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Swedish state television mock commercial channels while proclaiming they are the only "free" one

SVT - Swedens state television - are currently airing an ad campaign which states two simple truths, but in doing so court controversy. The first truth is the one I keep repeating in every posting about childhood obesity and the link to advertising since 2003 - the reality is that while advertising aimed at children in Sweden is illegal in theory, it isn't in practice.

The super in this ad reads:

Children advertising (advertising to children) is - forbidden forbidden forbidden - in Swedish Television- BUT - TV3 and Channel 5 - are not Swedish Television. They are English channels that air in Swedish. - And then you can ignore the ban.

This ad in particular seems to upset a lot of people in Sweden. Some of the people raving against these ads are just angry that the reason these channels are aired from the UK isn't mentioned - as if that is needed to make this point. The truth is, that back in the 1980's, TV not controlled by the state was completely forbidden and TV3 got around this ban by airing from the UK. They didn't set out to avoid the ad-to-kids-ban, they set out to start a third TV channel in a country where the only two that legally existed were state-controlled. Inspired by satellite television they saw their opportunity to compete and offer an alternative even though Sweden's laws hadn't quite grown out of the rosy pink ideal of the socialist 1960's. Just for the record. Kay?

Still, that isn't what this ad is about, Swedes know this history (unless they lived under a rock or as dumb as one), this ad aims to inform about the children-ad-ban and clear up that myth that keeps getting regurgitated every time someone talks about advertising to children anywhere in the world. Since I keep seeing well educated smart people who should know better proudly proclaim that ads targeting children don't exist in Sweden it seems that the message in this ads really does need to be heard, if only to delete the false claim that "Sweden has no advertising to children". That is what this retro-looking ad does, and in my humble opinion it does it quite well.

The other ad (above) in the campaign concentrates on the fact that the competition is privately owned, rather than state owned, which is pretty normal in most democratic (capitalist) countries. Three large privately (family) owned companies own most of the press and commercial channels in Sweden. Big whoop, some may say. The idea is of course to promote the fact that SVT is owned by the Swedes themselves, and like any public broadcasting its goal is to serve the diverse needs of the viewing or listening public rather than chase ad dollars with popular programming. Thusly, SVT airs educational programs, news for the deaf and in minority languages and for minority populations such as the Sami, as well as children's programs in a whole bunch of languages such as Finnish, Croatian, Romanian, Romany, Arabic, Persian and many more (as far as I know not in English, French or Spanish however) to promote bilingual children learning their (parents) native language as well as Swedish. Mind you these days SVT offers a lot of ridiculous game shows during prime-time, but I'm talking about the kid-TV part here and that is largely the same as it ever was. It's likely the rabid commentators against this ad campaign are bitter because they had to watch mind numbingly boring and educational shows like "the food and your body" when they were kids. ;)

So, even though my opinion is also the same as it ever was - I disagree with proclaiming advertising aimed at children completely innocent in changing and shaping children's behavior since I sincerely believe that advertising actually works - and I like the first mentioned ad for the look and feel of it as well as the message, even if the irony of the ads looking like 1970's eastern (communist) European TV is not lost on me. Well done Forsman & Bodenfors, I especially like that they dug up and dusted off and old children's TV song from the seventies.

Interestingly right as this campaign is airing Swedens Television, and now Swedens Radio are putting up pages on (ad financed and thus commercial) youtube - see SVT channel. Hypocritical much?

The only reason I put "Free" in scary quotes in the headline is simply because like all other public broadcasting companies, such as the BBC and PBS, Sweden's SVT costs a fee each year. In Sweden they've solved this billing by trying to enforce anyone owning a television to pay a yearly fee for owning it. So it's "free" but it costs money. See? You can not own a TV and simply watch commercial channels only. Unless you totally lie, but if you get caught you'll be fined.

More from previous kid-ad debates here on Adland: Do fatty food ads make obese kids? Yes. No. Maybe., UK bans junk food ads aimed at children More food marketing and fatter kids and advertising does work - on obese children.,Inquiry into obesity 'timebomb' may lead to advertising ban (which it did in 2006 in the UK)
Also, hat tip to Bold for alerting me to that ads are airing.

Last one in the campaign Berlusconi

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tod.brody's picture

 Advertisers are always going to find a way of advertising, regardless of the law, and sometimes in spite of it.  I can remember when I first arrived in Sweden in 1970 at the age of 13, Pripps ads for it's Shandy brew (which did contain a small amount of alcohol) seemed strangely targeted toward children. Or at least young teens.  All of my friends wanted to try it.  Of course a beer mixed with liberal amounts of lemonade seems ideally formulated for teens, and Pripps made sure that their ads covertly made that point.  I can also remember complaining bitterly about living in a country with only two (state owned) TV channels, which on less than eight hours a day.  We had already had cable TV in New York for two or three years, and had a whopping 13 channels, none of which were owned and operated by the US government. Even PBS operated as a separate entity. Of course censorship was alive and well, and there were still far more stringent FCC rules about broadcasters serving the "public good." As a matter of fact, cable television in NY was how I got my introduction to Ingmar Bergman.  Manhattan Cable Television showed Bergman films late at night, and I risked severe punishment staying up and watching on my little b&w television. Upon arriving in Sweden, and telling all my new friends about the state of television in New York, they couldn't believe it.  13 channels on almost 20 hours a day! Considering the way demand drives supply, it's surprising to me that all the offshore channels on Swedish television didn't pop up much sooner.  But then I really do think there's always been a Swedish cultural resistance to becoming too Americanized.  There were only two McDonalds in Stockholm in 1970, and Frukt Soda outsold Coke by 10 to 1. 

lordFredruk's picture

Thank you Tod. Really nice to get someones outside view of swedish television. As you probably noticed, Sweden is a semi-communistic country and instedad of choices we´ve got the party "Socialdemokraterna" that tells us what´s good for us.But at least one thing is good. Julmust is outselling Coke by 10 to 1 for at least one month a year. 

kurtberengeiger's picture

Despite the fact that Forsman & Bodenfors are behind these films, I'm somewhat relectuant to call them adverts. I mean, these are just channel promos that are being sent on "free" airtime - and they're not selling anything that most Swedes don't already know. Call them PSV in the best case scenario, propaganda in the worse. But not adverts...

Dabitch's picture

I know what you mean, was thinking they're more promo than sell-o (heh) but since the Swedish tradepress (and comments) are all talking about it as "an ad campaign" I figured I might as well stick with the term. Promos brand. Branding is advertising. But like you say, they aren't really real ads, as they don't run on competing channels.

deeped's picture

They're not channel-promos. They are political advertising for the tax-paid public service. That is advertising. Promos is when you push for some content. This is something much more uglier.

tod.brody's picture

You can label them promos, ads, sell-o's, call them ugly, or anything you like, but a label is just a label.  It doesn't change the fact that they are what they are, which is effective.

kurtberengeiger's picture

I wonder how this effectiveness is to be measured?
Let's see... The awareness level of common knowledge rises? More tax monies are
collected? Over-all ratings for two of the three broadcasted channels increase?
Inquiring minds want to know...

tod.brody's picture

I suppose what makes advertising effective is highly subjective. The reasons that one might purchase Pepsi or Minute Rice, rather than Coke or Uncle Ben's may or may not have to do with the commercials they seeBut in my over 37 years on and off in Sweden, I've found that my opinion of things rarely jives with the Swedish psyche, so based on your points, I highly doubt that you'd find my measure of effectiveness sound or rational, despite your American connection. 

kurtberengeiger's picture

I was just being rhetorical...

tod.brody's picture

I know I'm old and it's been over twenty years since I worked at an agency, but I'm not senile yet, and I got that.  I respect your opinion, rhetorical or not.  Smile

Dabitch's picture

I fully understand that "tax-paid pubic service" doing advertising doesn't sit well with a lot of people, and why. I've never been able to wrap my head around tax-supported state-controlled services such as the postal service and formerly the phone-service (back before deregulation) doing expensive ad campaigns every year. Its not like the postal service has any competing alternative. This channel propaganda doesn't bother me half as much. It might have, had it included posters all over the cities and mass mailings.

Andreas-Udd's picture

Politics aside (you have to admit that the hives people are getting over this campaign is firmly rooted in politics) I think the ads do a great job reviving that 1970's style of hand made photo-animations. I wonder if they called someone from SVT out of retirement for some help, it looks so authentic!

kurtberengeiger's picture

Hehehe... Do you really think they had to pull someone out of retirement? I thought the SVT building was still full of these people... ;)

Dabitch's picture

*teeheehee giggle snort*

caffeinegoddess's picture

Definitely does. If I didn't see the air date in the headline for the spot, I'd have thought (read: assumed) it was pure vintage.

aiiobo's picture

It looks like pure propaganda.