An interview with the makers of comic Hotze, Jens Bringmann and Valentin Kopetzki from BRINGMANN & KOPETZKI.
Content remains one of the hottest topics in digital marketing. Only when the right contents are conveyed at the right time, across the right channel, to the right person, can the often-cited customer experience really be translated into action. Two fellows that advanced the topic–already back in the analogue world–are Jens Bringmann and Valentin Kopetzki from BRINGMANN & KOPETZKI. With their comic character “Hotze” and the series of the same name, they grew to become cult figures of the electronic music scene in Germany and internationally from the mid-1990s, and their reputation still holds today. “Hotze” gained fame above all through the techno magazine Groove and the close symbiosis with former cult-club “Stammheim”. Marketers can also learn from Jens’ and Valentin’s keen intuition for the desires and expectations of their crowd.
Hello Jens, hello Valentin. Tell us a little about your time as party organisers and when and how you had the idea to create the Hotze comic?
Jens Bringmann: It was all quite innocent at first. I had been creating flyers for the culture-factory Salzmann in Kassel [Germany] while working as an intern [comment: Kassel is a two-hour drive from Frankfurt], when an organiser pulled out at the last minute. Suddenly I was offered the chance to organise the party, but at the time I still had a lot to do for a different project. Together with Valentin we got together with some friends who already had some experience in organising events and from there we mainly took care of the advertising for the club. It really went well. Then there was another party and another. It had its own momentum and at some point we thought “Hey let’s take over the whole club”. The whole thing just took off when big names like Laurent Garnier started to play in our club.
Valentin Kopetzki: The comic-style flyers and adverts that we distributed all over Germany played their part in the initial success. At that time techno-visuals consisted of clean 3D-artwork, so we were really something out of the ordinary. We thought that comics could transport the character of a party much more emotionally. The magazine Groove thought likewise, asking us to illustrate in a similar style nightlife anecdotes that the editors brought with them from their appointments. We quickly realised that we couldn’t really draw events particularly life-like if we hadn’t experienced them ourselves. So we decided to create a character that could tell of our own personal experience: Hotze was born.
In an interview, star-DJ Chris Liebing once said, “If I wanted to tell my granny what I do at the weekend I’d simply show her the Hotze comic.” How did you manage to capture the electronic lifestyle so realistically and true to life? What is ‘good content’ for you, in this context?
JB: It is always important to know the target group. We knew ours rather well because we were the target group actually. We organised parties because we – damn it – wanted to be at the best parties. And we always tried to keep Hotze unbranded and not refer directly to the Stammheim. But the look was of course similar to our party flyers, so at some point people made the connection themselves.
VK: In this sense we really drew just for ourselves and were free from any restrictions. The key was the authenticity. We drew our own lives – a bit exaggerated of course. And the people recognised what they saw. So it wasn’t someone coming in from the outside and acting it. If you’re not that lucky there are only two options: Either you work your way right down to the bottom of it or get hold of people who know the target group.
What has changed for you since then? How hard was it for you to leave the analogue world and enter the digital world?
JB: It’s certainly true that digitisation has made it more difficult to get attention these days. Today readers are overloaded with comics, memes and other visual content. That makes it that bit more difficult for illustrators like us to get noticed. But the media change has also brought positive change: in the 1990s, advertising was often entirely humourless. Now that social media have made it clear for all to see that humour is important for the success of content, it’s alright to draw a little bit more subversively now and then.
VK: It makes no difference content-wise for which channel or which medium we draw. The way of distribution is not important because if a story works well on paper it will also work online. Technically the production has become much easier. While we used to drive across town to get our finished work to the editorial office to make the printing deadline, now all we have to do is send JPEG-file — no hassle.
Many marketers think of text first when they think of content, followed by video. Pictures are still neglected by many. What would you say to these marketers? What are the advantages of pictorial content?
JB: We love pictures and always recommend them because it’s simply the easiest and most direct way to transport our ideas. That doesn’t mean we refuse to work with video. For the music video “Bang Bang” by Nena & Tok Tok we already demonstrated with a flash clip that we are also up for the moving picture. In practice we think pictures just have more advantages. In many situations, like on the train, users do not start a video with sound. To then gain their attention, meaningful pictures, headlines and eye-catching pictorial elements are far more relevant.
VK: When it comes to the style of the picture, there is no universal formula for attention-grabbing content. Whether we emphasise the colours–to arouse emotions–or keep everything black and white to create a more dramatic effect – it’s always all about the message.
The trick to creating good content is to continuously check yourself, develop new, attractive formats – because the crowd changes too. Even Hotze has also moved on. How did you identify these changes and let them flow into your creative work?
JB: I see that music consumption has changed. Earlier the techno scene was less permeable regarding music taste. You listened to techno and snubbed all other genres. Today it is quite common for our readers to listen to techno in the club and pop music at home. This is also accompanied by a different attitude towards life. For us to be able to reflect that, it’s quite important to be able to take a certain role distance.
VK: But it’s not as if we are completely rooted in the techno scene. We also worked for hip-hop bands like Fünf Sterne deluxe. Anyway, we have been in the business for over 20 years now, so it’s inevitable that you make contact with other music genres and lifestyles. We see ourselves rather as pop-culture illustrators and not as techno specialists.
How do you promote yourselves today? Do you still organise parties or do you concentrate solely on illustrating?
VK: We still go to a party now and then, naturally a bit less frequently because of our age. We only step us as organisers for release parties for our comics – and even then we book friends of ours who organise events.
JB: Drawing is definitely our main activity. It’s interesting that we always get assignments from people who danced on loudspeakers at one of our parties and today are decision-makers in companies. Recently, for example, we designed a mascot for a producer of forklifts. That was fun and exciting – but not foreseeable 20 years ago.
What advice would you give to decision-makers from the business, such as marketers, who are thinking about new content intended to ‘pick up’ the customer?
VK: Here we come back to the start of our talk. Ideally as a marketer, you are part of the target group yourself and know the needs intuitively. Otherwise it’s helpful to get advice from people who know the scene and the attitude to life better than you.
Berti Kolbow-Lehradt and René Weber from FAKTOR 3 conducted the interview.