In the years 2012-2014, De Lijn, a Flemish bus & tram service, had a marketing campaign built around a cute and tiny doll. This doll is the stressmannetje ("(little) stress guy", a common term for someone operating under stress) and he represents the stress automobilists experience while maneuvering through the city. The two commercials at the heart of the campaign put him and his human companion in a rapid succession of relatably frustrating, traffic-related situations to which the end message is to leave your stress (the doll) at home by taking the bus. The Stressmannetje has won many prizes and is the most successful campaign of De Lijn to date.
The original 30-seconds long commercial, named "Parkeerstress" ("Parking Stress") on the De Lijn website, was released in December of 2012. It was such a success that a Director's Cut followed in March of 2013 on social media, adding 15 seconds of footage. Exactly a year later, "Parkeerstress" got a 30-seconds long sequel in "Stadsbeleving" ("City Experience"). The Director's Cut, once more adding 15 seconds, was concurrently put up on social media.
There are three more peripheral shorts that were created for specific occasions. The first, from November 2013, reuses and loops the footage of the stressmannetje crying, but adds new lines about him being unappreciated. The short is a response to an episode of Volt, in which the host tested the bus for its advertised comfort and it didn't pass. The host humorously ended the episode by stomping on the stressmannetje. Following the response and the social media storm it caused, the host apologized for his actions. The second short is a commercial for the release of Stressmannetje - Het Spel in April of 2014. And the third, which reuses footage from "Parkeerstress", is a celebration of the Stressmannetje winning at the Effie Awards in June of 2015. This award is given out to notably effective marketing campaigns and the Stressmannetje won because it increased the amount of bus travellers by 15.5%.
Various Stressmannetje products were available during the campaign's run, such as a swear jar specifically to save up for a bus ticket and the stressmannetje's voice was available as download for the GPS. The aforementioned Stressmannetje - Het Spel is a simple mobile Endless Running Game. For seven weeks after its release, the 500 highest scoring players of the week were awarded a key chain dolls of the stressmannetje.
The campaign gained international recognition when shortly after its launch Belgian fans uploaded a 6-second clip of the moment in "Parkeerstress" where the stressmannetje loses his euro and screams in frustration. Said scream reached Memetic Mutation as "Hier Nen Euro," meaning "Here, a euro."
The stressmannetje is a creation by Emma De Swaef, a director & Stop Motion artist. The doll's voice is provided by Bruno Vanden Broecke. The commercials and shorts were produced by Famous while Mindshare organized the surrounding media strategy.
Stressmannetje provides examples of:
- All There in the Manual: The stressmannetje does actually have a proper name: Juul. It's only mentioned in documentation and articles, not in the commercials themselves.
- Audience Surrogate: The stressmannetje is an over the top but highly relatable personification of the stress of managing a car in the crowded streets of a city. For instance, where his human companion keeps his emotions inside upon hitting a parked car, the stressmannetje curls up and starts bawling.
- The Chew Toy: The comedy of the marketing campaign lies in the tantrummy reactions the stressmannetje has to everything that goes wrong. It's less his misfortune that's funny, because we've all had days like that, and more the utter lack of restraint in how the stressmannetje gets through it.
- Christmas Episode: Both commercials were released in early december to persuade the many people who'd go holiday shopping in the city in the upcoming weeks to take the bus. "Parkeerstress" has nothing to do thematically with the holidays, but "Stadsbeleving" depicts the stressmannetje and his human partner as out for shopping for the holidays.
- Fiery Redhead: The stressmannetje is a redheaded boy that screams when in a situation of frustration, of which he experiences many in rapid succession.
- Imaginary Friend: Probably. The stressmannetje is stress personified and no human but his companion ever interacts with or takes note of him. Some animals do, though.
- Mysterious Animal Senses: Possibly. It's a likely scenario that the stressmannetje is imaginary and aside from his human companion only animals ever notice him. In "Stadsbeleving", he bumps into a dog, prompting the dog to look at him. One poster shows the stressmannetje being left home, banging on the windows while the cat looks at him.
- Rage Breaking Point: The stressmannetje's iconic scream is both times provoked by a breaking point. In "Parkeerstress", it's when after so much trouble getting into the city and finding a parking spot, the euro to pay for the parking time slips out of his hand straight into the sewers. In "Stadsbeleving", it's when after several inconveniences the duo arrives back at their car only just too late to avoid a ticket.
- Throw the Dog a Bone: The final short produced was the one to celebrate the outcome of the Effie Awards of 2015. It's the only one in which the stressmannetje gets to be happy.
- The Trouble with Tickets: "Stadsbeleving" starts with the duo returning to their car after holiday shopping. They have to hurry because their paid-for parking time is almost over, but several incidents delay them and they return just in time to see an officer ticket them. It provokes the stressmannetje into letting out another one of his iconic screams.
- Vague Age: The stressmannetje is, ostensibly, an adult, because that's what his human is and he partakes in the same adult scenarios, such as looking for a parking spot and dealing with parking meters. Yet his high-pitched voice is childlike and he behaves with the same lack of restraint a child would.
- The Voiceless: The human companion of het stressmannetje never speaks. He doesn't have to because no interactions with other people occur during the commercials and the stressmannetje voices his thoughts.