In an interview with bayer04.de, Harold Hartel, brand manager at Bayer 04 and back then in charge of the planning and implementation of the campaign, and Andreas 'Paffi' Paffrath, Bayer 04 fan liaison officer, talk about the creation and significance of the campaign, reactions to it and a new Werkself identity.
Harry, you have been working in the marketing department at Bayer 04 for many years and you are a professional in terms of image and brand development. As somebody from Leverkusen, did it not hurt when your club was described by fans of other clubs as a plastic club and the pill makers team or the Werkself?
Hartel: Yes, it did annoy me for a while. I got heavily involved in the history of our club very early on. And then it quickly became clear that our origins from the works is a unique story. This close connection to Bayer AG is part of our DNA. We've been a club supported by a works since 1904 and we can be proud of that. For people who speak disparagingly about the concept of Werkself and pill makers brought a lot of envy and sour grapes after our promotion to the Bundesliga in 1979 at the latest. At the same time, our positive identity grew: Yes, that's what we are, that's where we come from and we can stand by that.
Paffi, how did the fan groups feel in the role the unpopular underdog during your club's first years in the Bundesliga?
Paffi: We relatively quickly got to the point where we thought: you don't have to work hard to find envy. There must be something important about what it represents to others otherwise you wouldn't meet with so much resentment. We were a small group and a lot of fans of other teams believed they'd bring up a painful subject when they denigrated us as pill makers or chemical monkeys. At the same time, we were proud of this tradition. But sometimes we felt that nobody in our club wanted to do something with that tradition. For us as Bayer fans it was always clear: We are who we are. And that's why we began to take up the terms used as abuse by our opponents and use them naturally and consciously.
How did you do that?
Paffi: Back then, for example, we put out the fanzine entitled 'The pill makers'. A Bayer fan from Braunschweig recently spoke to me and he wanted to know if the fanzine was still available. It has existed for a long time now but quite a few people like to remember it. Pill makers, the word is still heard today. We've also dealt with that image positively in our songs: "We don't sleep on beds, we don't sleep on straw, we sleep on tablets, that's the way it is at Bayer." Behind that is the attitude: You can't hurt us with your insults. And, on top of that, you all take an aspirin when you get a headache.
It took a few years for that identity to spread out from the small fan groups at the start and establish itself in the whole club and then be taken up by marketing. What's your experience of that development, Harry?
Hartel: At the beginning, I couldn't understand why a Bundesliga club on a normal matchday up to the 1980s could only attract 7,000 to 8,000 spectators to their own stadium. What was that down to? Back then there were around 70 sports, hobby and cultural societies supported by the works. Above all, there were an awful lot of sports events in the city. We had successful boxers, athletes, basketball players, volleyball players, handball players, fencers and many more. There was great competition for attention. For us in football it was primarily about: How can we make ourselves more attractive so that more spectators come to the stadium? The answer: Firstly by signing big world stars like Bernd Schuster and Rudi Völler. And coaches like Dragoslav Stepanovic who brought a bit of a big top atmosphere with him. On the other hand, we set up a ‘family street’ at the East Stand of the Ulrich Haberland Stadium to attract more families and children. It was a process of development and finally we set ourselves simple questions: Who are we really? Where do we come from? Where do we want to go to? What do we stand for?
The start of brand awareness?
Hartel: Yes, and from the start we always looked to make contact with our fans. Together with them we thought about Bayer 04. For example our club colours and the attributes that apply to us.
Paffi: As SVB and TuS Bayer became TSV Bayer 04, it appeared the club colours were red and white. But that didn't go down very well with our fans: We didn't want to have the same colours as Köln, Stuttgart or Bayern. There were several heated discussions but in the end the big majority of us spoke out in favour of Black and Red. At some point, the question arose of why we didn't have a mascot. And here it quickly became clear that we could fully identify with the lion as it is both on the Leverkusen coat of arms as well as the logo of Bayer AG. Leverkusen would never have existed without the works. And a lot of us worked in the works and still do today. The works is like a part of home. Just like the club arising from it, Bayer 04. "My city, my club my love" – the slogan you can find on fan merchandising is felt very deeply by many of us.
Hartel: Bayer AG, Bayer 04, Leverkusen – they are all closely interrelated. Back then there were 170 employees who wanted to do sports and asked for support from the company. From the time at the start of the 20th century, there is a letter that documents the presentation of the first Black and Red kit with our company logo on it: the lion with the mercurial wand and the globe. The Werkself goes back to those historical roots. The lion, the Bayer Cross and the colours of black and red: They were very important aspects to us to be able to enshrine, live and strengthen our Bayer 04 brand. And the unique element where we can distance ourselves from our competitors is the connection between company and club that existed from the start and grew historically. We have the Bayer Cross in our logo and Bayer is in our company name. That is absolutely unique. That acknowledgement of the provider of our name and shareholders and thereby to the long tradition of the club is our strength that we can make the most of against competitors like VfL Wolfsburg, TSG Hoffenheim or RB Leipzig. The backgrounds there are very different.
The identity of being a works club existed for a long time. Do you sometimes not ask yourselves: Why didn't we think about it earlier in terms of dealing with it in a proactive way? Or put another way: Why was 2006 the right time?
Paffi: I think the Werkself campaign actually hit the spot. Bayer 04 were a successful club at home and abroad in 2006. We won the UEFA Cup, the DFB Cup were runners-up several times and were in the Champions League final. I think we needed those successes to be able to stand by our roots with self-confidence. And the good thing was that there was absolutely nothing artificial about the Werkself campaign.
Was that down to the fans being so closely involved in the development of the campaign?
Hartel: Yes, absolutely. We communicated a lot with each other in the initial phase and the fans provided a fantastic input. There were meetings with fan clubs, the fan committee but also memberships clubs like the Kids Club. We asked a lot of questions, listened and saw ourselves in the marketing department as backers of this identity of our fans. At the start, we used the input we received and fed it into merchandising articles such as T-shirts, scarves, pin badges. That enabled us to test the reaction. The theme of the Werkself grew stronger and stronger in people's minds.
What were the first reactions like?
Hartel: A lot of fans said: finally! Finally you’ve summed up who we are.
Paffi: For many people it was actually the fulfilment of their desire being able to live out the DNA of their club.
Did you have to overcome any resistance within the club or Bayer AG?
Hartel: Everybody involved drove forward this campaign from the deepest conviction. We also received good feedback from the around the team. That also gave us a boost as the players were a significant part of the whole thing. Also members of management like Rudi Völler were enthusiastic about the idea and its implementation. And as far as Bayer AG is concerned: Linking the club even more strongly with the parent company and presenting it with confidence was also seen very positively by the company.
How important was the tone of the campaign, that is the self-deprecation, the cheek and humour between the lines?
Hartel: That was extremely important and definitely a key to success. We tried to do everything in a tongue-in-cheek way: We don't take ourselves so seriously but nevertheless want to say to you how we feel and who we are. The trick of turning negative concepts on their head and making it a core of our own identity worked well. We just turned the tables. That also has a surprise effect. A lot of people did not believe that we could be self-deprecating.
Was there praise from other clubs?
Hartel: Yes, a lot indeed. Quite a few people thought we'd come up with something really good.
It didn't stop with that campaign. The theme of the Werkself was later further intensified.
Hartel: That's right. We had the first discussion about the concept at the end of 2005, that is more than six months before the start of the 2006/07 season. At the start, we primarily entered the market with fan merchandise. But because it was not a one-off campaign we gradually upped the input in the following two years. We further developed the core message, but also did things somewhat differently. Over time we had even more themes such as the 'WIR04' campaign that also built on the Werkself theme. At that time, for example, the BayArena was being redeveloped and the fans had to manage for half a season without a roof over their heads. Back then we had a poster campaign where the BayArena was compared, with a good dose of irony, with other great buildings of the world such as the Colosseum in Rome or the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which also were not built in a day.
Paffi: I know people who had Werkself tattooed on their arms. That literally shows how deep this word is burnt into the mind of the fans. Recently we received photos from Bayer 04 fans in India who wore Werkself T-shirts in their auto rickshaws. It's great to see that it's established worldwide.
Did the Werkself campaign contribute to an identity of the Bayer 04 fans?
Paffi: Yes, absolutely. At the same time, I see it as a sort of straight line that started long before and will carry on long into the future. If you look at our stadium then you will see a lot of Black and Red, a lot of history. Everything that makes us distinct is consciously shown. The most recent example is the Leverkusen football route, a project by NK12, the umbrella organisation of Bayer 04 fans. Or we take our ultras who have come up with a 'Bay packing slip' as information on the current fan choreography. I think things like that are simply brilliant. Because it shows we can continually develop our tradition. I'm very proud of that.
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