Brands in the News

Learning from a German Protest March

13 Dec 2022  

Last week I taught Marketing Strategy in the Kellogg-WHU Executive MBA program in Koblenz. It was great fun; the students were bright, diverse, and engaged.

One evening, after a day of teaching, I was wandering through the charming city of Koblenz and came across a protest march. There were banners, drums, horns and all the rest. It was a German sort of protest, so orderly and well-structured. There were police officers at the front and back to block the intersections and ensure all went well.

So, I joined the march.

I wasn’t sure exactly what we were protesting and my German is weak. I asked the person next to me.

We are protesting high inflation!

This was not unexpected, since inflation is a huge issue all over the world. It is perhaps a bigger issue in a place like Germany where many people put their savings in bank accounts earning very little in interest.

Still, protesting inflation seems a bit like protesting gravity or the tides, so I asked someone else.

We are protesting high energy prices!

I could follow this argument, since energy prices are a huge issue in Germany. I spoke with several Germans who reported that their heating bill was up by 4x. It is a dark time in Germany because the lights are usually off. Then I asked someone else.

We are protesting the boycotts from the war in Ukraine!

I didn’t see this one coming, but I suppose I should have. The core issue for many of the protestors: the Russian boycotts. These are leading to higher energy prices and a more difficult life in Germany.

I drifted away from the protest after hearing this news, since I support Ukraine and oppose the invasion. But it left me thinking. If people in Germany are connecting the Ukraine conflict to their personal financial struggles, there is a challenge ahead. How do you keep supporting the Ukrainians?

I am a marketing professor, so tend to see things in terms of benefits and costs. In the U.S., Ukraine seems like a good cause. There is no direct cost, and the benefit seems high. Who doesn’t want to support the feisty and spirited Ukrainians? This is an easy decision.

In Germany, the equation is different. The Ukraine war is creating significant personal costs. The benefits are far less clear. Wasn’t Ukraine always part of Russia? Why are we getting involved in that fight? Do we really want to provoke Russia, one of the world’s great powers and not far away?

I think there are two lessons.

First, don’t assume that your personal outlook is universal. I think many in the U.S. suffer from that. I certainly did on the Ukraine question. If it makes sense to us, then it must make sense to everyone, right?

Second, costs and benefits develop on an individual level. What are people seeing and hearing? What do they believe?

As I walked home that evening in the drizzle, I was left thinking that settling the Ukraine conflict is essential. Russia will take part of Ukraine, but not as much as Putin wanted. Ukraine will lose some territory but will survive.

The quicker we get to some resolution, the better.

1 Response

  1. Christoph W says:

    Hey Tim, enjoy reading your column. Note as well that (besides the obvious impact of high energy prices on people’s wallets), there is a concerted Russian propaganda effort on social media and through the far left wing/right wing political party. There is a big German/Russian Spätaussiedler population that gets influenced and amplifies these voices. Very interesting dynamic (also from a Marketing perspective) – Happy holidays!

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