Danish Commercials - The Art of Selling Sausages

EFG THEME. In Denmark commercial shorts have been part of the moviegoing experience for more than a century. From the first primitive commercials at the beginning of the 20th century to the musical comedy shorts made for the sausage factory Houlberg in the 40s these advertisements paint a surprisingly accurate picture of Denmark and the dreams of the Danish consumer.

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European Film Gateway (EFG) collects the European film heritage and the treasures from the leading European film archives. On their website you can find almost 500.000 films, images and texts about everything from the earliest Danish cinema to rare shorts by Lars von Trier and others.

"Houlberg's sausages – that's food"

Once this slogan was found on most hotdog stands in Denmark. And Houlberg didn't need to add ketchup and mustard to praise their products. "Houlbergs pølser – det er mad", as it says in Danish, was the theme hummed by most Danes born before World War II. During the war years the occupied Danes found poetry, music and whimsical charm in Houlberg's ubiquitous hymns to the sausage.

In Chef's Trick / Kokkens fidus (1939) the chef saves the sea captain from the cannibal's black pot by exchanging the fleshy captain for a tin of sausages. The animated short was created by the young cartoonist Mik who'd made a name for himself internationally with the comic strip Ferd'nand. Until he immigrated to the US in 1946 his jolly sense of humor enriched some of the best commericials of the period, such as in Stamgæstens middag (1945) which could be given the English title Same As Usual in which a stuttering guest at a fancy restaurant, with a pun on the Danish word ‘hey there’, tries to order his Houlberg.

Some of Denmark's most creative people, such as the composer Sven Gyldmark and film director Lau Lauritzen Jr. put their talents to use for selling everything from coffee to bicycles.

The First Commercials and how to woe an audience

The photographer Peter Elfelt was a cinematic first mover and the first to notice the commercial possibilities of the moving images. After having filmed the first Danish films and documentaries he turned his attention to commercials. His first attempts were quite primitive, but in Linotol (1905) he showed why and how to use the product Commercials soon became an integral part of the movie going experience. Filmmakers got rich making commercials while cinemas happily filled their programs with these shorts for free.

In The Lucky Suitor / Den heldige Frier (1908) the young man is turned down at first. But after a short visit to the clothing store English House he returns properly dressed for a second attempt. Clothes doth not people make, but wins the loved one’s heart. This idea is repeated 27 years later in Hansen Goes Courting / Hansen paa Frierfødder (1935)). In this cheeky short the young girl's father turns the suitor away. Neither flowers nor clothes will get the lovelorn youngster past the grumpy, old man. His luck depends on the resourceful young maiden who gives her father a tonic against acidity to make the second attempt successful.

The best way to wear a bear

In animation Skibstrup Reklamer lead the way with shorts promoting everything from ice cream to corsets. In their Modern Furs / Moderne Pelsvarer (1925) a young gentleman steps out of the logo to grab an animated bear which turns into a handsome fur coat. The now well dressed gentleman bows for an applauding audience to this piece of cinemagic.

This will to exploit the technical possibilities of film to create a cinematic fantasy removed from daily experiences has since become a stable in advertising showcasing new technology in film, such as motion capture and computer generated images in many recent commercials.

A story from the classroom

Another trend in Danish advertising are narratives which turn the mundane into something extraordinary and highly desirable. This is best exemplified in A School Story / En skolehistorie (1950) with a running time of almost three minutes.

In this, a school boy is faced with popular Danish actor Helge Kjærulff-Schmidt as the stern schoolmaster unable to appreciate the typical Danish packed lunch, liver pate on rye bread. At first the hungry pupil gets punished for devouring his liver pate during class, but later his chivalry and his choice of spread rewards him immensely. The brand name, of course, is Houlberg.

EFG offers an overview of the development of the commercial where the two overarching tendencies in Danish advertising are, on the one hand, a fascination with the technological possibilities of the new medium and on the other, a commitment to simple ideas and simple stories.