Sweden; Coincidence is just an illusion

In Sweden, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was meticulously planned that way.

The country has a utopian dream to reach excellence in everything related to the Swedes’ quality of life.

I was honoured to visit Sweden that enjoys one of the most comprehensive, complex and prosperous welfare systems in the world. In a four-day visit, I attended “More than Marketing – Communicating the Swedish Way” Exhibition, which was organised by the Swedish Institute during June 9-12, 2015.

“More than Marketing – Communicating the Swedish Way” showcases Swedish advertising and its role in society. The exhibition highlights advertising and public communication as ever-present parts of their culture that affect their everyday life. Mainly concerned with contemporary Swedish advertising, the exhibition also included a historic perspective, focusing on the role of advertising in society with emphasis on social issues.

For this event, the Swedish Institute has selected prominent media figures from five countries around the world; Argentina, Singapore, Turkey, Vietnam, and Egypt, which I was pleased to represent.

A Visit with abundantly-clear Objective:

In 48 hours, the Swedish Institute’s exhibition has successfully contributed to changing the stereotyped image and cultural impressions about Sweden; the country, nation, and products.

The Swedish visit has introduced new definitions for Sweden’s golden triangle which consists of the State, the People, and the Products. It has also addressed the country’s advertising policies and the key international trademarks there.

After my visit to Sweden, I can firmly say this country has nothing to do with unplanned occurrences, nothing happens by accident, but according to meticulous plans that aim for excellence.

Notwithstanding the objective of the Swedish event to promote the country’s advertising policies, the organisers of the event were determined to demonstrate and criticize the flaws occurred sometimes in Swedish advertising policies.

I then realized that this country I am visiting is not conceited due to being at top of countries in all kinds of fine arts. Instead, Sweden is determined to preserve its leadership and gain more excellence through using smart and new advertising techniques, notably the digital marketing.

Sweden is entering new mechanisms to profile itself by adopting unique digital marketing.

That is why the Swedish Institute adopts a major enlightening campaign spreading a new strategy related to the impact of advertisements and digitalization on forming the citizen’s culture. The campaign aims to convey that the advertisements are not only for selling or marketing the products but also to form part of the country’s image as their social responsibility towards the world.

Inside the Swedish Institute

The Swedish Institute helps Sweden reach various international goals concerning foreign policy, education, international aid and development. Its activities span over fields such as culture, society, research, higher education, business, innovation, democracy, and global development.

Sweden aims to promote an image of a country that works on becoming a Utopia in terms of respecting rights and obligations, freedoms and equality.

The Swedish Institute (SI), which was founded in 1945 by the end of the Second World War, aims to make Sweden better known abroad and to boost international confidence in the country.

SI also seeks to establish cooperation and lasting relations with other countries through strategic communication and exchange in different fields. Its activities span over fields such as culture, society, research, higher education, business, innovation, democracy and global development.

SI acts as a coherent representative of Sweden and of Swedish skills, values and experience in the world.

Meanwhile, during my visit, I was highly admired for the Swedish people’s accuracy, love of order, work, culture, and punctuality, driving their country to enjoy one of the most comprehensive, complex and prosperous welfare systems as well as finest transparency rules in the world.

Sweden ranks as one of the world’s most gender-egalitarian countries, based on a firm belief that men and women should share power and influence equally. An extensive welfare system makes it easier for both sexes to balance work and family life. However, the Government recognises that there is still room for improvement in many areas.

Gender equality implies not only equal distribution between men and women in all domains of society. It is also about the qualitative aspects, ensuring that the knowledge and experience of both men and women are used to promote progress in all aspects of society.

In the Global Gender Gap Report 2014, Sweden is named as one of the world leaders in equality.

Ideally, gender equality should reach and guide all levels of the Swedish educational system.

In Sweden, parents are entitled to 480 days of parental leave when a child is born or adopted. This leave can be taken by the month, week, day or even by the hour. Women still take most of the days – in 2012, men took about 24 per cent of parental leave.

Two main sections of the Discrimination Act deal with gender equality at work. First, there is the requirement that all employers must actively pursue specific goals to promote equality between men and women.

Second, the law prohibits discrimination and obliges employers to investigate and take measures against any harassment. Employers must not unfairly treat any employee or job applicant who is, has been or will be taking parental leave.

While I was in Stockholm, I made a series of visits to a number of key educational institutions in Sweden.

I was pleased to meet with Marco Ortolani, Director of International Programs at Berghs School of Communication, which is one of the world’s top communication schools, producing some of the world’s finest talents in the field of communication.

This school is also home to many celebrated advertising, design and communications companies, not least within the interactive sector. It offers courses in advertising, design, PR, interactive communication, event marketing, computer games, photography, and more.

It also runs full-time diploma programs, a three-year international Bachelor’s program, more than 80 part-time courses, evening courses, online courses, further education courses, intensive workshops, plus tailor-make training for many of the world’s most successful businesses and organizations.

From this respect, Ortolani asserted to me that the school is also online education programme targets active industry professionals who want to boost their careers and consists of 34 weeks of sessions, projects and team assignments held by international industry professionals.

This Stockholm-based school has been a winner of many international awards, among which the latest “School of the Year” at Future Lions at Cannes for three times – in 2014, 2011, and 2010.

Furthermore, I and my colleagues taking part in the exhibition were honoured to meet with a very unique man, Jacob Östberg, Sweden’s first professor in Advertising and PR. Östberg pointed out that some Swedish companies tend not to use the national image to market all their products when looking to go global. Those companies completely stay away from tying up with the homeland image, concerned that the perception of the home country might differ from market to market.

Using examples of Swedish brands, he said while brands such as IKEA and Volvo clearly push the “Swedishness” agenda strongly in their communications campaigns, other brands such as H&M and Spotify take on more of a global image. He explained that brands loosely use four different verticals when devising a communication strategy.

These four categories are provincial, national, pseudo international and cosmopolitan.

Östberg explained that when brands take a provincial market position, they usually use local insider knowledge on names, locations, traditions and inside jokes. Meanwhile, when looking to use a national brand image, brands play up their connections to their Swedish heritage. One brand that plays up the national image really well is Volvo which uses its engineering and design heritage and also the “blatant use of Swedish imagery and mythology” in its ad campaigns.

To take on what is known as a “pseudo international market” position, some brands also try to project “coolness” that is founded elsewhere.

“Some brands originating in Sweden disguise their heritage and claim lineage to some vague notion of being international. One such example could be H&M which doesn’t boldly portray its Swedish heritage, but rather comes across to many markets as an international brand,” Östberg said.

Lastly, when brands wish to be perceived as more cosmopolitan in the international market they are more open about their connections to Sweden. But they also refuse to be reduced to just a “Swedish brand”. One such Swedish brand that did so was Spotify, he said.

Björn Borg; a Swedish ‘Model of outstanding Success’

During my visit, I have been introduced to several stories of Swedish success, notably of Björn Borg Group, which named after its founder Björn Borg, a former world No. 1 tennis player from Sweden widely considered to be one of the greatest in tennis history. I listened to the Swedish group’s story during meeting with Lina Söderqvist, Marketing Director at Björn Borg.

In Björn Borg Group, the focus of the business is on underwear and sports apparel as well as the licensing of footwear, bags, eyewear, and fragrances. Björn Borg products are sold in around 30 markets, of which Sweden and the Netherlands are the largest.

Björn Borg is distinguished by creative products with the brand’s typically sporty identity – products that make customers feel active and attractive. A passion for sports fashion and willingness to challenge the industry shines through in Björn Borg’s marketing communications and product development.

Björn Borg aim to become no 1 in sports fashion.

The Group trusts individual strength but knows that the collective effort to spread more love in the world is its greatest advantage when driving the change they want to see.

Björn Borg takes an active stand for more love in the world. Their target group is the passionate and the brave,   urban fashion-conscious men and women who think that being active and making a difference are far more attractive than playing it safe.

Swedish by birth and spirit, Björn Borg as a brand has always advocated equality on all levels. For instance in 2013, Björn Borg defied anti-gay “propaganda” laws in Russia by managing to feature a pro-gay advertisement in Moscow Times.

The advertisement, courtesy of Björn Borg, shows a stack of underwear arranged by colour to resemble the rainbow gay pride symbol.  Above the advertisement is a positive message showing solidarity for LGBT citizens in Russia, which reads simply: “Björn Borg says da!” (Or, “Björn Borg says yes!”)

The advert was a way for Björn Borg to reach Russian influencers.

Björn Borg has been multi awarded for its edgy digital campaigns “Active stand for more love in the world”, flirting with activism, and incorporating human rights messages.

F&B: Teamwork Vs Fancy Takeover Offers

Meanwhile, I paid a visit to the headquarters of the Swedish car company Volvo and met with Jacob Nelson, copywriter at Forsman & Bodenfors, the leading advertising agency for Volvo alongside other high-profile Swedish firms.

Forsman & Bodenfors is the world’s most creative agency, according to Adage; Independent Agency of the Year 2014 at Cannes Lions, Agency of the Year 2014 at One Show. F&B has been noted both nationally and internationally for its work with several of Sweden’s largest brands, including the popular commercials with Jean-Claude van Damme and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Volvo’s advertising agency, Forsman&Bodenfors has won many prizes and got massive viral success in the last years, among others Volvo Trucks thanks to “Epic-split”-campaign with Van Damme, and Volvo Cars with “Made by Sweden”, featuring Swedish football star Zlatan Ibrahimovic and pop star Robyn.

When Volvo launched its new truck in August 2012, the brand decided against boasting directly about the vehicle’s many technical capabilities. Instead, Volvo Trucks filmed someone tight-rope walking between two moving trucks to showcase its precision and control. This was the first of Volvo’s Live Tests series of online films. For each of the six films, Volvo only demonstrated one feature at a time, from robustness to manoeuvrability, using the help of a host of characters including a hamster and a troop of bulls. Its most popular video featured Jean-Claude Van Damme doing the splits in between two of the trucks.

From his part, Jacob Nelson told me that there are 28 shareholders running the Forsman & Bodenfors agency, and who turned down multi-billion dollars worth of several acquisition offers to grow globally, preferring to preserve the teamwork spirit other than to achieve more profitability or greater international presence.

‘Swedish Sexism against Women in Advertising under Attack’

During my visit, I was addressed to one of the hot topics in Sweden; the discrimination against women and inequality.

Many civil movements against women discrimination have been formed in Sweden to attack sexism in advertisements, which focus on presenting super model women with flawless skin colours and looks. Those ads have caused psychological disorders and lack of confidence issues among women worldwide.

Sweden tries to fight sexism in all aspects of life, where women’s rights are the Swedish government’s top agenda that seeks women’s full human rights and towards a gender equal society. That is why I believe Sweden will be a world leader in gender equality soon.

A War against Male-dominated advertising agencies, towards empowering Women

Speaking about advocating women’s rights, I shall tackle here in my story on the Swedish visit, the experience of one of Sweden’s most prominent Creative Directors, Christina Knight, who currently works as Creative Director at Stockholm-based advertising agency INGO – Part of the Ogilvy & Grey Networks, and also lectures at Berghs School of Communication. Christina is also often the jury of awards such as Cannes Lions, Golden Egg, Guldlådan and Eurobest.

Knight, who is passionate about mentoring others, especially women, penned in 2013 Mad Women: A Herstory of Advertising.

The book tells Knight’s story and captures some of the voices of other advertising women with great stories to tell, great experiences to share and great advice to pass along.

In the US, only 3% of Creative Directors are women, an interesting fact seeing that 80% of the purchase decisions in the household are made by women. Christina Knight felt it was high time to discuss the imbalance of the advertising industry and how it affects women, the workplace and the advertising that is produced. After 27 years as a copywriter and creative director, Knight wanted to celebrate a number of successful ad women, the role models she had longed for during her career.

Her vision was that the book would serve as a source of inspiration, empowering young women in the industry, but also as an encouragement to share and continue weaving their stories into a communal whole – a herstory that enhances the industry.

Knight features women from seven countries across multiple disciplines. From Sweden: Nina Akestam, Anna Qvennerstedt, Catrin Vagnemark and herself. From Germany: Stefanie Wurst. From Britain: Cilla Snowball. From South Africa: Nuna Ntsingila. From India: Rahkshin Patel. From South Korea: Margaret Key. For the United States: Shelly Lazarus, Kat Gordon, Susan Hoffman, Mary Wells Lawrence and yours truly. I could not be more thrilled or more humbled to be in the company of such great women.

Swedish Visit’s Dynamo

Another Swedish outstanding model I have met in Stockholm was Livia Podestá – Media Relations Manager at the Swedish Institute.

Podestá is one of the key gender equality activists in Sweden. She always stresses women’s crucial role in society, saying 51% of the world population are women, 60% of people with university degree in Europe are women, and 80% of the decision making of a purchase is done by women. Therefore, it is not acceptable anymore to be still heavily exposed to sexist advertising, she noted.

Podestá expressed her annoyance that women’s bodies continue to be dismembered in Swedish advertising; over and over again just one of part of the body is used to sell products. Yet, she asserted that this negative image will not last anymore in the future as Sweden has started to place anti-sexism advertisements in public transports and streets, aiming to denounce sexist ads, raise awareness, and eventually boycott companies with sexist ads.

In addition, the government will impose sanctions against sexist ads.

Meanwhile, I was also pleased to meet with Stephanie Thögersen, Program Manager at the Swedish Women’s Lobby (SWL) – a politically and religiously independent umbrella organization for women’s organizations in Sweden.

The Swedish Women’s Lobby works to fulfill women’s full human rights and towards a gender equal society within Sweden, the EU and internationally.

SWL was established in 1997 and gathers 45 member organizations with the mutual aim to improve the status of women in the Swedish society. Its aim is to integrate women’s perspectives into all political, economic and social processes, locally as well as internationally.

The Swedish Women’s Lobby carries out campaigns that urge people to act and react against sexist and gender stereotypical advertising. It advocates for legislation against sexist advertising and work to put pressure on companies, the advertising industry and politicians.

A ‘Youthful, Vivid Womanly Experience’

Another start of Swedish advertising I have met.

Two young women from Sweden, Sophie Lokko and Ellinor Ekström have founded Guldvågen Company, which provides an annual award for creative agencies rewarding equality. The prize goes to the agency that is not only good at communication, but is also a good workplace for everyone, regardless of gender.

Guldvågen’s motto is “To create an equal society we need equal communication. To get equal communication we need equal agencies.”

Sophie Lokko and Ellinor Ekström has commended the role being played by the most rewarded agency Forsman & Bodenfors, as being one of the most equal agencies in Sweden.

Progressive Sweden: Communicating a country through ordinary people

Another Swedish progressed aspect I got acquainted with was the Curators of Sweden @Sweden launched on Twitter, an initiative smart unconventional way to profile the Scandinavian nation and portray a diverse range of values, skills and ideas from across the country.

In 2011, Sweden was the first country in the world to hand over its official Twitter account to its citizens. The project Curators of Sweden, an initiative of the Swedish Institute and Visit Sweden, is administered by the Swedish Institute.

I was lucky to meet during my visit with one of the founders of this smart initiative, Sergio Guimaraes.

Upon this initiative, @Sweden, the country’s official Twitter account, is handed over to a different Swede citizen to manage each week.

The idea with Curators of Sweden is that the curators will share both their own and relevant third party’s thoughts, stories, information and other content that is somehow linked to Sweden. The idea is that the curators, through their tweets, create interest and arouse curiosity for Sweden and everything the country has to offer. The expectation is that the curators are to paint a picture of Sweden, different to that usually obtained through traditional media.

The rules of Curators of Sweden stipulate that the curators are free to write whatever they want. Tweets will only be deleted if: they violate Swedish law; they promote a commercial brand; or they are a security threat.

Eventually, the project won The Golden Egg (Guldägget) on April 17, 2012, received gold in the Clio Awards on May 15, 2012, and was awarded Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions on June 20, 2012.

“72-hour Visit to the Happiest Nation in the World”

I can no longer hide my admiration for Sweden’s weather and welfare which Swedish people enjoy in addition to hilarious progress which Sweden achieved and managed to be on the top world’s countries in terms of rights and obligations’ system. Sweden is on the top of the producing countries but Sweden didn’t achieve progress and welfare depending only on gift or God’s grant.

Sweden applied strict system in work and for many years kept leading the list of highest tax rates countries in the world as the tax rates of Sweden represent 50% of its GNP. Yet, we see Sweden allocates taxes to support education, health, working and infrastructure system. Therefore, its people are categorized on the top countries in terms of happiness and enjoying personal life’s indicators. Every time I walk in the streets of my country after finishing my exceptional trip to Sweden, I wish that Egypt one day can reach to welfare and prosperity rates which Sweden community achieved and provide safe- funny life for its people. I affirm that despite Sweden is on top highest t tax countries around the world, it rationalize its expenditures.

Tax concept in Sweden is not restricted only to collecting taxes. Sweden manages the outcome of collected taxes according to the policies which serve welfare levels as Swedish people long for. Hence, its people always welcome paying more taxes as long as they are convinced that they will get the taxes back in forms of best income, education and health levels, best living and enjoyment standards, best family coherence levels and best standards for coping with aging.

I have noted an incident there which confirms that every official in Sweden cares about the taxes and wants to pay the collected taxes for purposes allocated for. Despite the organisers of the training course held in the Sweden Institute, were dazzled of our attendance, they didn’t waste the collected taxes or organise an amazing launch party to astonish the attendees of the kinds of diverse foods.     Livia Podesta, Media Relation, Swedish Institute affirmed that the list of foods in the launch party will include restricted kinds of food asserting that they would not add more kinds of food as more kinds of foods will be paid from the taxes and that Sweden highly respects the collected taxes and pays the taxes for the main purposes allocated for whether in education or health or infrastructure. This incident convinced me of Sweden’s power, Sovereignty and its respect for people’s rights.

The incident showed me how the countries can provide welfare levels which people long for and how the countries can achieve best life standards in which all people are equal in terms of rights and obligations where the cultures of discipline, transparency, respecting law and submitting to the order prevail but not “random” in the communities which do not recognize policies like “tie the donkey where his owner wants” an Egyptian proverb which means to do something as the employer wants even if you aren’t convinced of what you are doing.

When I visited Stockholm, I was lucky to see Stockholm in the daylight hours. I have seen a country full of warmth with a sun arising constantly in the summer. Daylight in Stockholm lasts for more than 18 hours while night hours last for just six hours. On the other hand, for seven months in winter, darkness prevails in Sweden for a long time. During summer in Stockholm which is distinguished with a sunny weather, people always go on an extend walk for pleasure and enjoyment alive with power and happiness.

I have noted that during my visit which allowed me to see European people for the first time in the streets for late night hours enjoining hilarious weather. This impression changed my stereotype regarding Swedish people as the highest suicide rates country. The reality has a better image about people enjoining welfare.

*This article was published at Amwal Al Ghad Magazine’ July Issue

*The research work and data were compiled by Shaimaa Elrashidy, from Excellent Communications D&N PR Agency

*Data and information were edited, copy-written, and reformulated by Marwa Himdan and Yomna Yasser