Editor's Letter, April 2008

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Managing editor Ann Diaz and I had the good fortune to join the Swedish ad crowd for the Guldägget, or Golden Egg festival in Stockholm at the start of the month. Three days of talks and seminars culminated in an awards gala celebrating the country's best brand creative.

Here are some things I learned in and about Sweden:

DDB, Stockholm is back. The office won three Golden Egg awards at the big show (see p.6), including the Integrated nod for the compelling Swedish Armed Forces campaign.

If you're giving a speech to a roomful of Swedes, don't be offended if they don't ask questions, or, indeed, exhibit any kind of physical reaction whatsoever. People assured me after my own presentation that the eerie stillness in the audience was just a manifestation of a reserved national character. I assured myself they were being honest.

Such a stoic front is daunting if you're giving a speech, but it makes for a creative populace, apparently. Sweden has, of course, been a prolific creator and producer of digital creativity over the past several years. Companies of varying type like FarFar (a two-time Cyber Grand Prix winner), Great Works, Forsman & Bodenfors, North Kingdom, B-Reel and others have distinguished themselves globally for digitally-driven creative. Being keen to make sweeping generalizations, I asked many of the people I met how they explain their disproportionate influence on digital creative (the country's population is only around nine million). None of the locals really offered a conclusive answer (there's that reserve again—which is an explanation in itself: less talk more action). There were what they called "the old reasons"—early and high (government assisted) broadband penetration, a relatively young TV commercial industry (since commercials didn't come to TV until the '80s, the business didn't have so long to congeal around them), and the old smaller budgets=more inventive creative problem-solving equation. All valid, but after several days on the ground, another explanation became clear: many of the things that have emerged as hallmarks of and conditions for digital creativity—collaboration, flat structures, encouraging ideas from all disciplinary corners—are as naturally occurring here as blue eyes.
One risks cliché to note that Swedes tend to be more group-minded than Americans. But collaboration seems an ingrained M.O. here. Add the fact that the companies are smaller and not big on hierarchies and you have all the ingredients for digitally-inclined creative prowess. The displaced Swedes in this issue haven't discarded their native tendencies. Martin Cedergren, a former Forsman & Bodenfors interactive creative who recently moved (after a gig at AKQA) to 180 Amsterdam noted the cultural inclination to collaborate during our Creatives Roundtable (see p. 24) as did BBH, New York's Calle and Pelle Sjönell, featured in our Creatives Report (see p. 20). "The more smart people in the same room, the better the ideas," says Calle.

More learning: In some northern areas of Sweden, the disinclination to superfluous verbiage is so pronounced that in place of some simple words, like "yeah," participants in a conversation will make a small sucking sound (imagine the sound of taking a quick sip out of a straw, only without the straw).

The same people like to eat a fermented (read: rotten) fish dish so foul smelling that it has to be consumed outdoors. Many other interesting rituals attend the fish eating.

Köttfärs is pronounced Shut-fash. And it means ground beef. Thanks to Cedergren for that.

And, while America seems to follow the Verlaine/Rimbaud school of despair as creativity generator, Swedes seem pretty uncynical and, dare I say, happy. Perhaps I was blinded by the blondness and mythical social ideal, but although everyoen seemed to be working very hard, everywhere I looked there were Dads leaving while the sun was shining to pick up tots from school, communal eating, and (not sure why this struck me as such a marker of civilization) people hanging their coats at the front door of their offices. People at the Egg gala were actually excited about winning awards.

As many of the accomplished Swedish digital players set up shop in New York (among them Farfar, B-Reel, Great Works and Perfect Fools) it will be interesting to see how that Swede corporate culture (or lack thereof) translates to me-first America.
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