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Belgian telecom advert offends the Dutch and Flemish



There is no lack of references about Belgians in the Netherlands, often referred to as ‘our southern neighbours’ by the media. When they do something stupid or brilliant, the media is on the front lines either poking fun at them or praising them for their ingenuity. However, poking fun at people’s lesser national traits, albeit a top sport in Europe, is not always appreciated.

The Belgian organisation for ethical advertising (JEP) has reprimanded the new Belgian mobile phone company Vikings because of their questionable slogans. “Gratis is voor Hollanders” (“Free is for Dutch people” – ‘Hollanders’ is a pet name for the Dutch in Flanders) has the press buzzing. The company’s French-language slogan “Gratuit, c’est pour les Flamands” (“Free is for the Flemish”) plays on the stereotype of the Flemish being cheap and is not going over well either.

AustralianSwedish telecom provider Tele2 (shown here) has had adverts in the Netherlands for months using the concept of cheapness. The idea here is two-fold: the sheep are a reference to ‘being cheap’ (the ads in the Netherlands are all in English and subtitled in Dutch) and point out the similarity of the words ‘sheep’ and ‘cheap’ with a talking black sheep standing out from the herd. Although boring to look at more than twice on telly, Tele2 is doing it right, while the southern neighbours are doing it wrong.

Why the cheap jokes? The Dutch have a reputation (deserved or not) of going on vacation to France driving through Belgium with their caravans and bringing all their own food to save on costs. The goal is to enjoy the weather.

The Flemish part of Belgium used to be poor and frugal I would imagine. Today the Flemish part of Belgium (including Brussels or not, technically a governmental no man’s land) is the most dynamic part and the Walloon part has many economic problems.

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  1. Neil says:

    Oh! A sheap shot.

  2. Amy says:

    Strange… I saw some of those Tele2 ads when they were posted around Amsterdam Zuid-Oost, and — being American — I interpreted it as a play on the term “black sheep”. A black sheep is usually negative, like the black sheep of a family is the badly-behaved son or daughter who just has to defy their parents. But you could also turn it around in marketing, like, black sheep are unique and do their own thing; we’re a unique company, different from our competitors, so if you’re unique you should use our services. I can’t remember if the signs had the “born to be cheap” slogan, though; if they had, maybe I would have made the cheap -> sheep connection!

  3. BA says:

    These adverts have been shown in Norwegian cinemas for about a year now. I don’t think this has anything to do with saying Dutchmen are cheap, but rather to say that TELE2 is cheap.

  4. Orangemaster says:

    @Amy, the entire first part of the posting is about the stereotype that Dutchmen are cheap. Of course, Tele2 is saying they themselves are cheap, hence my point that they are doing it right.

  5. PR says:

    PS. Tele2 is a Swedish company – not Australian… So, the hidden poke in this slogan is actually more directed to Swedish people than anyone else – as they tend to pronounce “cheap” just as the rest of us pronounce “sheep”… Just test the next Swede you meet.

  6. Orangemaster says:

    Then I messed up. I had read Tele2 was Australian and I totally stand corrected.

    So basically, the plots thickens. Thanks a lot!

  7. Darth Paul says:

    Clever, but I’m suspicious of Australian motives given their recent ethnic PR. Is it racist to suggest Australians are racist?

  8. Darth Paul says:

    Oh yeah. Not Australian.

  9. Resurgam says:

    Strange. We Flemish have the same stereotype about the Dutch, and I don’t think I’ve EVER heard anyone say the Flemish were cheapskates. They can’t even get the stereotypes right anymore, once again this shows how little our Francophone countrymen now about us…


  10. Resurgam says:

    woops.. now = Know (but you all knew that)

  11. Uberhund says:

    Copper wire was invented by two Dutch fighting over a dropped English halfpence.

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