Forsman & Bodenfors was founded in October 1986 by Staffan Forsman, Sven-Olof Bodenfors (later managing director), art director Mikko Timonen and copywriter Jonas Enghage in the southwest Sweden coastal city of Göteborg, an unheard-of move at the time.
By 1989, the agency had secured well-known Swedish household-product accounts, including Kalles Kaviar, a fish-paste sandwich spread; Semper's products; Frödinge Ostkaka Swedish cheesecake; Pucko chocolate milk; and Falcon, for a relaunch of its Porla mineral water brand.
In 1990, F&B began working with Volvo Car Co., one of a few Swedish brand names with instant brand recognition among consumers worldwide. It eventually became the lead agency for Volvo's Nordic account.
Resigning the Volvo account
By the end of 1990, F&B had won the Rookie of the Year award sponsored by the business magazine Veckans Affärers. F&B also made headlines for a different reason in 1991 when it questioned the advertising role of Volvo's new Nordic organization, a dispute that resulted in F&B retiring as Volvo's main agency; still, the agency continued to concentrate on the launch of the Volvo 850.
In 1991, F&B was voted Agency of the Year by the Association of Swedish Advertisers. It was the first time the award was given to an agency outside Stockholm. It also won a Silver Egg award, the Swedish counterpart of the U.S. Clio, for its Porla campaign. That effort went on to reach the finals in the London International, Eurobest and New York Festivals competitions.
The agency acquired more high-profile clients in 1992, including the pan-European women's fashion retailer Lindex, the largest domestic retailer of women's wear in Sweden. F&B handled image, advertising and packaging for Lindex's retail outlets in what represented the agency's single biggest assignment at that time. By yearend 1992, F&B had 22 full-time staff as well as billings of $5 million and revenue of $3.3 million.
In 1994, Volvo tapped F&B for Volvo Cars Sweden. That November, the business magazine Månadens Affärers voted F&B the top agency in Sweden in its annual ranking of agencies.
One of F&B's hallmarks has been its ability to create ad campaigns that are controversial but informative regarding important social issues in Sweden. The agency's 1995 campaign for client En Rökfri Generation (A Non-Smoking Generation) provoked intense public debate. The campaign, which used headlines such as "Raped by a Prince" and "Murdered by a Prince," stirred debate outside Sweden, where Copenhagen-based Prince remains a leader among Nordic cigarette brand marketers. No other ad campaign in Sweden has received so much media attention.
F&B was named agency for Ikea, the multinational furnishings merchandiser, in 1997. In 1998, F&B's campaigns were a critical factor in reversing declining sales for Ikea products in the company's home market of Sweden.
Also in 1997, F&B won its first global assignment with the coveted Libero sanitary products account. It also formed a tactical communications unit, Force F&B.
In addition, in 1997—and for the fifth consecutive year—it was named Sweden's best agency in Månadens Affärers' prestigious annual ranking. The agency went on to win multiple awards at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes in 1998.
F&B began 1999 by winning SCA Hygiene Products' pan-European advertising account for its feminine personal-care brands Bodyform, Libresse, Nana and Nuvenia. Hot on the heels of this success, F&B's relationship with Volvo took a new twist when the auto group restructured its global marketing strategy and extended F&B's responsibilities; F&B found itself handling the carmaker's worldwide marketing communications jointly with Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York.
In response to unprecedented growth in cross-border assignments, F&B in April 1999 formed Forsman & Bodenfors International to coordinate the agency's growing international work.
In 2000, F&B resigned as lead agency for the prestigious Volvo European assignment, catching Sweden's ad industry completely by surprise. Given that Volvo was F&B's biggest account, the action represented a bold move by the agency, which decided that the assignment did not conform with its principles and, more seriously, had begun to tear at the agency's core values and culture. Evidence that the breakup was friendly came later in the year when F&B agreed to accept the lead agency role for Volvo's pan-Nordic account.
Also in 2000, F&B won the pan-Nordic account to launch If, a newly formed property-and-casualty insurance company jointly owned by Skandia of Sweden and Storebrand in Norway. The company was the Nordic region's largest property-and-casualty insurance company and was No. 8 in Europe. With the shifts in accounts, F&B's revenue reached $21 million in 2000.
At the beginning of 2001, F&B remained one of the few independent agencies in Sweden, with shares owned by 13 key people in the company. In 2003, Tim Ellis, F&B’s European account managing director, moved to F&B client Volvo as the car maker’s global advertising director.