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Behind the scenes, politics & business has long courted immigrants

A crowd at Brunnenmarkt | Photo courtesy of

Two weeks ago, the Orient and Occident collided in a pub by the same name in Vienna’s Naschmarkt.

Three Turkish-speaking television teams adjust their cameras, a dozen Turkish journalists pull out their writing pads. They are to report on a novelty: This fall, the mobile telephone company, 3 (Drei), is bringing out for the first time in Austria, a fixed rate package especially for an ethnic community. Five cents for a long-distance call to Ankara and Istanbul, with Turkish TV and radio channels via UMTS streaming. “3 brings ‘home’ to your mobile phone,” says the slogan, which is quoted across the Turkish media the next day.

The media hype in the form of “Multikulti-chic” is an expression of a phenomenon which is fundamentally changing Austrian society: Immigrants are being seen as customers and voters.

Cultural philistines such as the FPÖ (Austria’s Freedom Party) leader H.C. Strache want to prove the civil immaturity of Muslims; Vice-Chancellor Josef Pröll of the ÖVP (Austria’s Peo

ple Party) holds speeches without even mentioning the topic of immigration; Josef Cap of the SPÖ (Austria’s Social Democratic Party) comments on the election defeats with the sentence “It is time to focus more on the Austrian people”; and journalists such as Die Presse managing editor Fleischhacker characterize political correctness as “crazy,” and the Kronenzeitung headlines read “Large majority for stricter immigration policies; Fear rules on the eastern borders.”

While the media and politics face the immigration question with the same old answers, more and more companies and politicians – hesitantly and largely unnoticed – target immigrants and their offspring.

“We are currently witnessing a quiet revolution,” says the Viennese integration worker, Kenan Güngör. “Public institutions and the economy have discovered the immigrants,” believes Kosmo managing editor Nedad Memic. “In the mid-term, you can’t make money or votes without multi-ethnic strategies,” observes Christoph Hofinger, of the polling institute, Sora.

Turks as the perfect target group

The concept has also been understood by Drei marketing manager Thomas Malleschitz, after analyzing the customer structure: The share of Turkish-speaking customers was 20% higher than in the normal population distribution. “Our young Turkish target group is very communicative. It is technically adept, attached to home, and brand and consumption oriented,” says Malleschitz.

A perfect target group? In any case, it is growing much faster than the Austrian chatterboxes.

Every year, 20,000 people immigrate to Vienna. In the meantime, every third Viennese has an immigrant background – either born abroad, or the child of parents born in a foreign country – and in districts like Margareten or Brigittenau, almost every second person.

On a national level, this applies to 1.44 million people, out of a population of 8.1 million. Surprised? Austria is an immigrant society. That’s simply a fact. Spin doctors and integration consultants still recommend that politicians don’t use such “fear-associated” terms. Indeed, “immigration” and “immigrants” are still primarily associated with problems. As a study presented last week from the OECD shows, children of immigrants in Austria have far fewer chances in the job market, even with the same qualification level – unlike Switzerland or the U.S.

The German-Kurd integration expert Kenan Güngör, who serves as a consultant on immigration issues for the city of Vienna, diagnoses an ambivalent situation in Austria.

“On the one hand, xenophobia and hysteria are increasing on an abstract political and media level.” On the other hand, however, the business community and the regional governments demonstrate a great deal of pragmatism and professionalism, he says. More and more companies are following the recommendations of ethno-marketing experts to use the “first mover advantage” and quickly fill the new market niches.

The furniture store Kika, for instance, is beginning a multilingual advertising campaign in November. The grocery store group Rewe (Billa, Spar) has already installed the first ethno-food shelves. The mobile network Drei sends dozens of young Turks leaflets in community centers, bakeries and mosques.

“If it turns out to be a success,” says the head of marketing, Malleschitz, “we will also extend the offer to other communities such as the ex-Yugoslavians.” After all, 750,000 people live in Austria with family ties to Serbia, Bosnia and Croatia.

Ingratiation in the parallel world?

“The offspring of the immigrant generation spend in Austria what they earn in Austria,” says Ivana Cucujkic, a journalist for the immigrant magazine Biber and author of a master thesis on ethno marketing. “99% of young people don’t waste time thinking about investing in Serbia or Croatia.

“Our parents still have a house down there, but this doesn’t interest me and my friends anymore.”

Cucujkic is part of a generation that no longer sees its mother tongue as a handicap, but rather sees it as an enrichment of their CVs. Looking at Germany, where ethno marketing has been successfully applied for several years, gives a taste of the future. The telecommunication provider, E-Plus, was one of the first in 2004 to offer a separate rate for German Turks called ay yildiz. In the meantime, companies like Citibank and Mercedes, and shoe stores like Jello are running campaigns in Turkish.

One example of a successful conquest of an ethnic market is Haribo gummy bears. In order to make these products attractive for 3.2 million Germans of Turkish origins, it had to be made hallal first, thus compatible with Islamic nutritional rules. Gummy bears are usually produced with pork gelatin, therefore taboo for practicing Muslims. So the German Advertising agency EthnoIQ recommended importing gummy bears made of beef gelatin.

“For two years, we have been selling Haribo hallal in German supermarkets,” explains Engin Ergün, head of EthnoIQ, who also consults Drei in its current campaign.

Or overdue normalization?

“Hurray, we surrender!” The German integration skeptic Henryk M. Broder would probably shout out regarding this development, as well as accuse the business community of being an accomplice to a parallel society. But in fact, a convergence is taking place. Two different thinking patterns are coming together, two worlds.

The gummy bear is thus a symbol of a principle which has founded the European Union: Trade as a vehicle for integration.

In Austria there are also many, like Broder, who from the throne of their cultural supremacy would like to send foreigners to integration classes. Still, they are touching on the right problems, even if in a patriarchal way, that is, the lack of education or individual freedom in the name of religion. But in doing this, they like to forget that integration happens above all in daily life and is often much more related to Coca-Cola, the iPhone and gummy bears than with naturalization tests, constitutional texts and laws. Social romanticism is mixed up with social realities.

Dardo Miloradovic speaks of a “long overdue normalization.” The Austro-Serb owes his job at the PR agency Ecker & Partner to the fact that the company more and more frequently received requests on how to best address the “target group of new Austrians,” as he calls them. Since February, the former furniture salesman sits in the new administrative department for migration and intercultural communication and does what he does best: He brings people of different origins together and makes sure that campaigns reach people from ex-Yugoslavia, China and Turkey.

“In advertising you bet on emotions”, says Miloradovic, “and this feeling of nostalgia, the connection with a land or a language and the connected cultural longing associated with it can be addressed.” Experts like Miloradovic help avoid traps. The Austrian lotteries, for example, won’t go far in the long run with the slogan “Heute schon Schwein gehabt?” or “Already had pig today?” a German expression about having luck. In any case, according to the estimates by the Statistic Austria, 2 million Muslims will be living in Austria by 2050.

Miloradovic’s most important partners are the ethno media, like the German-speaking magazine Biber, which lures a young, fresh generation of immigrants to center stage. Or the Turkish monthly Yeni Vatan Gazetesi (New Homeland Paper), which is published by the controversial Austro-Turk, Birol Kilic, with a circulation of 50,000. Or the Serbo-Croatian magazine Kosmo, which has been distributed monthly for free since May with a circulation of 120,000 in the community centers, shops and trains.

“We have launched Kosmo in spite of the crisis,” says managing editor Nedad Memic, “because public institutions and the economy are currently discovering immigrants.”

Whoever browses through these pages will not only find foreign language ads from Raiffeisen and adult evening schools, from the Dorotheum or the National Bank. One will also notice ads from Austrian political parties.

Politicians court immigrants 

Domestic political parties have long been fighting over the votes of naturalized immigrants, even if it still happens hesitantly and unnoticed, compared to the ethno-election campaigns in the U.S.

While the Viennese SPÖ has already sent its Iraqi-born district council member Omar Al-Rawi for years to get out the vote in the mosques, the Green Party has a Turkish born Alevite in the national assembly, Alev Korun.

The FPÖ has also been learning. Party leader, Strache posed for the parliament election campaign 2008 with a Brojanica, a Serbian bracelet. Since then he hasn’t been drawing the line between natives and non-natives, but rather between Christians and Muslims.

And even this boundary is fading. Early in the year, the freedom party deputy to the European parliament, Andreas Mölzer, traveled to the Kurdish stronghold of Dyarbakir in eastern Turkey, because in the odd ideological world of the German-focused party member, Kurds seems more Aryan than Turk.

Motto: The enemy of my enemy is my friend. The ÖVP is currently trying via Catholic channels to mobilize the Croatian community. And the BZÖ ex-public defender, Ewalt Stadler, even visited the Armenians in April when they were mourning the anniversary of the genocide at the hand of the Turks.

An immigration campaign of another kind had to be fought this year during the Chamber elections by the red leader of Workers Chamber, Herbert Tumpel. Migrants without Austrian passports are allowed to vote at these elections – migrants who in Vienna already account for 60% of the electorate. The social-democratic fraction therefore campaigned with multilingual ads in the Turkish and Serbian media. Tumpel also appeared at football games and social occasions of these Neo-Austrians.

Integration expert Güngör calls this behavior by politicians “Power opportunism”:

“They ask themselves: if I win this group, which other group do I then lose?” Whoever courts the Turks for instance, could have difficulties with the Armenians and Kurds. Whoever focuses on Serbs, scares off Croats and Albanians. And whoever self-assuredly goes after migrants, loses the votes of some locals.

Integration as Voter campaigning

The City of Vienna has also reacted to the massive changes in demography, which can be seen in the multilingual information brochures and their own educational campaigns in the migrant communities.

“That the economy has also discovered the immigrants,” says the Viennese City Councilwoman for Integration, Sandra Frauenberger (SPÖ), “is an important step towards normalization.”

Together with the Chamber of Commerce and the Funds for Economic Promotion, the city supports programs for immigrants as workforce and entrepreneurs. For the SPÖ, these activities are if nothing else also an investment in their own core electorate.

“Migrants are the new ‘proles’ in Vienna,” says Frauenberger. Thus integration work becomes permanent campaigning for voters. “People notice who checks in on them shortly before the elections and who really cares about them.”

How successful the convergence attempts by political parties and companies will finally be is hard to say at the moment. Too few investigations are yet available regarding the consumption and election behavior of migrants.

“Migrants are not settled politically,” says Sora opinion pollster Christoph Hofinger. “For a long time, they had the impression they meant nothing to Austrian Politics.” Interest for the daily life of immigrants is definitely increasing according to Hofinger. And for good reason. In a city like Vienna, where every second person below 18 years old has a migrant background, neither business nor politics can do without a multicultural strategy.

As of the moment when migrants substantially co-decide on political elections and company turnover, as is hoped, public awareness of migrants and finally the tone in the local integration debates could change. This moment seems to have arrived.

What’s next?

“The division of target groups according to ethnic criteria will gradually decrease in the long run in political and economic marketing,” says opinion pollster Hofinger. With the increasing integration of immigrant groups in society, it is less important where someone comes from, whether the Orient or Occident, but rather which political and economic behavioral patterns and values the person has.


Stefan Apfl and Matthias G. Bernold are staff writers for the Viennese weekly, Falter, were this article first appeared in German. It appears here for the first time in English, by permission of the authors.

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