Fräulein X doesn't say "Buy me."

Oct 12008

European television ads are reeeeeally good. But what are the billboard models trying to tell me?

Commercials on the German television channels that I get here are fantastic, and I'm sure I'd enjoy Austrian ads just as much if the television in my apartment got any Austrian channels. So surely print ads can get more creative than smiling celebrities.

Does anyone really look to Mirjam Weichselbaum for grocery advice? The Austrian supermarket chain Spar may think so because it features her on a lot of ads, even on in-store ads and displays. And the ads show her name somewhat prominently. Why? Sure, she's gorgeous and she's been an MTV host and has moderated a couple of other shows, and she's gorgeous and she's really, really gorgeous. But that doesn't make me shop at Spar more often or Billa or Zielpunkt less often. Maybe if Spar's microwave meals came in larger cardboard boxes with a Mirjam bikini pose on it...

I can't believe how many ads rely on sexy celebrities. George Clooney, Penelope Cruise, Mirjam Weichs--- ... and I don't know most of the names. I just know that I keep seeing the same gorgeous faces over and over again. When an actress appears in a supermarket ad in the U.S., it means she's past her prime.

I think it's particularly rare in the U.S. for fashion and lingerie models to bring in fame from film or television. If the model is well known, it's usually because she has built a reputation as a supermodel, like Cindy Crawford or Tyra Banks, and usually through Victoria Secret or Sports Illustrated. But I've seen a couple of familiar faces here. One is the sultry Hungarian-Gypsy-Russian-looking beauty who models Delicate Temptation lingerie in German-language media for the Triumpf brand. She looks a lot like Erika Marozsan, the enormously successful and prolific Hungarian actress whom I've been pining for ever since I saw "Gloomy Sunday" last year. Seems like Erika Marozsan would consider modeling lingerie to be a step down, though I have to admit she's extremely good at it.

Erika or her Doppelgängerin pouts at me every afternoon when I leave my office, from the street-level billboard, just across Taborstraße, where Mirjam hawked organic foods for five or six weeks. A couple of billboards down is a new ad, for a Spar-brand dish detergent. The saleswoman on this one is also gorgeous, but very proper, and looks a little like Julianne Moore did 10 or 15 years ago. Then there's a billboard with a museum ad, one advertising rental cars, one for men's razors, two for Raffeisen Bank, one for Jacobs coffee, one that urges pregnant women to consider adoption over abortion, and one for ÖAMTC, the Austrian equivalent of AAA.

That's what I see from street level, anyway. From my eigth-story office I can see what lies beyond, a half-acre of stacked scaffolding, steel forms for concrete, lumber piles, several hundred steel structural rods, and a half-finished building rising eight stories up into the sky. Mirjam, Erika and Julianne have been a tasteful dressing up for a construction site.

Occasionally, I imagine them talking to me. Strangely, they're not talking about organic food or lingerie or where they'd like me to take them in the evening. They're telling me I look tired, or suggesting that I stop by the farmer's market, or reminding me of the German word for "street car." I suppose that image comes to me from the traffic-conditions sign that dispenses guidance to Steve Martin's character in "L.A. Story," as a daily head-check in city full of possibilities beyond the 9-to-5 rut.