Handle Stories: how to write mundane into extraordinary

Were they mad?

Or just twisted geniuses?

In the mid 1990s, an advertising fairytale began. This is a tale of slick corporate marketing which began with – to paraphrase a holy Roman emperor – “too many words”. It is close to my heart because I, too, use too many words. And if this can happen to them, why, maybe, just maybe, it can happen to other verbose self-publishers.

Of course, they had cash to start with. And, to boot, it all happened in Germany, whose sense of dry irony is much underappreciated.

It all began in Der Spiegel, that well-beloved Hanover creation, a weekly news magazine with a circulation of more than one million. One day readers opened its pages to see a strange advert indeed; one which, by its creator’s own admission, broke all the rules.

It was an advertisment by an obscure company which made door handles. The company was called FSB, and the advertisment looked like this:

Picture from FSB.de

Picture from FSB.de

They called them Handle Stories. A black and white picture of a door handle, backed up with 200 or so words. Eye-catching? Seductive?

In Germany, yes. The ads ran for 24 weeks and then they stopped. And readers scoured the pages for them and when there were no handles to be found, they protested to the publications which carried them to ask, when would the handle stories be back?

How could the Art Director’s Club of Germany – the top organisation in the advertising trade -ignore what was going on? In March 1998, the CEO of the little handle company was invited to its awards ceremony. Jürgen W. Braun had smuggled in one of his handles. On accepting the award, he held the door handle high and invited the entire hall to stand in reverence.

Handles had arrived.

In 1999 the company published their 100 best Handle stories in a bound volume. It sold out, as did a second volume. And Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung – another of Germany’s foremost newspapers – dubbed the company “publishers with a sideline in manufacturing door handles.”

These days, the FSB advertising campaigns are a mite more pictorial. But they still bring the humble handle in from the cold, celebrating the mundane with infectious wit.

Take a look here. There was the 58-instalment handle comic:


Or the campaign where Tomi Ungerer designed new purposes entirely for FSB’s handles:

Screen Shot 2013-05-25 at 07.56.38

And my favourite:Sarah Illenburger’s Evolutionary Achievements For The Hand series.

Screen Shot 2013-05-25 at 07.59.27

It’s advertising. It’s corporate. I should not be fascinated. But when something so mundane is made into something iconic: well, you have to sit up and take notice.

Don’t you?

Written in response to Side View’s weekend challenge, handles, which you can find here.


15 thoughts on “Handle Stories: how to write mundane into extraordinary

  1. Wonderful idea. Advertising has produced, amongst the dross, some shining examples of clever thinking. It needs an intelligent client as well as a creative agency for this to happen. As Nancy Astor said, ” You can bring a whore to water, but you can’t make her think”.

  2. I do.
    Many moons ago, someone came up with the idea to sell Pet Rocks. Just a rock in a simple box. A Pet Rock. They flew off the shelves, were Christmas and birthday presents, and then just sat. Good marketing, though.

  3. I love the dog with handles in place of its ears. As a believer in the philosophy of ‘less is more,’ it’s wonderful when advertisers break the rules in a creative way.

    About the Pet Rock, I bought one. It also came with instructions on teaching the Pet Rock how to sit, heel, stay, etc. It was a hoot – and I believe I still have it somewhere.

  4. Marvelous. Reminds me of those silly, overpriced catalogs with story-copy about dresses and watches and bottle openers… only with proper dry German wit 😉

  5. My college major was advertising and to this day I watch, cheer, and comment on the creativity of some ads (Budweiser clydesdales) and the stupidity of others (Hyundai suicide ad). There’s an insane amount of creativity in the advertising world. Who’d have thought the humble door handle could tap it so effectively?

  6. I don’t mean this to be America bashing but when I lived in England I used to love watching the advertisements. European ads are just so much better than those in the U.S.

  7. Good for them! Thankfully, that creative bud was not quashed while passing through MINDing boards or committees. Bet you can count a few times, Kate, when you had a bud set aside. Makes ya wonder, dunnit?

  8. I’m intrigued you found this story at all, and then that it really captured your attention. I think I would have overlooked it, but I’m really glad I didn’t miss this. I’m quite sure the advertising campaign couldn’t have been effective in the U.S.–way too many words! LOL! It really is a catchy story! Advertising is always fascinating.

  9. Have I told you I am in awe of your research capabilities?
    What a phenomenal interpretation of the challenge Kate! A perfect match for that inspired German campaign 😀

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