shots Scandinavia issue #166

Lands of the long winters and little egos

It’s snowing. Again. So what to do when big weather keeps you indoors for six months of the year? Get creative is the answer. Olivia Atkins surveys the ad scene in the Nordic region, exploring countries’ subtle differences but also such commonalities as a fondness for modesty and egalitarianism, and a Scandi summer shutdown that refreshes and refocuses creatives’ minds.

Unsurprisingly, for a region that is all about long, harsh winters, summer is a big deal for the Nordic locals – who lock up shop for a month to escape urban life and enjoy the tranquillity of their summer houses. While the cities are packed with tourists, its citizens are unwinding in the sunshine. “Really we just have a month where we actually see the sun, so we need to make the most of it,” says Folke Film Sweden’s founder Johan Tappert. He admits he often uses the time to go skinny-dipping or drink away his winter sorrow. “Happiness kills creativity, so at this time of year, we are extremely unimaginative,” he adds. “Although this time off is needed because it’s the only way we cope with being creative and miserable during the rest of the year.”

It seems that the extreme weather forces locals to actively cultivate a highly creative, cultured lifestyle because they spend so much time inside. “I firmly believe that because we spend a good six months of the year trapped indoors, hiding from the cold, that it makes the quality of your inner life incredibly important,” says Brett Richards, the Australian-born head of new business at Swedish production company Brokendoll.

Civilised seasonal sabbaticals

The future of these traditional, guilt-free holidays may be under threat if local brands like IKEA and H&M start adhering to international markets and remain open over the summer months. But for the time being, a healthy work/life balance remains. “This regular summer sabbatical lets your mind rest and encourages focus and creativity when you return to work,” says Richards.

Apart from this region-wide sabbatical, there are other similarities that link countries in the region. The Nordic Model, for example, which refers to the region’s similar economic and social policies, and the Janteloven (Law of Jante), which explains its culture of modesty and egalitarianism.

Coined by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose, the non-binding Janteloven discourages the championing of one’s own successes over that of the group. Individual arrogance is frowned upon, causing many to be reserved about their work. It also explains the region’s flat management structure; where the working culture is open and encourages collaboration among creative peers.

Sweden – known as the Big Brother of Scandinavia (as in its elder, protective sibling) – is reputedly the most creatively-advanced nation of the region. As the most populated Nordic country, its creative infrastructure is understandably more developed than that of its neighbours, containing more production companies, agencies, film and art schools. Sweden’s socialist past perhaps explains why the Law of Jante is still in effect today and why collaboration is key within the industry.

“There are fewer egos to contend with,” says Nicola Jones, production manager at Stockholm-based production company Camp David. “So directors, DPs and creatives aren’t afraid to ask for other people’s opinions; it’s not a sign of weakness.” However, Brokendoll’s Richards finds Sweden’s modesty culture difficult to read. “Feedback is often not very direct,” he says. “It’s just the way things are done. You have to try to tune in to what people really mean.”