘Black Peter is Racism’ t-shirts and the news that the Dutch-Canadian community in Vancouver decided to no longer allow Black Peters in their annual Sinterklaas (St Nicolas) procession. Meanwhile many of the Dutch-Dutch just get increasingly defensive as they treat such talk as a threat against their culture.

For the outsider, it remains a curious tradition: countless Dutch adults putting on black face, smearing on red, red lipstick, popping on a wig of kinky hair and adorning their ears with large golden hoops – and doing all this without any sense of malice. Then they hit the streets like a pack of highly caffeinated Al Jolsons to help St. Nick distribute sweets to children.  Years ago, a visiting friend and I came across such a posse. I was long used to it, but my friend’s jaw hit the ground in disbelief – and this is a man who has witnessed much weirdness worldwide. ‘What is this minstrel madness?!?’ he asked flabbergasted. (Not long after while in Russia our roles were reversed in a strange and convoluted way when we were waiting at a backwoods train station and some skinheads came to confront my friend about the colour of his skin. He stayed cool and dealt with the situation. I just stood there. Totally flabbergasted.)

Local Dutch cultural history only goes so far in giving my friend a reasonable explanation behind the Black Peter tradition. Continue Reading…

Posted: December 2, 2011 at 1:22 pm.

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328 stories, 10 bios

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328 Stories is a production house for some of the more happening film-makers in the Netherlands and beyond. They aim to produce 328 stories every year. I helped out by writing 10. Check out their website, click on a ‘storyteller’ and then scroll over their name. There’s a pop-up in which I tried to tell the storyteller’s story in less than 90 words. It was a fun gig. It  also reminded me that there are still many, many, many stories out there. So listen people: let’s go out there and nail them!

Posted: May 24, 2011 at 1:35 pm.

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World’s biggest kroket

 

My friends, the brothers Marijn en Michiel Slager of Zeeuwse monster rock band Nuff Said, just posted their above video report (in Dutch) from the ‘world’s biggest kroket’ event that took place in Amsterdam in October 2007. I was also reporting from this special day in grease history. I recall being as excited as Kermit the Frog when he reported live from the scene of Humpty Dumpty’s nasty fall. Now thanks to the Slager Brothers, I can relive those happy, but mixed, memories. I pasted my own report here:

SUPER SIZE KROKET
A marketing sham. But at least it was a freebie feast.
Amsterdam Weekly, 1 November 2007
By Steve Korver

Kom op, met die grootste kroket,’ says a 10-year-old boy, pretty much summing up the anticipation felt on Rembrandtplein last Saturday, before the kroket manufacturers Van Dobben presented their much-hyped ‘world’s biggest kroket’ — a 250 kilogram, one-and-half-metre long and half-metre thick hunk of deep-fried meat-and-potato goo, which required a bubbling bath of 1,200 litres of oil to bring its shell to maximum crustiness.

A talking head from the company explains over the microphone about how they wanted — with the help of an advertising agency — to do something ludieks, and give something back to Amsterdam. ‘After all, they’ve taken away most of our amsterdammertjes.’ So, Van Dobben decided, as compensation for the loss of these iconic parking poles, to give the world its biggest kroket ever. It makes perfect sense really.

As the crowd grows restless, personnel are handing out — for ‘gratis, eh’ — regular-sized kroketten, not only of  the standard beef ragout version, but also ones stuffed with haring, beer, apple pie or pea soup (the ‘snertkroket’ as one onlooker described it). All of these versions had been submitted to public scrutiny in an online vote during the past month, to decide which of the fillings would form the stuffing of the elephantine version.

As the volkszanger Dries Roelvink takes the stage, a thick Amsterdam accent rises from the crowd to note how the overtly tanned Roelvink is the perfect poster boy for this event: ‘Hij ziet er uit als een doorgebakken kroket!

Roelvink was the ambassador for the idea that the world’s biggest kroket should have the pea-soup filling. When Petra Boots, the editor of Weekend who’s presenting on stage, makes a joke about how it would have been more fitting for him to have represented the beer kroket, he answers: ‘Well you’ve obviously never seen me in my yellow swimming trunks.’ The crowd exchanges looks of deep confusion: What the hell does that mean?’

Finally the big moment arrives, as the monster kroket — supposedly filled with the vote-winning standard beef ragout — gets rolled up the red carpet, accompanied by a meatball shaped security guard with a handlebar moustache. The crowd presses in with cameras over their heads, so they can have a good look. Another chunky Amsterdam accent enquires: ‘What’s going on? Do they think a naked lady is going to pop out of there?’

It’s a mob. Kids start breaking out in tears. A mother starts to panic and call out for her ‘Luukje!’ The woman behind the microphone tries to keep the mood light: ‘There’s a kid under the kroket!’ The mother is not amused. More children start crying. And is that a fight breaking out in the corner?

Finally, the crowd thins enough for less aggressive folk to come in close for a gander. It’s big alright. The size of a human hotdog. But it’s also a big disappointment. Only a few people actually taste it and for good reason, it seems: the crust/ragout ratio is obviously out of whack — it’s pretty much the same thickness as a normal kroket, and the filling is obviously more potato than ragout.

When asked what’s going to happen with the kroket now the display is over, a man in a Van Dobben uniform answers: ‘I guess it’ll go in the recycling bin.’

But the crowd seems satisfied. Only one small group, out to give grease yet more of a chance, decides to head up the road to eat shrimp kroketten at Holtkamp on Vijzelstraat. Sometimes it’s just worth it paying the extra.

Posted: April 3, 2011 at 12:45 pm.

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Bad Buzz/Lost in the Space Age

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My old friends the Anacondas have just released their third album of post-surf tunes: Bad Buzz/Lost in the Space Age. It comes with a story. After they recorded it a year or so ago, they asked me to help turn it into a ‘concept’ album. Since making a ‘concept’ album out of something that’s already recorded seemed pretty high-‘concept’ in itself, I naturally said yes. And anyway, I always do like a nice ‘concept’. And it’s really quite amazing what some liner notes, visuals and overdubs can do when it comes to fleshing out the ‘conceptual’.

The album’s ‘concept’ is really quite simple — like any good ‘concept’. It begins with the anger we all share: that the shiny space age we were promised never actually showed up (Where are our jetpacks? Where are our slow food pill packs? Who can we lynch?). Now try to imagine how pissed off and bitter a jaded and washed up astronaut would be. Of course: he would be really, really pissed off and bitter. And so Bad Buzz as a ‘concept’ was born. And from there we only told the absolute truth. And as Bad Buzz, I was given the opportunity to rant anti-hippie poetry while wandering the deserts high on Tang crystals, and sound like a psychobilly singer from Pluto (the non-planet) while grunting out the tale of a hotrod rocket race between Major Tom and Barbarella. And for these experiences I would like to say: Thanks fellas! But yes, it’s now best for all parties if they return to their instrumental ways.

The release party is at Amsterdam’s Paradiso on November 6. Oh, and the coolest thing: this album is also available in vinyl. Now there’s a ‘concept’! And a big thanks to Unfold for indulging the above advertorial. Maybe next time they’ll actually get paid — yet another ‘concept’.

Posted: October 29, 2010 at 2:16 pm.

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‘I have to try to tell it well.’

Dutch election campaign advert (Dutch only) from 1966 featuring the late Hans van Mierlo. Not only does it have a great last sentence but it also features  Amsterdam playing a rainy, melancholic side roll… Now stay tuned for today’s election results.

Posted: June 9, 2010 at 3:16 pm.

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Posters in the City of Amsterdam

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Designer Jarr Geerligs  has taken pictures of over 1600 posters as seen on the streets of Amsterdam.   Nicely obsessive!

Posted: April 14, 2010 at 10:57 am.

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Ai ai ai Amsterdam

iamsterdamlogoonmoveThe local anti-vertrutting (“anti-frumpication”)  action group AI! Amsterdam,  who this summer successfully lobbied for the easing of terrace laws, has changed their logo after being threatened with legal action from the city since their  original logo was a  parody of  the I Amsterdam city marketing campaign. Hmm so not having a sense of humour is good for the city brand?

These are complicated times we live in. It was all much simpler back in the 1970s. To entice more people to visit Amsterdam all you had to do was put out some posters cajoling long-haired  American targets to “Fly KLM, sleep in the Vondelpark”. Word of mouth did the rest.

And then there was the tourist board’s Get In Touch With The Dutch campaign during the 1960s. This one just gets me all misty-eyed; those must have truly been the most innocent of times.

And for the last few years, it’s been I amsterdam. I can imagine it can work to help attract tourists and business.  I only start seeing red when  it peddles the  delusional idea that it also works to  unify regular Amsterdammers. It’s as if the local government  actually believes that culture is not a grassroots phenomena but rather something that can be shoved down  our throats from the top down.

OK, it’s easy to criticise. Marketing a city can’t be easy. I certainly can’t come up with anything better. “Ich bin ein Amsterdammertje” would probably generate the same confusion and controversy as JFK’s grammatical gaffe, “Ich bin ein Berliner”. And “Handy Airport. Lotsa Coffeeshops”, while appealing to both the business- and leisure-minded, lacks a certain elegance.

I think I’d just opt for golden oldies like ‘Amsterdamned’ or ‘Amsterdamaged’. I regard these  lines as way more effective ambassadors.  After all, the visiting dope smokers of today may just hold our city’s future in their hands. I figure it was mostly sentimental ex-hippies who invested in this city during the booming 1990s. They figured it would be a good excuse to come and visit a few times a year, and maybe recreate certain perfect relaxed coffeeshop moments from decades past. (And these investments  got the city thinking that they could get even more by  coming up with  that era’s  ho-hum city marketing ploys — “Gateway to Europe”   and “Capital of Inspiration” — that resulted in the building of lots of  new office space that today stands largely empty…).

Anyway… it was short-sighted to force  Ai! Amsterdam to change their logo. The city is losing  a perfect co-branding opportunity with a group that is both  grassroots and community-driven.

Posted: September 17, 2009 at 9:04 am.

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Brasserie Holland Casino chews down on own ass

HCLogoHere’s  a classic new example of an ad coming back to bite its advertiser in  their ass. As part of an ad campaign to promote Brasserie Holland Casino, full page ads were placed  that had  the chef  inviting the feared food critic Johannes van Dam of Het Parool to come and   try the food.  Van Dam  did  and gave it a 5.5 out of 10. He even wrote a long sidebar about the experience where he goes on quite poetically  about how truely terrible  it was (loosely translated): “The lobster soup looked beautiful but tasted like a drugstore counter… The terrine was attractive to  the eyes but an attack against the tongue.” Ouch. Usually it’s only the chef that gets fired after a review like this — but this time he might  bring down  a whole  ad agency down with him.

Posted: September 8, 2009 at 2:01 pm.

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