The Elephant in the Swiss Cupboard

I like billboards and advertising. They give you a specific feel of time and place – its hustle and bustle and commercial twists and shouts. I like the man who makes engine gear-changing noises and then drinks motor oil. I like the baby that climbs out of its crib and leaves the house to buy milk while Petula Clark sings Downtown. I like the graphics of Swiss political posters with their 1940s feel of primary-coloured Soviet propaganda.

I hate it when you’re watching a French TV channel and they show you specific Swiss commercials. This is cheating: if you’re watching a France production, the ads should be about soft cream cheese and children running around in flowery meadows; not hard mountain cheese with grumpy men in red vests with spoons hanging on their ears.

And I’m not the only one. After a six-year battle to ban commercial billboards in the city of Geneva, they were brought back by a popular (referendum) vote a couple of weeks ago. For some reason, people like seeing gigantic pictures of skinny young women wearing skimpy cheap underwear. It sort of cheers one up, or gives one that little snip of anger necessary to get on with real life.

And so, I am struck by yesterday’s three newspapers that are sitting here in front of me. There is Le Temps, The International New York Times and The Guardian Weekly.

The Guardian Weekly, London, offers a word-view of things and somehow manages to get by with no adverts in their magazine (except for their own podcasts and subscription offers which bombard you with ads if you go on line to take a peek). They do have unusually good colour photographs on almost every page, so complete boredom is averted. This week’s cover carries the title “Tipping point” and illustrates ionic (bank) columns being pushed over.

The New York Times has four full-page adverts – all for fancy watches/fashion house combos. (Watches like the one that Emmanuel Macron slipped off his wrist the other day while addressing the plebs.) In the mother paper in New York these ads (in colour) cost $250,000 per page.  So the middle double colour spread of a Louis Vuitton Swiss-made tiger watch with no hands or numbers that I can see cost a cool half-million. Maybe it’s not a watch. Maybe it’s a Chinese bank.

Le Temps, the Swiss national French-language paper, also has three full pages of watch-related adverts (one being a Tourbillon Diamant cheesy Chanel watch on the fake front cover).

The Swiss paper goes beyond watch season, however, and runs three full-page colour ads for private banks. There is a happily hugging elderly couple with disturbing glasses, a happy father and son with a surfboard on a grassy beach, and two happy mountain climbers reaching the summit.

The Credit Suisse Bank collapse is the elephant in the Swiss (Le Temps) cupboard, of course. And the message is clear: Give us (Syz! Julius Bär! UBP!) your money, and all will be well.

The pictures say it all.

Joy Kundig

Joy Kündig-Manning est née en Angleterre et a vécu au Canada. Spécialisée dans la littérature anglaise du XVIIIe siècle, elle a travaillé comme traductrice, enseignante, et écrivaine. Mariée à un Suisse, elle est venue à Genève en 1977. Elle est très contente de tenir le premier blog du Temps en anglais!