Brits and Scandinavians: it's a love story that goes way back

ABBA, Roxette, The Bridge, Bjorn Borg and Ikea: UK consumers have always loved Scandinavian culture and its simplistic, practical style. And the feeling is mutual, says former Ikea UK marketing director Anna Crona.

The love story between Britain and Scandinavia has been going on for some time now. There is a mutual appreciation between our two cultures that runs from pop music to comedy, from fashion to design. The British loved ABBA and Roxette; Ikea furniture is in countless British homes; Steig Larsson is on countless people's bookshelves; The Bridge is on their TVs and Bjorn Borg underwear is increasingly turning up in British bedrooms, too.

Clearly our preference for clean, simple and functional design is attractive; otherwise Ikea wouldn't be so successful.

But just as the Brits love our sense of simplicity and minimalism, so do the Scandinavians love the edginess of Anglo-culture. British fashion has always felt exciting and unique, and Swedes in particular love the UK's quirky sense of humour; Monty Python, Fawlty Towers and Little Britain are just a few favourites to have made it to our shores.

We learn English from an early age and often travel to the UK as teenagers. I was 16 when I first came over to improve my English - I stayed in Brighton and must have come across as a tad naïve when introduced to the culture of pubs and partying by people my age.

Functional design

So what is it that Brits love so much about Scandinavian culture? Clearly our preference for clean, simple and functional design is attractive; otherwise, Ikea wouldn't be so successful in the UK. Scandinavian design is practical and straightforward, whereas British design is often contrastingly creative and detailed.

The difference in our styles runs as deep as our language: Swedish uses such few words in comparison to the diversity of English. At home we wouldn't create sentences half as long as can be constructed by the British tongue. It means Scandinavians can sometimes come across as rude, though only because we say what we mean.

When I was younger I once took my diary out to set a date when a Brit had said to me, "We should meet up sometime," before I realised it was more of a figurative phrase than a definitive one. Incidents like this lead me to think the English language can, at times, be a little too figurative.

But I believe it is this contrast in styles that makes Scandinavian design popular in the UK, and why Ikea's selling point is so unique in this market. Whereas for us, Ikea just feels very Swedish.

Practical lifestyles

Our practicality is another point of difference: we Swedes move in groups, we want everyone to agree with each other, we even dress similarly; we lead practical lifestyles. You wouldn't catch a Swede going out in strappy sandals or just a scarf and gloves to accompany a suit when its freezing cold and raining outside, but then, we do love the commitment to style that the Brits possess when facing the worst of the weather.

Though with our practicality comes security and safety, which in turn creates a strong base that allows us to be daring and innovative. I think this security is what makes our lifestyle aspirational in the eyes of the Brits because of what it can afford: in Sweden you can have as many children as you want because you keep your job whether on maternity or paternity leave. You can be heading up a big company and still make it to your day care service by 4pm to pick up your kids.

We moved to London when my daughter was four. By the age of seven she said she liked Sweden because it felt safe, but she decided it could also be a bit boring. London on the other hand, she thought was "a bit dangerous but also a bit exciting".

Now Britain has a new, more sophisticated and darker kind of Scandinavian pop culture to fall in love with.

Now my daughter is at university and since making her first observations about her two homes, Britain has a new, more sophisticated and darker kind of Scandinavian pop culture to fall in love with. We have produced DJ troop Swedish House Mafia; there was the explosion of the grim but gripping Steig Larsson trilogy; the British adaptation of Henning Mankell's Wallander novels; and the cultish crime dramas The Killing and The Bridge.

And as Scandinavian design will always have a desirable air of simplicity and functionality, and just as Britain will always have that attractive edgy quality, I expect the love story between the two cultures will continue for some time. Not a lot of Swedes understood the British love for Sven Goren-Eriksson, though, but I think that one is definitely over.

Anna Crona is the chief executive of production network Stopp and the former UK marketing director of Ikea.


Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus
Brand Republic Jobs

subscribe now


Lynx tells men not to leave love to fate
HBO captures awkwardness of watching sex scenes with parents
Primark to open first US stores with Boston chosen as flagship location
Marketing spend on the up but a reality check is needed before celebrating
Top 10 ads of the week: Jackpotjoy and BT Broadband fend off Kevin Bacon
Lidl beats Tesco to 10m Facebook fans
Center Parcs ad banned for encouraging parents to take kids out of school
Coca-Cola, Cadbury and Amazon named top brands for targeting youth market
Leaked document shows Nokia to be rebranded as Microsoft Mobile
Nike lays-off hardware staff in move that casts doubt on future of FuelBand
Greenpeace says save the bees or humans will die
What brands need to know about changes to VAT and online downloads in 2015
Jimmy Savile victims urged to claim compensation in new ad campaign
UKIP launches biggest  ad campaign and stirs up 'racist' accusations
Apple boss Tim Cook provides voiceover on ad touting firm's renewed green commitments
John Lewis walks consumers through its history to celebrate 150 years of business
Waitrose boosts content strategy with 'Weekend Kitchen with Waitrose' C4 tie-up
Hottest virals: Cute puppies star in Pedigree ad, plus Idris Elba and Fruyo
Amnesty International burns candles to illuminate new hope
Toyota achieves the impossible by calming angry Roman drivers
Tom of Finland's 'homoerotic' drawings made into stamps
YouTube reveals user habits to appeal to 'older' marketers
Ex-M&S marketing chief Steven Sharp consulting at WPP
Wolff Olins reveals new CEO after Apple poaches Karl Heiselman
Glasgow offers £30,000 prize to best digital idea for 2014 Commonwealth Games
Google's revenues surge but shares drop as it grapples with transition to mobile
Facebook beats Twitter to most 'marketing friendly' social media site crown, says DMA
Fableists believe children like Finn should be outdoors enjoying life
Homebase, Baileys and Camelot join the line-up at Media360
MasterCard renews Rugby World Cup sponsorship to push cashless message