From its refreshing lack of hierarchy to its generous parental leave and strong social security net, Sweden doesn’t do business quite like anyone else. But with the complacent youth apathetic about their hard won rights and role, ANR BBDO teamed up with the Swedish trade union TCO to give locals an outside perspective on the country’s supportive conditions. Last year’s ‘Like A Swede’ compared the local lifestyle to a Hollywood fad and this year’s follow up turned the Swedish workplace into a glamorous music video set. LBB’s Laura Swinton caught up with ANR BBDO to find out what the rest of the world could learn from the Swedish approach to the work-life balance.
LBB> ANR BBDO has done some brilliant work for the Swedish Trade Union TCO – ‘Like a Swede’ and, more recently, ‘Business Like a Swede’. How did these projects come about?
ANR BBDO> Compared to many other parts of the world, Sweden has really good working conditions. That’s primarily a product of the Swedish Part Model, which is a collaboration between employers’ organizations and trade unions. Together they agree on the best conditions on the labour market without government interference. But despite it being the foundation of the Swedish labour market, surprisingly few knew what it was. Especially young people. So the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO) gave us the brief to inform them about the model, in order for it to continue developing for future generations. A pretty challenging task since the Swedish Part Model is pretty much a snooze pill for the target audience that is constantly exposed to other, much more entertaining content.
So we had this very complex and bureaucratic model that makes Sweden what it is, but feels almost impossible to grasp even when you do know what it is. That’s why we decided to make it simpler and focus on communicating the benefits that it has given. Something that every Swede could relate to. Early on in the project we realized that those benefits are only available for rich people in many other countries. That led us to shoot both ‘Like a
Swede – a way of living’ and ‘Business Like a Swede’ in the US from an American perspective. Choosing video as the communication format felt natural since the target group is constantly online and it’s easy to share and care in social media.
LBB> How do you think the Swedish ad industry differs in its working practices and culture from the rest of the world?
ANR BBDO> I think one of the biggest differences is that Swedish companies are extremely non-hierarchical, where openness and co-operation are embraced by CEOs. Sort of what we tried to explain in the ‘Business Like a Swede’ video.
Studies have proven that this is an environment that encourages creativity; everyone can contribute with ideas, no matter if you are a creative or working from the account side.
Good ideas are always welcome. Plus, in this open environment, no ideas are too stupid to present. And that is very important if you want to be an agency in the forefront when it comes to creative innovation, and constantly explore new ways to communicate.
I also think that it’s a plus that the creatives in Sweden can have direct contact with the clients they work with. That way they get to know the client’s business better, plus they get to know the people behind the brand. A flat organization on the client side as well as one of the reasons that it’s possible to work this close together.
LBB> And what could the rest of the world learn from it?
ANR BBDO> First and foremost, it’s much more effective. Working this close, we cut a lot of politics and bureaucracy. Instead we can focus on the job to be done and deliver spot on ideas even faster.
This open and unpretentious work environment also encourages people to push the boundaries and explore new innovative ways to solve a communicative challenge.
LBB> And what do you think makes the kind of advertising Sweden produces distinct from other markets?
ANR BBDO> Swedish advertising is very progressive, and when it’s used in a good way, it’s challenging and pushing existing norms. Look at the objectification of women as an example. 15 years ago it was normal to see half naked women in any kind of commercial, no matter if the brand was selling underwear or tires. That has changed today. Instead we see more advertising that is taking a stand when it comes to gender equality, gay rights and sustainability as an example. This has become more of a rule than an exception in Sweden, but for other markets and audiences that kind of communication can either be banned or just looked upon as very modern and innovative.
A lot of advertising coming from Sweden is also often very digitally oriented. Sweden is at the forefront when it comes to new technology and digital innovations, and that is reflected in the advertising.
LBB> Compared with countries like, say, the States, Sweden has a strong welfare system and provisions like parental leave for men and women… what sort of impact do these provisions have on creativity?
ANR BBDO> For many Swedes, knowing that a failure or one bad idea won’t get you fired, can be extremely relieving and can in turn release more creativity. If you feel secure at work, you dare to take more risks instead of always choosing the safest path. If you are constantly afraid of making wrong decisions that might cost you your job, you’ll never dare to try something new.
Also, being able to stay home with your kid the first year or enjoy five weeks’ vacation per year creates a work-life balance. That is the key in order to have energy to seek new inspiration, which is necessary if you are working in a creative industry.
LBB> Sweden is characterized by having a strong base of innovation – is that a fair observation and if so, why do you think that has happened?
ANR BBDO> Yes, I definitely believe that’s a fair observation. Sweden has always been at the forefront when it comes to digital/tech innovation. The public had Internet at an early stage, already back in 1994. Today 92 per cent of the population has Internet access at home, and almost everything is done online. New innovations are products of the digital generation who constantly seek new ways to facilitate life with technology. Look at Spotify and Skype,
Swedish groundbreaking innovations that made long-distance communication and music listening much easier. This is also reflected in the Swedish advertising, always trying to find new ways to communicate using technology.
Also, another important note is that Sweden is a small country that has always been dependent on export. Creativity combined with high innovation is a requirement in order to survive in a global market. Today, creative and innovative industries account for a significant portion of the Swedish economy and they are prioritized industries to invest in.