Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Swedish Marketing Campaigns

I try to avoid TV. Not because of some sort of moral issue, mostly because when I do something I get completely engrossed in it. Regardless of how mind numbing it might be. Because the drivel that is shown on Swedish TV (much of it horrible American drivel) is incredibly mind numbing, my TV tends to be off and gathering dust.

Sometimes though, in lapses of judgment I turn it on. Usually flipping through the channels in disgust before settling for the lesser of two evils. American TV with Swedish subtitles.

In a moment of weakness a little while ago I stumbled across a show, which will remain nameless not to preserve any sense of impartiality but simply because I don’t remember what show it was. It was the commercial in between the show that caught my attention. A commercial for The Amazing Race.

Billed as some sort of reality TV show which skews reality because I have never been in a race with a teammate around the world while TV cameras followed, The Amazing Race is American TV at its most basic form. Bad. It’s been showing here in Sweden for a while now.

All that being said, the commercial was just too much for me. First, the fact that one team was introduced as “Idioterna,” the idiots was maybe not the best tone setter. They may be dumber than Helen Keller (see what I did there? Dumb? As in mute? It’s ok to laugh.) but it just seemed unnecessary.

Idiots are ok though. I know one or two. They amuse me for a while, some I even Facebook stalk for my own personal amusement. This makes me a horrible person. I know. It wasn’t the idiots comment that put it over the edge for me though. It was the following comment that, for some reason, brought the US as a nation into the mix.

“Just when you thought it was ok to start liking the United States again.” Let’s break this down. It implies quite a few different things. First, that people might actually like the US. This is a good thing. I like the US. But it also implies that people did not like the US and actually still haven’t decided that they do like the US. This is less of a good thing. Finally, it implies that one show, a reality show none the less, should be used as to determine positive feelings towards a nation the geographical size of Europe with 300 million citizens. Which makes perfect sense now that I think of it because the show did feature about 24 people or 0.00000008% of the population. What’s better? The season they are showing is from 2006.

My skin has thickened quite a bit since living abroad. I sit quietly as people do their America bashing and stew internally, which is actually very good for your mental health. When I first moved here, it bothered much more than it does now. I accept that people don’t agree with the American way of life. The politics. The religion. The consumerism. That’s fine. That realization is one of the reasons I like to travel. But sometimes it gets to be too much.

When it becomes a central theme of a marketing campaign I have to question the ethical issues of bashing a nation based on a reality show, not on a private basis, but on Swedish TV. Swedes bitch and moan about sexism in advertising. Advertising that targets children. Strangely, they have no problems with advertising that attacks an entire nation.

Welcome to Sweden. Where America bashing makes for good marketing.

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  1. I think you hit the nail on the head when you compare the geographical size of the US to the entirety of Europe, and point out that the population is about 300 million. I'm from the Pacific Northwest (for all you Europeans out there, it's basically Washington, Oregon, and some might argue Northern California. I would not by the way.) I've been a fair amount of places in the US in my day. But I can tell you, I feel just as much like a tourist in New York City as I did in Stockholm, London, or any other major city. I've never been to the south, but that doesn't stop people from other countries from assuming that I'm just like someone from the Appalachian mountains. Or better yet, that I'm like someone that lives in the bayou of Louisiana. Sure, we're all Americans, and I'm proud of that. But assuming I'm like someone from the bayou is like comparing a Swede to a German. And to judge us all as Americans on 24 people that ended up on some contrived reality tv show? That's a bit silly.

  2. I actually like the Amazing Race. But I always download is as soon as a new episode is broadcast in the US, so I don't watch it on Swedish TV. I don't watch TV for the same reason as you.

    Therefor I don't know what kind of comments you are referring to.

  3. The thing is, The Amazing Race is on tv6 and that channel doesnt take itself to seriously. You may have noticed this on several occasions when they re-edit trailers for tv-shows and movies that they are gonna show to make fun of it and market it like its a completely different thing than it actually is.

    so just smile and dont take anyting on that channel seriously. they do this all the time and i personally love it (the announcer-voice that can be heard after the simpsons even sometimes talks to the channels message-boards members haha)

  4. It all comes from that making generalization and for some obvious reason i'm not totally unfamiliar with those burning moments.
    Now i hear you that it makes people mentality tougher but i'd like to remind everyone that everything is good in moderation!

  5. I can agree with you that a lot of Swedes (not just Swedes but kinda everyone outside the US) hate too much on the US and Americans in general, but sometimes you just have to take things for what they are, a joke (maby you didn't think it was a funny joke, but it was meant as a joke none the less.) I mean how many Americans don't make fun out of the French or the Germans or your beloved (or are they, one might wonder sometimes since you always make fun of them more or less in every show) Canadian neighbors.

    And you gotta admit, Americans got a tendency of complaining when they are abroad and that's the view people then get of the US. Even though the French were voted the worst tourists the Americans were voted the "loudest, most inclined to complain and among the least polite". (Dunno how many times Americans have been doing some serious complaining cus we don't got the right peanut butter, not the right maple syrup, not the right this and that. I mean, it’s not like I can walk in to the average American food store and buy Felix köttbullar or Kalles kaviar.)

    (,8599,1820358,00.html for the article in Times Magazine by the way)

    So soldier up, as long as you live in Sweden, you will have to live with the American bashing. We don’t hate you; you are just like our Canadians! Puzz och kramiz!

  6. What exactly do people complain about the US? It's funny, cause the things you listed as problematic about the US, I complain about those things, too, and I'm American. But there's a lot more to us. Plus, think about all the varieties of peanut butter we have available!

  7. Give The Amazing Race a chance, Hairy. It's actually quite good.

  8. ladies and gents,

    first he wasn't knocking the show, rather the commercial for the show.

    And US bashing is some peoples favourite pastime. But come on, I bet they haven't even been to US

    God bless America and Go Cowboys!!!

    Nick the greek.

  9. @Dr. David - Actually a Swede and a German have a hell of a lot more in common that a Pacific Northwesterner and an Appalachian. They are pretty similar really, slightly diff language, but that's nothing. I lived in the heart of Appalachia for a year and a half. And despite moving to Sweden recently, that year and a half made me feel ten times more like a foreigner, and instilled far more culture shock than any other time in my life...

    And Hairy, I'm glad you are calming down, but I sure have not. If you bash my home and my people when you don't actually know what you're talking about I'm not gonna just sit pretty....

  10. By now you should know that swedes and europeans in general find it hillarious when americans do things we consider american, like being fat or not traveling. What really makes me wonder is why the guy says "the controversial muslims".

  11. BO! that blows. ..... I actually enjoy the amazing race >< *hides*
    when you wrote what the TV said about America, my mouth dropped.
    thats like American commercials saying " just when you liked China, Africa, Canada, etc", that would cause such a pandemonium, hell would freeze before that happens.
    Sweden= land of the hypocrites.

  12. uh, are you guys seroius?

    ITS A JOKE! That particular channel do this ALL THE TIME TO EVERYTHING THEY SHOW no matter what country it comes from! Can you spell humour?

  13. Jag håller absolut med! Den utbreda rasismen och främlingsfientligheten emot amerikaner är ett stort problem i Europa. Att som Amerikan komma in i den Europeiska arbetsmarknaden är ju i stort sett omöjligt. Istället hamnar de stackars amerikanarna ute i programmen där de blir tvingade att lever på bidrag och i värsta fall tvingas in kriminalitet. :-(

    Nej men ärligt talat, visst, det är korkat att dumförklara andra länder. Men man behöver ju inte ta det så seriöst, när jag var i LA så tvekade minsann inte folk att skämta om Europer. När folk spottar ur sig dumheter (och faktiskt är seriösa) kan jag förstå att man blir irriterad, men en skämtsam reklam är väl inte så mycket att brusa upp sig över. Dessutom tjänar ju USA som land på att vi köper deras TV program så att kalla det för en attack på USA kan man väl inte direkt säga. Ursäkta för att jag skrev allt på svenska.

  14. @obin
    I don't find it funny at all. its rather offensive actually. I don't think swedes would appreciate it if they found an American commercial saying Just when you thought it was ok to start liking the Sweden again"

    @ linus:
    humour can be spelled both ways, in Canada and Britain it's spelled the way I used it. but I'm assuming you knew this :)

  15. Please don't watch TV6. Put all your cards on SVT and I think you'll actually find that Swedish TV holds higher standards than the US channels.

  16. @M8Smurf: Totally agree with the statement Pacific Northwesterners and a person from the Appalachians have less in common than a Swede and a German, although the point I suppose is that there's plenty of argument to be made that they're plenty of differences.

    @LostInTranslation: That's a very good point about the double standard. I do find it hard to believe anyone, here in the US or in Europe, would come out with a commercial that uttered the phrase, "Just when you thought it was okay to start liking Africa again..." (and before I get several responses based on that statement alone, let me just mention that I know Africa is not a country)

    @Finics: The thing about the US is that there are dumb people everywhere here. Unfortunately you were in LA, where the concentration seems to be a bit higher than average, and where they seem to have no problem sharing their opinion. And your point is well taken about how Europe seems to gobble up US television. It seemed like the entire time I was over there it was, "Strax: The OC; Strax: Idol". No wonder people in Europe think we're dumb.

    I think, and I believe Hairy would back me up on this, is that the most irritating thing about america-bashing is when the person hasn't ever been here, or spent a week in LA, or New York. Of course you're entitled to your own opinion, but to form such a general one of the entire country without any practical knowledge of the country seems silly.

  17. I feel like I need to say something as well, even though it might not contain a whole lot to it. ;p

    I agree with pretty much all of it, especially the last part of Dr. David knightfish's post, that it's not cool to bash another country unless you've been there.

    Having been and lived in both the US and Sweden, I feel like I could be entitled to bash both, you get used to each countries quirks.
    I have a couple of Swedish friends who's never even been outside of Scandinavia that makes fun on the US just because of some things they've read and never really confirmed.
    However, I do get a little bit of bashing over here as well, as when people find out I'm from Sweden and immediately accuse me of being a evil communist, because that's what Swedes hold as their politics.

    Over here, I've noticed alot of other country bashing as well, well within cinema, such as Brits being either very refined people or the most ingenious evil bastards.. well as long as you have a British accent, Americans better watch out! French smell, Canadians are naive and dumb but nice, Mexicans are dirty and live packed like sardines in a one room apartment etc.


    I think ALOT of countries do this, whether they realize it or not, kind of like how popular it was to bash both Finland and Norway in Sweden awhile back.

  18. Seriously Hairy, you were watching TV6. Don't take them seriously, they don't take themselves seriously. I mean have you seen any of the other commercials for the shows that they're airing?

    TV6 are idiots and they aren't afraid to show it, it's kinda become their image.


  19. Honestly Hairy. Don't be such a whiny bitch, it doesn't suit you. Loosen up.

    And you too LostInTranslation.

  20. ^ Although you were insulting me, for some reason I found your comment funny :). Honestly, I'm not being sarcastic. :P

    I still stand firmly by my point.

  21. Whats the deal with anonymously leaving insults? Seems like that's the bitch move to me...

  22. @the good Doctor – and that’s the thing so many Swedes that I have run into don’t really understand until you point it out to them. Driving from Oregon to Colorado took about 20 hours and only got me through about five states. If I drive 20 hours from Stockholm I’m in Italy.

    @Linus – you haven’t missed much on the comments.

    @obin_gam – its true, and I know that TV6 in general doesn’t, but it seems that there should be a point where good taste enters the conversation. I probably should laugh, but it just caught me so off guard that I couldn’t laugh.

    @Tod – agreed. Absolutely agreed.

    @anonymous – there are plenty of things that are made jokes of, and plenty of things that are stereotyped. I understand that stereotypes are used. A lot. It helps people generalize and compartmentalize. That’s fine. But its when they are propagated on TV that I start to struggle. You are right though, just manning up and taking it is important. To an extent. For some reason, this one just felt like it was too much.

    @Antropóloga - mmmm… peanut butter.

    @Mara – I just don’t do well with reality shows.

    @rhubarb – on a completely unrelated note, I love rhubarb pie.

    @m8 – maybe Ive just been defeated. A shell of a man if you will.

    @Lejon – I cant people I forgot to mention the controversial muslims comment. Well played sir well played.

    @LostInTranslation – that’s the thing, you just can’t get away with saying that sort of thing with most countries. But the US is fair game.

    @obin_gam – Linus beat me to it but I also spell it humor. But about the joke, some jokes just aren’t funny. Or even all that acceptable.

    @Linus – so do I.

    @Finics – we are a downtrodden people us Americans. Its not easy.

    You are right though, people talk, and they say stupid things, but for some reason the fact tat it was a commercial made it worse for me rather than funny. I would have had a much easier time had this been said in conversation by someone. Maybe because by putting it on a commercial, suddenly it’s a much wider audience.

    And no worries about the Swedish. It adds flavor to the blog.

    @LostInTranslation – none of these are directed to me so I just thought I would say hello. Hello.

    @Ewa – TV6 isn’t exactly a bastion of journalistic integrity, its true.

    @Dr. – absolutely right. And if you have been there, please come with something more nuanced than, Americans are fat.

    @Mamaya – that’s the beauty of traveling though, you learn that there is plenty to bash in all countries. But it also teaches you to be careful about painting with too broad of strokes.

    @Anonymous (Simon) – I know. I know. I really do. But still…

    @Anonymous – My dad could beat up your dad. I’m just saying.

    @Lost – that’s because you are nice.

    @Dr. – please see my post from today titled “Swedes – Hypocritical Fatties”

  23. Why does it bother you so much what other nations think about America(ns)? The French, The Germans, The Britons etc. are made fun of, but they don't seem to be as much bothered as you guys are...So, why?
    I have lived in America for some time (8 yrs ago). Now, when I think of America (the US), the first thing that comes to my mind is some inexplicable emptiness and hollowness. The same that hit me when I was watching The Wrestler. The sense of hopelessness of the ex-wrestlers selling their trophies in an empty gymnasium was so metaphorical. I don't want to offend anybody here, but in my opinion,for such a big and diverse country the US has so little to offer from cultural or moral point of view. It's a pity, really.

  24. your response is exactly why it bothers me. it shows a complete lack of understanding of the country as a whole despite your time there. it's a pity, really.

  25. did he just use a movie to illustrate the cultural offering of the US?

    on a related note, the US saved us in Europe from the Nazis not so long ago, the sames Nazis that had support from Sweden... The same Sweden that used to compulsory sterilise the disabled up until the 70's... talk about morals and culture.

  26. Did he just use cliches?


    I would love someone to show me the great cultural and moral potential of the US........

  27. Sweden did not only sterlizie handicapped and mentally disabled people but also sami people and romans.

    However, not all of Sweden were pro-nazi, quite the opposite, alot of underground groups were helping soldiers from both Finland and Norway, protecting them and providing them with ammunition, food and shelter.

    As for America... seriously? You lived there 8 years and think it's hollow. Where the fuck did you live?
    I can't think of one state that does not have it's own culture in one way or another, even though the entire country is a hot pot mish mash of diffrent cultures, their own cultures have been developed throughout the time with influence from other cultures. Seriously. I've lived here 3 years and even I can see and feel that.
    If anything that makes things hollow here it's people being poor and turning to drugs and crime but that's pretty international in my opinion.

  28. "on a related note, the US saved us in Europe from the Nazis not so long ago, the sames Nazis that had support from Sweden... "

    Related?:o oh, the US saved us? I thought it was the Allies who did.

  29. anonymous you are mean and small minded.

  30. @anonymous – they sure did. And actually, I don’t have too much of a problem with people using movies as cultural offerings as a whole. Movies are culture especially when seen in a broader context. What bothered me about that comment was that they used one specific movie as a representation of the US. And one that focused on the world of minor league professional wrestling. Yup. That is the America that we all know.

    @anonymous – is that the famous 2 and 2/3 ellipse being used for added effect?

    @Mamaya – the Swedish history during WWII is fascinating. So many people for. So many people against. So many questionable moves. So many lives saved.

    But I agree, that comment wasn’t even worth responding to.

    @anonymous – Can’t spell Allies witout The United States of America. (except for the two missing l’s of course.)

    @anonymous – its not easy for some people.

  31. Dang, anonymous you are a sour face, did you know that? I'd say your lack of ability to adapt and warm up to people is what has left you feeling so hollow - in the US or wherever. A happy person can be happy almost anywhere. That is the truth kiddo.

    Hairy, I realy do think it's time to change this blog to Swe. vs America.

  32. Let's add a few things to this. The very fact that someone mentions the US 'saving' Europe from the Nazis is certainly something that many would deem one good reason to bash America. I think people are especially upset when this is directed at France, since there would be no US of A without French intervention against the British. They gave you liberty, then a statue of liberty to prove their frendship. Then you helped them, and very, very reluctantly let's remember, a hundred years later and suddenly the French are in your debt and ungrateful for not agreeing with what was in their eyes presposterous reasons for invading Iraq? We can go futher back. Sweden -- yes, Sweden -- secured the modern world order and religious freedom for protestants in the 30 years war. Sweden guaranteed the peace at Westphalia, and Gustavus Adolphus and Axel Oxentierna defeated the armies of the Holy Roman Empire. Without protestantism, no USA, no protestant work ethic, no republicanism, no Tom Paine, Jefferson, Franklin et al. So, are Sweden to thank for the existence of the United States of America? Can we say, 'you wouldn't even exist without Sweden, so shut it! Don't talk about morals. Any morals you have were adapted from northern European Christian tenets that were secured through us'? It doesn't matter, but to conveniently forget the history you don't want to remember is symptomatic of both sides in any bashing war. And American history seems to many Swedes, Europeans really, to be seriously lacking in rigour. We also have different time frames. For a European, the modern world order began with the peace of Westphalia, in the mid 17th century. For an American, the national identity is at best that old. For someone in Europe, what happened fifty or a hundred years ago are relatively recent events. For many Americans (at least the one's I know), that's a long time ago. A good way to understand the bashing in either direction I think would be to look at history books in the respective countries. Many Americans find it hard to accept that the European self-image hasn't changed too much. This is especially true in very old, independent countries like Sweden, or former Empires like France or the UK. America is still seen as a relative newcomer, and one that is uncivilised and loud, quite like a teenager or child, at that. America is in the last chapter in a history book of twenty chapters. My guess is that the American self-image is slightly different.

  33. @m8 - that's would be an interesting blog just to see the vitriol that emerges.

    @arisplato - agreed. but Europe then to the Americans looks like the stodgy old grandpa claiming that he hiked to school up hill both ways in driving snow in the middle of june.

  34. @Hairy Swede - I think you're taking it too hard, many swedes do not like america and i think that the "Just when you thought you could start to like america again" part was meant as a joke, maybe a little tasteless though.

  35. but thats exactly what Im talking about. it was a tasteless joke but still people defend it. its just ridiculous.

  36. It's a tasteless joke but the people defending it see only the joke, not the lack of taste (i.e they don't identify themselves with the victims). And it's not isolated to tv6 neither. Check out the O'Reilly factor for instance.

    As for the similarity between germans and swedes: where you comparing a Sami-swede from Norrland to a Bavarian turkish imigrant German or what? Cause I think that that could give your Appalachian and Pacific Northwesterner pair a run for their money. The US is a vast and diverse place... more so than Sweden. But not more so than Europe (keep in mind that Europe streches from Iceland to Kazakhstan), though this argument in itself is rather futile (what does it prove anyhow).

    Lastly on the subject of Godwins Law and the saving of Europe from the evils of the Nazis, I'd just like to remind everyone that it was the Stalinist Russians that did most of the saving. And yet personally I don't feel like I owe the Soviet Union.

  37. yeah but its a fact it wasn't the swedes...

    anyway soon there will be communists in the government and jb can go and wave the hammer and sickle freely, bless him

  38. @J.B – oh absolutely, there are example everywhere. In plenty of different countries.

    The whole who saved who though gets to be a somewhat tiresome argument, as someone mentioned above.

    @anonymous – Sweden has a very complex history during WWII, one that includes some turning of the head so as not to see while also saving thousands upon thousands of lives. But both Sweden and the US are a long way from having communists in the government.

  39. @Anon, I highly doubt so, unless you're planning a coup.

    @Hairy, it's not just a tiresome argument, but a meaningless one that doesn't prove the validity or strength of any argument about contemporary issues on the internet.

  40. I find it funny that so many Swedes enjoy bashing the USA yet still stand in lines for American products, tickets for American films or American artists. They bash to get a quick laugh or to make themselves feel better and than are quick hypocrites to indulge in the same behavior they find opposition to.

  41. Kevin, I think you would appreciate my post, “Swedes - Hypocritical Fatties.”

    But that is one thing that I often notice, it is more the idea of the US that is bashed than the actual entity. I think.

  42. @Hairy Swede,

    Agreed. It's like it's a sorta pasttime and when I'm in the NL or Sweden I can't help but to defend our country. It is far from perfect but it is not some trainwreck that they can peek at and laugh.

  43. exactly. thats exactly how I feel.

  44. Haha, he's probably talking about Bush being replaced by Obama and making a joke. No i don't like Bush and don't understand how he could be elected and then re-elected. So now i must stop buying American products? That's retarded. I like America, i like Obama. Don't get personally attacked because of a joke on TV :P

  45. yet it is somehow ok to focus a marketing campaign on the dislike of an entire country of 300 million people?