Star Wars dub sends jobbing ad man into orbit

STUTTGART, Germany (Reuters) - Spend a couple of hours overdubbing a scene from Star Wars for a laugh, post it online, and you may end up with so many work offers that you’ll wish you were in outer space. Just ask Dominik Kuhn.

German comic and advertising consultant Dominik Kuhn discusses the success of his internet video hit "Viral marketing in Stuttgart Death Star" October 12, 2010. REUTERS/David Graham

Since Kuhn spent “two hours, at most” one morning redubbing a tiny part of the popular science fiction film and uploaded it onto video sharing website Youtube, marketing executives have flocked to hire him -- even though he was making fun of them.

What started out in 1977 as Darth Vader and the commanders of the Death Star discussing the threat from Luke Skywalker’s rebel alliance had 30 years later become a boardroom dispute over an unnamed Stuttgart firm’s new advertising strategy.

The two-minute clip “Virales Marketing im Todesstern Stuttgart” (Viral Marketing in Stuttgart Death Star) went on to rack up millions of hits online, turning Kuhn’s life upside down, he told Reuters in the southern German city.

“People always said that stuff I did on the side was just bullshit. Now that bullshit is what I make a living from,” said Kuhn, 41, whose previous career spanned everything from advertising to translating science fiction books.

Kuhn, a fan of English comic Ricky Gervais, describes “viral marketing” as “word of mouth marketing for the internet age” -- which also helps explain much of the video’s success.

Within weeks of it appearing, Kuhn heard children quoting it in Stuttgart, where a major row over the city’s train station is afoot. In a further echo, the opposition have accused the state government of using “the dark side of the force” in the dispute.

Job offers came flooding in, and the internet rags-to-riches tale was complete when Kuhn got his own television show. At length, he found he needed -- and could afford -- a year off.

“I spent ages doing talks at universities about viral marketing,” he said. “I got jobs as a director because of the film. Which is absurd. I only dubbed it, I didn’t direct it.”

In Kuhn’s version, the actors playing planet-hopping villain Vader and Death Star commander Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) bicker in Swabian, the local dialect which Kuhn said was for years associated with “country bumpkins” in Germany.

As “Herr Vader” starts choking a boardroom rival with a gesture of his hand, chief executive Cushing orders him to stop, calling the black-helmeted Jedi knight a “Grassdackl,” a local term of abuse that literally translates as “grass dachshund.”


The combination of evil Empire and pastiche of German corporate culture made some friends think the clip could land him in court -- assuming that it was a dig at industrial giant and Stuttgart-based Daimler AG, the maker of Mercedes cars.

Instead, it turned into another job offer.

“Daimler called me up and said, ‘Well done, Mr Kuhn. We’re laughing at ourselves too,’” said Kuhn, who also hails from the area. “Two or three days after it went online it was on the company’s intranet server. They picked up on it that quickly.”

Daimler then asked him to do some work for them -- though Kuhn is contractually bound not to reveal any details.

“All I can say is they showed they had a sense of humour.”

Local advertising agencies could not wait to invite him round to celebrate the success of the video -- despite the fact it was intended as a parody of “all the redundant stuff” and faux-English jargon that pepper their talks, said Kuhn.

“Then the meeting started and they were talking just like in the film,” he added. “‘This can’t be real,’ I thought.”

Since first posting a Swabian overdub of U.S. TV series 24 -- set in a flat in which special agent Jack Bauer interrogates a roommate for leaving the toilet seat up -- Kuhn has voiced over countless figures from Germany and the rest of the world.

Another Swabian clip with over a million hits shows Barack Obama’s 2008 Berlin speech in which the future U.S. president rants about muddy bicycles in his apartment block.

The Swabian spoofs became so popular that in the end, the media wanted to hear nothing else from him, Kuhn said.

“I understand how Leonard Nimoy felt -- the actor behind Mr. Spock,” he said, laughing. “He spent his life fighting it.”

Editing by Steve Addison