From the Hamburg-based ad agency that brought you “Supergeil”—a viral commercial for the grocery store EDEKA, which briefly broke the Internet in 2013—comes “Is mir egal,” a viral ad in the same vein, by which I mean “ridiculous.” “Is mir egal” (slang for I don’t care) is for an unlikely client: the BVG, or Berlin Transport Company, which runs the startlingly punctual U-Bahn, bus, and tram lines that make a 344 square-mile city fully navigable by public transit.
Like “Supergeil,” “Is mir egal”—literally “it’s equal to me”—features a brand-specific, slicked-up version of a previous viral hit of the same name. Like “Supergeil,” the original “Is mir egal” was also the brainchild of a genial Berliner—this time, it’s Kazim Akboga, advertising copywriter by day and German-Turkish “Weird” Al by night.
The BVG spot:
Akboga’s original, which has racked up a staggering 13 million YouTube views:
In the BVG version, Akboga plays a surprisingly blasé ticket inspector, or Kontrolleur, for whom just about everything one could conceivably do on the U-Bahn—cutting onions; mild leather BDSM play; moving a futon; carrying a tiny dog dressed as a shark—is egal. (Everything, that is, except not having a valid ticket on one’s person at all times! Ha ha ha! There are no rules! But seriously, don’t break any rules. This is Germany.)
As with “Supergeil,” I’ve put my doctorate in the mighty language of Goethe and Rilke to excellent use by providing a literal English translation just for you, as well as (in true German form) a helpful annotation of which expressions of individuality the BVG actually does probably find egal. (Spoiler alert: Robot with mustard, ja; horse; nein.)
Anyone who has spent even a small amount of time in Berlin might do a double-take at this campaign, given that the number-one adjective most reasonable people would associate with the BVG is not “mirthful.” (Indeed, I’ve seen an U-Bahn conductor shut the door, forcefully and multiple times, on the arm of a passenger who tried to squeeze in at the last minute.) So if you’re wondering why the normally-humorless BVG decided to make a silly PSA—with the tagline Only we love you just the way you are, no less—you’re not alone.
Turns out it’s the latest move in an ongoing “Shitstorm” (the German press’s term, not mine) that began earlier this year when the BVG attempted to start a Twitter love-fest with the hashtag #weilwirdichlieben, or “because we love you.”
What do you love about the BVG? Tweeted someone in PR who is probably now arbeitslos, seemingly unaware of the notoriously grumpy city’s propensity toward barbed insults. What followed, then, was a torrent of complaints, about everything from getting thrown off the bus because the bus’s electronic ticket reader broke, to the lack of wheelchair access at some stations (valid issues, by the way; what’s wrong with you, BVG?). It seemed the Berlin ridership didn’t care—but rather than give up, the BVG decided to harness both Akboga’s ridiculous earworm and the double meaning of egal. Thus, a PSA about diversity and inclusion on the subway.
As Americans, our original reaction to this newest perplexing bit of Germanness might, indeed, be I don’t care—but it shouldn’t. Here’s a German public transportation company, gleefully employing a pitchman of Turkish descent, and celebrating, if a bit exaggeratedly, diversity, inclusion, and equality. Meanwhile, over here we can’t even have a conversation about Halloween costumes without imploding a university campus—and every single Republican candidate for President would just as soon die than make an ad that tells all Americans: Only we love you just the way you are. (Or, for that matter, that people should, you know, take public transportation.)
Yes, sure, the BVG’s examples aren’t all serious. As spokeswoman Petra Reetz told Der Spiegel, though, the message is: “It doesn’t matter what you look like, or where you come from.” Still, the Germans certainly have their own problems with diversity and inclusion. But when it comes to PSAs for public transport, we are definitely not egal.