Detail der Verpackung der Gelben Sorte um 1925 Hans Domizlaff Archiv - Frankfurt am Main
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Detail der Verpackung der Gelben Sorte um 1925

Master of Brands in the Roaring Twenties

An 'Urfaust' in management, advertising and marketing thought

At the beginning of the century there once lived a child in Erfurt, not knowing yet that later on its life would be connected with the life of two other children growing up in the same Thuringian town in the midth of Germany. It was eight year old Hans Domizlaff who hid his passion behind an imaginary aunt, when his teachers were surprised at his ability to paint a picture of a steamboat in stormy sea.

The other two children: Hermann and Philipp Reemtsma, sons of Bernhard Reemtsma, who had bought a small cigarette factory named DIXI. At first the company was seated in a seven room flat, later on in an old arms factory close to the cathedral. Maybe the boys went to the same school, maybe the same teachers threatened them with bamboo canes. They even might have played together, games of indians and soldiers or robbers and policemen amongst the walls of the Thuringian town. Years later, when they had grown up to become young men, they fought for the life of a nation.

In the spring of the year 1920 - the Kaiserreich had been burnt to ashes during World War I - a young handsome fellow meets Philipp Fuerchtegott Reemtsma at the Leipzig fair. After a long talk on advertising, products and brand design, Reemtsma asks Hans Domizlaff to cast a critical eye on his cigarette manufactory in Erfurt. Within the following ten years Domizlaff will be creating some of the most successful German cigarette brands before World War II. Philipp and Hermann Reemtsma are expanding the 'Reemtsma Cigarettenfabriken' into one of the biggest ventures in Europe.

Growing up in the Kaiser's Reich

Domizlaff, born in 1892, grew up in Frankfurt, Erfurt and Leipzig. His father was a high Prussian officer, a leading general of the Kaiser's headquarter in World War I. Hans seems to be of difficult character, egocentric in the eyes of his teachers; but he's only independent in his ideas about the surrounding world. A gifted child, he's left alone with his passions for painting, music and studying people.

A private tutor is engaged to get Hans through the hurdle-race of school. The tutor's way to capture the heart of pubescent revolt: his first lesson is about the art of stuffing and smoking a pipe. Hans on the other hand has to swear not to say anything to his parents in order to keep up the image of the severe teacher. Hans switches school several times: from high school in Erfurt to 'Schnepfenthal', a famous boarding school founded in 1784 by Johann Gotthilf Salzmann. Two years later torture picks up again at the 'Petrischule' in Leipzig. After stubborn fighting with teachers, headmasters an the headmaster's wife, examinations take place in Eilenburg, a town nearby.

On holidays, Hans was sent to Paris to study the French language, but he instead decided to take a pituresque tour along the coasts of Britanny and Normandy in the company of French, Irish and German girls. This was his way of penetrating the secrets of French conversation. A year after this, while perfecting his English in London, Hans, in his juvenile curiosity is tempted again by the opposite sex, on tennis courts this time, but a vicar intervenes.

Travelling, studying, becoming a Bohemian

The famous artist Max Klinger was asked to voice his opinion on the young man's gifts as a painter. Klinger was enthusiastic, he accepted Hans as his first and only disciple. On Klinger's advice Hans went to Paris to further his studies: in 1912 he went on a pilgrimage to the sanctuaries of modern painting.

Hans' father was convinced that real art and great painting would only come out of severe abstinence from bourgeois materialism. Hans became a real, and poor Bohemian: with rumbling stomach he walked through the suburbs of Paris for nights on end and tried to find inspiration in the moonlit Tuileries. In the company of his friends Modigliani, Wyler and De Horn he often spent his last sous for an early cup of coffee at the Café de la Rotonde.

Throughout this period of despair, family friends were of great help. Hans Brockhaus, son of the publisher Brockhaus in Leipzig, had a talk with Georg Domizlaff about living conditions of young artists in Paris and urged him to be more generous. As a result of this Hans' monthly fees were raised, he was able to rent a bigger apartment and made arrangements for a weekly hot bath.

In the spring of 1914 he succumbed to the thrills of travelling again. Just because of a bet, Hans gave up his apartment over night in order to catch the earliest train from the Gare de l'Est for a tour of Spain in the company of Frank Brangwyn. For some reason Frankie didn't show up, so Hans was on his own and left Paris, his friends, his love affair with Madame Bing, and started out on a trip of Spain, Gibraltar and Marocco. In July, Hans had to break away from the sunny south, he had to enter the war. His way back to Germany led him through Venice and Tyrol.

World War I: Starting as a Testpilot

He arrived in Leipzig in August and was trained as a pilot at the 'Sachsen-Doppeldeckerbau', a small company that wanted to construct bi-planes for military purposes. Hans was the test pilot and flew all sorts of innovative constructions made of impregnated canvas, wooden sticks, wires and combustion engines. Not even ten years had gone by since Wilbur and Orville Wright had explored their new technique and taught humanity the art of traversing the airs without touching the ground. In December though, Hans touched the ground in a rather unpleasant way: his plane crashed during a demonstration flight.

During the long period of recovery following on the crash he decided to matriculate at Leipzig University. Besides studying the history of art he spent his time directing Georg Buechner's 'Woyceck', listening to his friend Karl Straube play the organ at the Thomaskirche or writing a philosophical work entitled 'Confessions Of An Artist'. Time of leisure came to an end in early 1916.

End of leisure time

Hans had to go to war again, this time as a photographer. His task was to take pictures of young heroes - crashing. Two years later he had accumulated two albums full of irritating pictures: delicate landscapes, portraits of friends, burnt out tanks, hanged partisans and above all aircraft in all concevable ways of crashing: a massacre of wood, steel, fabric, motors and human bodies.

After the war Domizlaff tried to settle down as a painter in Leipzig. He organized concerts on behalf of a modern art society, staged plays by Georg Buechner and worked as a scenic designer at the Leipziger Volkstheater. In 1919 he started off as a freelance at Wezel & Naumann, one of the largest printing offices in Germany in the early twenties. They produced all the materials necessary for advertising and packaging. They wanted him to build up an artistic atelier for designing letter-papers, packages, books and folders. Their intention was to modernize the graphic work with the help of young artists.

New try as a advertising salesman

Several weeks later Hans had to come to the conclusion that this idea was total 'bosh'. He had a talk with the general manager and told him: 'Your printing office shouldn't be concerned with competition in modern art but rather with getting bigger turnovers. It is not a matter of everlasting values but of satisfying your customers and winning their confidence. There are better ways of doing this than to experiment in the field of graphic art.'

He developed a question form to have customers tell their pricise expectations; he wanted them to realize that the printing office was taking its engagements seriously. Besides this, he tried to found a society for industrial applications of the arts. After the first world war there didn't exist specialised branches of advertising like today. Authors and artists were doing the work of texters and designers.

Since 1907 the 'Deutscher Werkbund' had grouped together architecture, applied arts and industry in order to increase the quality and design of industrially produced goods. There were no commercial artists like we know today. Some artists were doing design work, like Kurt Schwitters for 'Bahlsen Keks', but only when the 'Bund Deutscher Gebrauchsgrafiker' was founded in Leipzig in 1921 - the first strictly commercial organization of artists - the notion 'graphic designer' was established.

The first full service ad agency

Domizlaff wanted to build up an agency in Leipzig that was supposed to coordinate all the advertising and construction work necessary for showrooms of trade fair exhibitors. After a briefing with the customer this agency would do everything, from developing concepts up to the complete setup of the showroom. All necessary artists, craftsmen, text writers, and all the advertising would be coordinated by just one person.

This looks like the work of an average advertising agency of today but at that time usually all the ideas and efforts needed for selling a product - including brand name, advertising and package design - were furnished by the producer himself. Most of the successful enterprises of those days were a one-man show. He who had the idea founded the factory, built up a staff of salesmen, designed the package and did the advertising with the help of painters, and if he knew of the power of words, he engaged an author to tell people why they should buy his goods.

But there are more important differences between advertising in 1920 and today. In Germany the first world war had put an end to a century-old tradition of ruling the nation. Industry and city development became the priorities of a new, modern society. They began to dominate the relationships between men. They built up new time schedules and determined how people spent their days - mainly at work. A new social class came into being through the necessities of organized production. Besides the proletarian and the capitalist there were the blue-collar worker, the secretary, the policeman, the independent craftsman, the merchant - all those who can be summed up by the concept of the middle class.

The Roaring Twenties: Starting of a new time

Their ideas of reality and of how life was supposed to be were reflected in the predominant mass media of the time: the newspaper ad, the placard, the luminous advertising, the never ending presentation of merchandise in the shop-windows of big department stores, and last not least, the brands and packages.

At the time when Reemtsma met Domizlaff, the former had tried to enter the market by creating a big marketing event. He had engaged Prof. Deffke, an authority in Germany as to modern and avant-garde design. Deffke had created the now famous logo and a series of packages, long and bulky cubes. Reemtsma's first act had been to represent the logo on posters along the railway throughout the country - it made people speculate what this sign was all about because no hints were given as to its origin. Second act: Reemtsma organized a campaign against another large company (Rückforth, Stettin) that also had a Deffke-designed logo.

Reemtsma's Big Bang

They argued, that they could be mistaken one for the other. Third act: Deffke incited emminent experts in Germany to speak up in favour of the Reemtsma-logo. Peter Behrens, Lucian Bernhard, Walter Gropius, Ludwig Hohlwein and thirty other artists were making much ado about Deffke, Reemtsma and Rückforth, telling the people of Germany and the rest of the world that there is nothing in the two logos that could be mistaken.

The result of all this: The name of a little company in Erfurt which manufactured nameless cigarettes like hundreds of other companies did, was cirulating throughout Germany for more than two years, because of different reasons.

But when Reemtsma asked Domizlaff to give his assessment, he was in for a lot of trouble because something was going wrong with the brand-new brand and its modern styling. His little factory in the seven room flat in Erfurt was still in production, but the turnover was going downhill. Domizlaff told Reemtsma: 'Now everyone knows your logo and advertising but no one is able to say what you are producing. You might even be an advertising company. If someone has tried your cigarettes, shere inquisitiveness was the cause. There is no reason for other people to have confidence in you because you don't give the argument of quality. Once their curiosity satisfied, your turnover will go down as fast as it rose up.'

Much ado about nothing...

Much ado about nothing, so to speak. Four weeks later, when turnover was still going down, in their dispair they asked Domizlaff what to do to brake away from the trend.

In the first decades of the new century, cigarettes were not regarded as luxury goods. They came along as little white sticks without the seriousness and tradition of cigars or pipe tobacco. Surrounded by the atmosphere of the mysterious orient, hidden in gaily coloured boxes, endowed with well sounding poetic names, they became a screen for all villainous projections. Up to about 1910, ninety percent of all German brands were copies of the imported cigarettes, mostly of Egyptian brands. In 1906 new laws for imported cigarettes were passed to demonstrate that German manufacturers were capable of producing cigarettes and of getting into business at last.

They were creating an independent and modern design. Cigarettes were represented as (pre)requisites of war heroes, filmstars and aeronauts. Packages in a minimalistic, extremly reduced grafic style came into fashion, with no reference to taste or sensual pleasure nor to the origins of the raw materials. During world war one, raw materials were increasingly hard to get and unprocessed tobaccos of poorer quality had to be used, so these packages became a symbol of the inferior articles in times of war.

Around 1920 superior qualities were available again and it became obvious that the former styling had been worn out. Domizlaff flaired the trend, and he suggested to Reemtsma to create a cigarette of unspectacular styling and advertising, but of spectacular quality.

Making of a brand design classic

Within two days and two nights, he created his first cigarette brand: the 'R 6'. It was born in 1921. In contrast to other brand names like 'Abdullah', 'Salem' or 'Königin von Saba', it proposed a rational, level-headed image. A narrow ribbon, plain signets and ornaments upon a single-coloured box alluded to the oriental origin as well as to the production and harvest of the raw materials. The factory's name and logo were the dominant elements on the front side. The brand name appeared in the upper edge of the ornaments. In 1924 the brand had to be taken from the market: inflation had propelled the prices of cigarettes made from superior Macedonian and Thracian tobaccos beyond the buying power of limited incomes.

But 'R 6' - just like 'Ernte 23' - was to have a tenacious life. After several relaunches they became the most successful brands before and after world war II. Now they are Reemtsma's oldest brands on the European market, and 'Ernte 23' is still in the Top Ten in Germany without any advertising since 1984!

In 1923 Reemtsma was converted into a joint stock company. The firm moved from an old armament factory to barracks in Altona-Bahrenfeld, on the outskirts of Hamburg. Equipped with air-conditioning and an automatic blending plant for the preparation of the various blends, the factory became a model of ultra-modern cigarette production. The brands 'Gelbe Sorte', 'Senoussi', 'Ova', 'Ernte 23' and 'R 6', designed by Hans Domizlaff, have been among the most popular cigarettes for more than sixty years.

Selling by telling

Domizlaff discovered a blank spot on the map of cigarette advertising: the process of production itself. Up into the twenties, the smoker had been 'ignorant'. He knew nothing about the brown stuff rolled up into a little white paper - it could have been tea or any kind of rubbish that was offered to him. He didn't even know where tobacco was grown.

Domizlaff started educational campaigns for the Reemtsma brands, especially for the 'R 6', he gave the smoker detailed information about the origin and the different types of tobacco, about its preparation and the way it was blended. A long series of scientific tables (a total of 54 themes) informed the smoker about the process of fermentation so vital to the final aroma of the tobacco.

This astonishingly simple, even self-evident concept made use of a modern plant and the preparation of a special product and thus anchored, by means printing campaigns, the experience of taste and sensual pleasure. Domizlaff brought people down to the product itself, each ad taught them more and the next time they were more curious than before. Reemtsma became a symbol for this enlightening style of advertisement.

The firm rose up to become the biggest tobacco manufactury in Germany. In 1930 the company controlled more than 65 percent of the market. Ten years later Domizlaff who by now owned parts of Reemtsma became independent and dedicated his time to his different passions: sailing, astronomy, painting and politics. He became a member of the Kaiserlicher Yachtclub.

Getting real big

Since 1927 he had spent every year about six weeks sailing either along the Norwegian coast up to the North Cape or across the Baltic Sea. Each voyage was planned and executed as a scientific excursion. Being a skilled photographer he also brought home an extensive documentation. In 1930 he described his tour to the North Cape in different issues of the magazine 'Die Yacht'.

He wrote three books illustrated by large-scale photographs of his sailing tours. These books were reprinted several times, translated into English and became a sort of bestseller in Northern Europe. With the help of Erich Laeisz, the owner of the famous 'P-Liners' - a group of cargo sailers - he built the Starboat and had it approved as Olympic Class.

Since the mid twenties one of Domizlaff's preoccupations had been the propaganda techniques of the young German Republic. He discussed most of his ideas with his friend Hermann Ullstein, editor of the best selling German newspapers before world war II. Domizlaff pointed out that the opportunity was being lost to advertise the new form of government and gave voice to his astonishment that no one seemed to be able to popularize the new state.

Propaganda: Ruling the public opinion

In his book 'Propadandamittel der Staatsidee', first published in 1930, he described in which way propaganda could be used to promote the ides of the state and how this could become a method of ruling public opinion. This was to be done by a special ministry in charge of all public representations of the government. He proposed to appoint a 'censor' who was supposed to look after the coherence of the national style. The flags, decorations, uniforms, all those 'insignificant' attributes of government were to be designed as vehicles of the idea of the state. With regard to meaning, form shouldn't follow function, it ought to be an expression of the state system. The 'invisible', non-violent power of form could rule people much better than physical violence or restricting laws.

If being determines consciousness, then someone who designs the being of a people will determinate its consciousness. Later on the Nazis, by means of their 'Propaganda Ministerium', showed how ideas can become an armoury of the mind, even capable of destroying their creator the moment he uses them against humanity and the powers of life. Ever since, the notion of propaganda has been associated with the atrocities of holocaust and fascist dictatorship.

While Domizlaff was working for Reemtsma, he created brands for the public market according to a method he used to call 'Markentechnik'. He made his first experiences in the field of consumer goods but soon he noticed that his idea of 'Markentechnik' comprised much more than just the process of developing brands. In order to spread out its wings fully, the brand has to become a dominating idea in the mind of all those engaged in the process of creation and production. It is not enough to name and design a product and tell others to sell it. At first, a brand is just an idea, but then it becomes a living creature, an organism on its own. Producers, sellers and consumers are parts of its system; the more they grow in number, the more the brand grows.

Markentechnik: a theory of brand management

Seen superficially 'Markentechnik' seems to be a method of ruling people, of being successful, but it is nothing less than a description of evolutionary processes, teaching survival if one is capable of finding one's own way to evolve.

But Domizlaff was not only a man of deep thought, he was also able to give expression to his thoughts. His book 'Die Gewinnung des öffentlichen Vertrauens' (Winning the public confidence) was published in November 1939, a few weeks after world war II had started. The subtitle read: A textbook for 'Markentechnik'.

Winning the public confidence

The main character of the story is Hermann Schmidt, a merchant. The story takes place in a corner shop in a middle-sized city. For years Herr Schmidt has been selling articles for everyday use. One day he finds out that a special kind of chocolate is favoured by his customers. Step by step, Domizlaff paints the way of how an anonymous product becomes a branded article - and what is remarkable about the story: it describes the development of a private brand. Herr Schmidt is not the producer, only the seller, the public's goodwill is based upon his dignity.

Domizlaff wrote this book at a time when people had confidence in merchants and shopping was an act of communication within a social environment. Social structures were suitable for the development of brand names and Domizlaff was used to working with these structures. Behind the counter, there had been genereations and generations of men and women who not only had sold goods but, in manners and words, had accompanied the product from the shelf to the customer and thus laid the foundation for further succeeding products. They were creators of public confidence.

Nowadays when we ramble through endless rows of stacks we celebrate the latest achievements of civilization, but didn't our ancestors, while still being collectors and hunters, do the same? The multitude of products is suggesting a fool's paradise. Utter disgust leads up to the conviction that we do not need all this, and in the end we are drawn anyway to the one and only product we've been looking for some reason.

Essence of branded articles

When Domizlaff, in his textbook for 'Markentechnik', described the twenty laws of natural developing of branded articles, his main concern was the essence of the branded article. But anyone able to read between the lines will find out that he aimed more than just a special way of distributing goods. World war II prevented him from publishing the complete range of intended books. The next came out in 1941, and it was the last of the four initially projected volumes.

In his work for Siemens since 1934, Domizlaff proved successfully how to put into practise his ideas. Carl Friedrich von Siemens had kept an eye on the large market of consumer goods. Siemens wanted to sell radios, washing mashines, refridgerators and so on. But there was no one in this highly specialised firm of engineers and technicians to inform Mr. A.N. Onymous about its products. He was now in the position to furnish evidence for his way of winning public confidence.

Corporate Design: the 'Siemens-Style'

This time he was dealing with a huge organism, an industrial enterprise. Domizlaff combined the reputation of Siemens with the reticence of someone who is conscious of the quality of his goods. He created the strict and dignified 'Siemens-Style' that was to represent the tradition of a reliable supplier of highly developed technical equipment, especially for industry and public plants.

Only very few graphic elements composed the new style of Siemens: the logo and, as typeface, 'Neuzeit Grotesk'. As to typographic design, he preferred middle alignment, in order to express a sense of clearness and order. Simple rules, laid down to give Siemens an image worth of public confidence. Domizlaff installed a main advertising department and was thus able to influence all forms of public appearance of the 'Großorganismus' (huge organism) Siemens: industrial design, product development, graphic design for all printed media up to formulating letters of complaint, tenders and advertisements. The flow of communication in- and outside the company received his mark.

War puts Domizlaff out of work. There were no raw materials for production. Other materials were rationed. Industry seemed restricted to spreading 'Durchhalteparolen' (passwords of holding out to the end). Advertising was generally considered as Nazi propaganda. It looked as if Domizlaff had foreseen coming events when he bought a large estate close to the Lueneburger Heide. He wanted to establish an agricultural experimental plant on the largest trout breeding farm in Europe. The idea behind this was to create branded farm goods for export.

World War Two

Beside this, he dreamt of a recreation centre for scientists and artists to be situated nearby at the wild-life reserve at Wilsede. After the death of Ludwig Roselius, the chair of the wild-life society was vacant.

Domizlaff took on the task with great verve, and he protected the 'Naturschutzpark' against the Reichswehr that wanted to establish an airbase around Wilsede. Another of his hobbies was the astronomy lab, completed during the first days of war. Whereas intellectual dullness reigned outside - there were photographs taken inside capturing light that came in from the edge of the universe. Domizlaff also put it to use to observe the British air raids on Bremen and Hamburg. Again, he was interested in the pilots' fate. His lens-armed eyes watched the shooting down of planes - falling flames in dark sky.

The days after war's end were to be rough. Throughout all those years he had protected the Lueneburger Heide and thus made a lot of enemies amongst Nazi Party members and the farmers of the heath. Now, in times of general disorder, he had to fight their denunciations. The British authorities were not able to administer justice, instead he was arrested and interrogated again and again. His property was requisitioned by the British Military Government, that is by some ardent and thoroughly German clerks.

End of War

Someone with such a large property at his disposal, occupying official positions without any connections to the Party and being, at the same time, in contact with important German firms had to be suspicious. In the after war period, his property along with the Nature Reserve looked like an easy snap to certain people. When he came back from a half year imprisonment his farm was run down and plundered by some 'friends' he had invited to live there after their flight from war.

But before long he was back to work: in the early forties he had brought up the idea of a new disc label for the Siemens subsidiary 'Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft'. This label was to become a collection of musical expressions beginning with plain Gregorian Chants and covering more than a thousand years.

Deutsche Grammophon: Archiv Produktion

At first it was simply called 'Studio for Music History' of the Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft. Later on it was established as 'ARCHIV Produktion' and divided into twelve different research fields. This was the first time a company tried to explore the history of music systematically. 'ARCHIV Produktion' was to build up goodwill for the company - especially for the products - through cultural work.

This project was similar to another one that Domizlaff had developed for Reemtsma in the thirties. To be competitive, most cigarette facturies had begun to add pictures to the packages: the collector's instinct was to be incited. But as a Markentechnik it only proved that the cigarettes themselves were of no interest to the smoker, interest had shifted to those tiny embroidered prints. If there was no special quality to the product, to its taste and to the pleasure it provided, there was no reason for the product at all. Sooner or later the customer would get the conviction that he was buying a product hardly worth mentioning.

Cultural sponsoring

To cut matters short, Domizlaff wanted to avoid that the customer's interest was taken off the cigarettes, that they were seen as a mere background for any kind of knick-knack. He designed a voucher to be exchanged against pictures and albums chosen freely at a Picture Delivery Service. This service was installed as a company of its own with no obvious connections to Reemtsma.

It became a very successful firm, published more than seventy different volumes, some of them sold more than 250,000 copies. They were dealing with subjects like art, history, geography and science, the whole project grew to become a popular encyclopedia.


If you want to know more about the books see the booklist (Bibliographie)