Center for World Indigenous Studies
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Marketing Stereotypes

Published: June 9, 2008, Author: MHirch

“I`d like to get the Indian ointment.” This is what German consumers say at the pharmacy after having seen a TV commercial on Kytta, an ointment of comfrey (“knitbone”) for muscle and bone aches. The over-the counter product is manufactured by Merck in Darmstadt, Germany, the oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company in the world with a tradition of over 300years.

Merck does not shy away from using stereotypes of indigenous peoples to market traditional medicinal knowledge and increase profits. With great success as the company’s Kytta advertisement is one of the most liked commercials currently shown on television.
The commercial uses the persistent stereotype of the stoic, strong and healthy Native North American who does not know pain. Evidently the romantic ideal based on the writings of Karl May, a novelist who had never been to the US before writing his stories, is still predominant in German understanding. It is not in the thinking that a Native American could live in a city and work with computers e.g. as a bookkeeper. Accordingly the “noble savage”, the Native North American of the TV commercial is portrayed dancing in beautiful nature.

The timing of the TV advertisement seems interesting. While a few experts were negotiating topics related to biodiversity, biopiracy and access and benefit sharing in Bonn during the Conference of the Parties to prevent the further exploitation of our beautiful world’s remaining natural resources, millions of Germans could see the Merck advertisement on TV.
Unfortunately not a lot of stories and results of the Bonn conference made it into the media. The meaning of biopiracy or appropriation of indigenous knowledge without prior and informed consent still remains comparatively unknown.
This makes one’s head ache.

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