That Special Place in German Hearts and Minds for David Hasselhoff

When Brainsights were last in Germany, we asked the question: why are Germans so obsessed with David Hasselhoff? 

If you could read my mind, what a tale my thoughts would tell

If you could read my mind, what a tale my thoughts would tell

We’d learned from this Hollywood Reporter article that Germans had this love affair with the former Baywatch star. 

So, we wanted to see what was happening in the brains of Germans when they watched ‘The Hoff’.

To do so, we invited more than 300 Germans adults to participate in paid research studies. Each received €50 in exchange for 1 hour of their time watching videos while they wore brain wave-reading headsets. 

Among the videos they viewed were 3 short David Hasselhoff music videos: Jump in my CarCrazy for you, and True Survivor. The participants also saw ads from famous German brands, several of which featured or referred to famous German and global celebrities: LufthansaAudi (Philip Lahm), Adidas (David Beckham, Kevin Garnett, Method Man, Missy Elliott), Porsche, Hornbach, Mercedes (Casey Neistat). We did this to get comparison points on just how famousThe Hoff was compared to other popular American and German public figures, and famous German brands. 

Brainsights records the automatic, subconscious response people have to stimuli. Specifically, we can see what people pay attention to, what resonates with them deeply, and what they find valuable enough to encode to memory. These comprise our Attention, Connection and Encoding scores, respectively. 

When we analyzed the brain response of Germans to all of these famous people and brands, we were shocked: David Hasselhoff consistently topped them all (see chart). 

Evidence from neuroscience of Germany’s special relationship with The Hoff.

Evidence from neuroscience of Germany’s special relationship with The Hoff.

David Hasselhoff outranked Audi and Philip Lahm, Adidas and David Beckham (et al), Mercedes and Lufthansa, with only a 15s ad from Porsche coming close. 

To find this out, we collected all the brain wave activity and broke it down by both average Attention, Connection and Encoding, and pinpointed and quantified the Maximum Moments of each metric. The average values of course show the mean activity over the duration of the video. The maximum moments are indicative of the deepest and strongest impressions made on viewers. 

We ranked each ad by its performance for each metric, and then assigned points based on that ranking. We summed the points to derive an overall score, with – like in golf - the lowest points total overall achieving the highest rank, the second-lowest points total overall achieving the second highest rank, and so on. 

This approach is by no means exhaustive. We could have looked at other music videos, for example, to see how Germans respond to similar content. We could have approached this in a more detailed manner – looking at, for example, weighting the relative metrics in a more formal way. But we didn’t want to get too technical (we are, after all, investigating in a fun way a curious national obsession over a pop culture figure). 

But in looking at a selection of cultural icons – celebrities, as well as celebrated brands - the data is pretty clear: David Hasselhoff occupies a special place deep in the psyche of the German people.


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Kevin Keane