What's Sweden's Creative Secret?

Less Talk and More Collaboration Are as Naturally Occurring as Blue Eyes

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Immersing oneself in another country's ad scene is always instructive. This is especially so in the case of smoking hot (creatively speaking) Sweden.

The Swedish ad crowd (and I) gathered in Stockholm at the start of April for the Guldägget, or Golden Egg festival, which culminated in an awards gala celebrating the country's best brand creative.

If you've clocked any high profile, digitally flavored work over the last few years, you've noticed the conspicuous presence of Sweden among the creative and production credits. Companies such as 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 (extra impressive when one considers that Sweden has about as many people in it as North Carolina).

Add DDB, Stockholm, to the list of Swedish shops to watch -- again. The agency formerly known as Paradiset DDB and recognized for its award-winning work for Diesel saw its fortunes flag after its founders departed in 2001. A gold hat trick in Print, Outdoor and the all-important Integrated Campaign category at this year's Eggs has marked the agency's return to creative form. The integrated prize went to the agency's excellent Swedish Armed Forces campaign that asked its citizens, "Have you got what it takes?" The campaign revolved around the absorbing "Recruitment Tests" website, created in conjunction with another local bright light, Acne Digital.

Other campaign elements continued the testing theme -- direct pieces had recipients solve timed puzzles and decode hidden messages; TV spots showed individuals and groups solving puzzles as though their lives, literally, depended on it. The agency also scored for cheeky print and outdoor work for client McDonald's. The top Cyber citation went to FarFar's lauded "Heidies" campaign for Diesel (winner of one of the agency's aforementioned Grand Prix).

Outside of the Golden Egg festivities, Stockholm's creative energy was like the burst of a tart lingonberry on a saucy meatball. Many of the country's digital pioneers are coming off awards-fueled years of innovative work and are expanding their scope -- Farfar, B-Reel, Perfect Fools and Great Works are among those that have opened New York offices, and others are on their way.

So, while one hates to generalize, a visiting North American prone to oversimplifying things couldn't help but ask: What's the special sauce, Swedes?

None of the locals offered any conclusive explanations (which could speak more to a natural, national reticence to toot horns -- 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-equals-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 ingrained 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. So there it is: nothing in the schnapps, just a simple (or really hard, depending on your culture) inclination to work together.

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Teressa Iezzi is the editor of Creativity magazine and Creativity-Online.com.
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