German media gears up for national elections

As parties sex up campaigns with Obama Girl-esque tactics

BERLIN -- German politics is usually about as sexy as Helmut Kohl in tight lederhosen. That is to say, not. But ahead of national elections on Sunday, German parties have tried to sex up their campaigns.

First there was the conservative candidate who showed off her credentials -- and those of Chancellor Angela Merkel -- in a revealing campaign poster featuring both women with plunging necklines. The catch line: We have a lot to offer.

Then there's "Steini Girl" -- a viral YouTube video of a well-endowed young lady in tight shorts and spaghetti-strap top swooning over Merkel's challenger, Social Democrat Franz-Walter Steinmeier. (The video can be viewed below.) The video, which the Social Democrats have disavowed, included the unfortunate line "You're a Pimp/You're a Hero." Not likely the slogan Steinmeier wants voters to remember him by.

With its deliberate aping of the Obama Girl online phenomena, Steini Girl is just one of many Obama ripoffs as German parties across the spectrum try to capture some of the excitement of last year's U.S. elections. Supporters of Green Party co-leader Cem Ozdemir have even taken to chanting the Obama-esque slogan "Yes We Cem!" at every opportunity.

A better take on the electorate's true mood, however, came from tabloid Das Bild with its headline following the only TV debate between Merkel and Steinmeiner: "Yes, we gahn" or "Yes, we yawn." Merkel's re-election is a near-certainty and an extension of the so-called grand coalition between her Conservative CDU party and Steinmeier's Social Democrats is likely. Promised more of the same, voters are finding it hard to stay interested.

But the promise of another four years of political stability could be good news for the German media industry. Merkel's government has proven a strong partner in the past, with an open ear for industry concerns and the willingness to loosen purse strings. This week, the alliance of German Film and Television producers rolled out its laundry list of demands on the expectation that, come Monday, her conservatives will still rule the Bundestag. The demands include an extension of film tax credit the DFFF beyond 2012, the introduction of a French-style three-strikes Internet law to combat online piracy and government support for a national 3D upgrade of German cinemas.

So far, so predictable. More ambitious are industry calls for wide-ranging financial incentives aimed at giving recession-struck producers a fiscal boost. Among the demands are the introduction of state guarantees protecting contracts signed between producers and local TV channels and a new program of state-secured low-interest loans to cover development costs, particularly for 3D features.

Some would like to go even further. Studio Babelsberg, for example, is pushing for a federal gap financing law. Currently only two German banks provide gap financing for productions -- Commerbank in Berlin and the state-run NRW Bank in Cologne. Both benefit from regional government guarantees that pay out in the case of creditor default. Babelsberg wants a federal law to do the same thing -- giving productions shooting from Bonn to Bavaria a new source of financing. The Studio has been quietly courting key politicians -- including Steinmeier and economics minister Karl-Theodor Freiherr zu Guttenberg.

"Obviously in the midst of a recession, this isn't going to be on the top of the government's agenda,' " said Studio Babelsberg managing director Carl Woebcken. "But we hope we can begin the discussion so a new law can be hopefully be put in place by 2010 or 2011."

Woebcken thinks a solid gap financing structure, combined with Germany's tax credit and its generous subsidy system, could give the territory the edge over its European neighbors when it comes to attracting foreign productions. But if they really want to grab people's attention, maybe they should try a online campaign. Babels-Girl anyone?