Ernst Bettler

Back in 2000 a graphic design magazine called Dot Dot Dot ran an article about a subversive artist from the 1950s called Ernst Bettler. Design Observer summarizes the article's central tale:

In the late 1950s, Bettler was asked to design a series of posters to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Swiss pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfäfferli+Huber. Aware of reports that P+H had been involved in testing prisoners in German concentration camps less than 15 years before, he hesitated, and then decided to accept the commission. "I had the feeling I could do some real damage," he said later.

And indeed he did. He created four posters featuring dramatic, angular black and white portraits juxtaposed with sans serif typography. Alone, each poster was an elegant example of international style design. Together, however, a different message emerged, for it turned out the abstract compositions in the posters contained hidden letters. (The one above, for example, displays the letter A.) Hung side by side on the streets, they spelled out N-A-Z-I. A public outcry followed, and within six weeks the company was ruined.

Pretty soon references to Bettler's stunt began appearing elsewhere -- on websites such as AdBusters and, and in Michael Johnson's textbook Problem Solved. But a couple of years later a blogger named Andy Crewdson became curious about the story and did some research. He discovered that not only did Ernst Bettler not exist, Pfäfferli+Huber didn't either.

Eye Magazine has the entire story.


Posted on Mon Jan 14, 2008

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Wow, that's a good one, Alex. I'm trying to figure out the point of it (assuming there is one).

Actually, the fact that the hoax may NOT have a satirical point to make kind of makes it a more believable hoax. It doesn't hit you over the head with a "message" which I think tends to make people believe that it's true.

With several hoaxes I've been involved with Alan Abel in or on my own, I've seen people say, "Well, I don't see how you could make any money from this, so it must be real." Same kind of thinking here, I believe: "I don't see any point to it, so it must be a true story."

Human psychology is SO odd at times.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Mon Jan 14, 2008  at  12:59 AM
CMG, what do you mean "at times"? Human psychology is always odd. That's what makes it fun. "Humans are the craziest people."
Posted by Christopher Cole  in  Tucson, AZ  on  Mon Jan 14, 2008  at  08:10 AM
I was being (needlessly?) polite.
Posted by Cranky Media Guy  on  Mon Jan 14, 2008  at  05:57 PM
OK, all is forgiven then CMG.
Posted by Christopher Cole  in  Tucson, AZ  on  Mon Jan 14, 2008  at  07:51 PM
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