Nordic Countries

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As business becomes increasingly international, more marketers view the Nordic region as a single, northern European market. The region consists of four countries—Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark—with a combined population of 25 million. While they may be considered one market, the ad industries in these countries differ in many ways.


The Swedish ad industry began when Sofia Gumaelius opened the agency Gumaelius in Stockholm in 1877. The agency was successful and even then internationalization was important; when she died in 1915, the agency had domestic offices in Malmö and Gothenburg, as well as in Oslo and London.

Advertising continued to grow in Sweden through the first half of the century. After World War II, three agencies dominated: Telegrambyrån, Ervaco and Stig Arbman Annonsbyrå. In 1950, Resume, the first advertising trade magazine in Sweden, was launched.

But it was in the 1960s that the modern advertising industry really started in Sweden, thanks largely to the influence of Leon Nordin, a copywriter and later creative director at Stig Arbman Annonsbyrå. The agency dominated the Swedish ad industry in the 1960s and early '70s, serving as a training ground for most of the country's major advertising professionals, who worked together at the shop for many years.

Mr. Nordin focused on clients and on involving top management in advertising decisions. He created an ad for the country's biggest newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, in the early 1960s, demanding that ad agencies be paid for their creative work instead of being paid using a formula based on ad placement (the provision system).

In 1961, Sweden hosted the first Golden Egg ad competition; the contest remains the most important local ad competition in Sweden.

Abolishment of the provision system and the introduction of the Golden Egg changed the structure and the position of the advertising industry. People began leaving big, full-service agencies such as Ervaco and Gumaelius to start small, creative shops.

Stig Arbman Annonsbyrå continued to dominate the Swedish advertising landscape until 1972, when Ove Pihl and Lars Falk left the agency to start their own shop, Falk & Pihl.

One year later, copywriter Jan Cederquist and art director Lars Hall also left Arbman to start Hall & Cederquist. The agency soon became the best in Sweden, while Arbman continued to lose ground.

In the 1980s, the style of Swedish ads themselves changed. The amount of text was reduced, while graphics became more important. Hall & Cederquist continued as one of the top agencies, although it gained fierce competition in 1980, when Hans Brindfors and Leon Nordin started Hans Brindfors Annonsbyrå. For many years those two agencies dominated the Swedish ad industry, each with a different style. Hans Brindfors Annonsbyrå became the most successful agency in the 1980s, handling clients such as Ikea, SAS and Pripps. The agency grew, with almost 200 employees and several offices abroad during its peak.

In the mid-1980s, Hall & Cederquist and Brindfors got competition from a new rival, Rönnberg & Co., which attracted large companies such as H&M (fashion), Statoil (gasoline) and Expressen (then Sweden's largest newspaper) as clients. Forsman & Bodenfors, another new agency that became a Nordic powerhouse, opened in 1986. The agency won its first Gold award in the 1990 Golden Egg competition. Within a few years, it dominated the Nordic ad industry, winning awards in Sweden and internationally for such clients as Volvo, Ikea, Arla, Libero & Libresse and Göteborgs-Posten.

Paradiset was established in 1990 and the agency's provocative, ironic and challenging work soon began to draw the interest of marketers. Paradiset, which joined with DDB Needham in 1993, also began winning awards, including the 1997 Grand Prix at the Cannes festival (for its work for apparel marketer Diesel), an award no Nordic agency had won before. At the 2001 Cannes festival, Paradiset DDB and Diesel were awarded their second Grand Prix, this time in the Press & Poster category.

In 2001, the top agencies in Sweden were Lowe Brindfors, McCann-Erickson Sweden, Hall & Cederquist/ Young & Rubicam, Ogilvy & Mather and Grey.


Denmark's ad industry dates to the 1860s, when the first agencies opened for business. Of the early shops, only Weber & Sørensen, founded in 1879, was still active at the beginning of the 21st century. Modern Danish advertising, however, was born in the 1920s and 1930s. One of the largest and most influential agencies was Amussen, founded in 1934 by Wahl Amussen. The agency was later bought by Bates and renamed Bates Copenhagen. The second big agency in the early years was Harlang & Toksvig, also founded in 1934, by Frantz Harlang and Frithjof Toksvig. In 1975, it was acquired by Ogilvy & Mather.

In Denmark, one local agency, Wibroe, Duckert & Partners, dominated the ad industry for decades. It was established in the 1970s by Peter Wibroe and John Duckert. Mr. Wibroe left the agency, but Mr. Duckert remained and the agency continued to be privately owned. As in the rest of the region, most of the international networks were represented in Denmark at the start of the 21st century. In 2001, the country's leading shops were Grey, Bates Gruppen, DDB Denmark, Young & Rubicam Denmark and McCann-Erickson Denmark.


In Norway the first advertising agencies were actually news agencies. It was not until the mid-1930s that the first "modern" advertising agencies were established. Among the early big agencies were Myres, Thau, Forenede and Hoydahl-Ohme. Following World War II, the advertising business started to grow again, but there were changes. For example, Myres was the first Norwegian advertising agency to recruit copywriters; previously, copy had been written by project/account managers.

By the end of the 1960s, international networks began moving into the country and buying local shops. Myres became Myres-Lintas and, later, BBDO Myres; Trea & STB became STB and, later, Ogilvy & Mather; and Alfsen & Becker became Alfsen, then Becker & Bates and eventually simply Bates.

In 2001, the top Norwegian agencies were JBR McCann, Bates Gruppen, Leo Burnett Gruppen, Grey and Young & Rubicam Norway.


Finland's first ad agency, Suomen Ilmoituskeskus OY (later called ILMO), opened in 1923 and was followed by Suomen Reklaamitoimisto, Liiketaloudellinen Neuvontatoimisto and Erwin, Wasey & Co. Under the leadership of W.K. Latvala, Erwin, Wasey became the country's biggest agency until World War II. In the postwar period and into the 1960s, two major agencies emerged to dominate the Finnish advertising scene: Oy Mainos Taucher Reklam and Oy Sek, which later became Sek & Grey.

In 2001, the top Finnish agencies were AS-Grey, Hasan & Partners, DDB Worldwide/Finland, Ogilvy & Mather and Publicis Torma.

Trends in common

Finland holds a special place in Nordic advertising history: It has had TV commercials for more than 40 years. The other countries of the region have had commercials on TV for only about 10 years; before that, commercials were shown only in movie theaters. In Sweden, commercials were introduced in 1987, but the big break came in 1990 when TV4 started broadcasting to all of Sweden. This profoundly changed the advertising industry. Before, agencies such as Hall & Cederquist and Brindfors mostly worked in print, but thanks to TV4, broadcast commercials became the new trend.

With the advent of TV, good directors and production companies also started to appear, for example Leo Film in Norway and Moland Film Denmark. In Sweden, director Roy Andersson made a name for himself in the 1980s, while in the mid-1990s, Swedish directors such as Jhoan Camitz at Modfilm started to get international recognition. Traktor, a collective of directors and producers, was among the best-known production companies in the region. In 1997, Traktor moved from Stockholm to Santa Monica, Calif., and in 2001 worked with top Swedish and international agencies.

Many Nordic agencies, especially those that are members of international networks, began adopting a full-service strategy, uniting many specialists under one roof. By 2001, Burnett in Stockholm, for example, had six different specialist agencies in one place, as did Ogilvy. On a national level, the Swedish communications groups A-Com and Audumbla both consisted of many different agencies.

Other shops, however, maintained a more intimate, creative atmosphere. And the founders of many of the large shops that joined the multinationals set out on their own. Hans Brindfors, who sold his agency to Lowe in 1992, went on to start a new design agency, Brindfors Enterprise. Hall & Cederquist was bought by Young & Rubicam in 1989, but the founders went on to work in new agencies. Even Bo Rönnberg, who sold his agency to McCann in the early 1990s, later left the agency. In 2000, he started Collaborate, a new ad agency, as a part of the A-Com Group.

In January 2001, Joakim Jonason left Paradiset DDB to start a new multicultural agency in London called Cave Anholt Jonason, which existed for only six months. Mr. Jonason later became the creative director at the London-based advertising agency Euro RSCG Wnek Gosper. He remains the most awarded advertising professional in the Nordic countries.

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