Diccon Bewes: The old men of Swiss adverts

Diccon Bewes: The old men of Swiss adverts

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Sex sells but in Switzerland that cliché could create a rather disturbing mental image with the Swiss trend of using old men in advertisements.

Sex sells but in Switzerland that cliché creates a rather disturbing mental image. Because the Swiss seem to like using old men in adverts, such as the ones for Appenzeller cheese pictured below: Three wise old men who know the secrets of the cheese but will never tell. My question is always ‘where are the wise old women?' as they are the ones who usually know everything.

Does having old men in adverts make them more believable? Switzerland Tourism seems to think so, with its current series of adverts featuring Sebi and Paul, two old men from the countryside. I love these adverts because they show that the Swiss really do have a sense of humour and can make fun of themselves. At last. But what's interesting is that the main characters are men. Have a look at the first advert in the series:

Isn't it great? But think how different it would be if it were two farmers' wives out on the razzle, cavorting with scantily-clad young men, buying their husbands naughty underwear, dancing the night away and gambling their hard-earned money. Now that really would have raised some eyebrows, and a few voices I suspect. Old men having fun in the city is acceptable. That's what men do. But old women? They aren't supposed to be out until dawn; they have to be Maggie Smith: discreet, elegant and beyond reproach.

A while back, SBB had an ongoing series of adverts featuring three old men – Benoit, Sergio and Beat (to represent the three main languages) – who got up to all sorts of jolly japes around the country. Luckily they were dispatched into early retirement last year. And replaced with a young lady who walks through trains and stations, buys drinks and has an 80s makeover.

Old men, young women. The two stock groups for advertising, and sometimes one is used to sell to the other. You only have to look at pictures of the recent Autosalon in Geneva to see thin young women draped over cars to sell them to middle-aged guys. Sad that such sexist rubbish is still alive and well in some areas of sales.

For a long time Switzerland treated women as second-class citizens: They had to wait until 1971 to get the vote, until 1981 for equal rights, until 2002 to be able to have an abortion legally, and women are still waiting for equal pay. Perhaps Swiss advertising can show that times really have changed in the land of Helvetia and Heidi. Maybe the next Switzerland Tourism advert should show Sebi and Paul's wives. I'd love to see that.

As for the phrase ‘old timer', just be careful how and when you use it. If you say that your hobby is tinkering around with old timers, or riding them through the countryside on a nice sunny day, to most Swiss that would mean you have a vintage car and like to enjoy it. To most English-speakers that means you like having sex with old men. And that is where we came in.



Reprinted with permission of Diccon Bewes.

Diccon grew up in Britain but now lives in Bern. He has spent the last seven years grappling with German grammar, overcoming his innate desire to form an orderly queue and exploring parts of Switzerland he never knew existed. And eating lots of chocolate. He is the author of the bestselling book Swiss Watching.

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