The Sweden number is slowly failing, just like #Call Brussels did

I keep telling people who work in advertising to "get out of advertising", to find their inspiration elsewhere. Talk to real people, enjoy art in galleries, spend time with retirees, go to soccer games - in short, be where the target market actually is, in the real world.

Too often we work ungodly hours, ordering pizza, ubering home, throwing ourselves on the latest fad to keep our bleeding edge and soon there's a huge disconnect between the 'real world' and that world people who work in advertising think we live in.
The latest fad is usually a marketing idea, we join Twitter, we get a Peach account and an Ello account, we ponder how to sell Bloomingdales via Snapchat, buy sponsored posts on Facebook to clutter up peoples friend feeds and chase the retweets.
We create entire conferences around "user generated content" and scheme on how to get people involved in our latest shill.

It is in this mindset we create 'ideas' like Sweden's twitter account and Sweden's telephone number.

"It'll get people involved" I'm sure they argued, when these ideas, which are purely media-driven, were presented.
To be clear there's no old school proposition based idea here, the idea is the media. But even worse, it's not even new - Badland he we go!

Late last year when there was much chatter in the news about the Paris terrorists fleeing to the political capitol of Europe, Brussels, the cities reputation took quite a dent. Despite trending cats on Twitter and Belgians assuring the world that everything was OK on social media, people suddenly had an image of Brussels of being under constant lockdown and raided by Interpol.
Enter the ad agency Air, and the client for tourism in Brussels, and this telephone idea.
Since Belgians are very proud of Brussels why not let them answer the phone when concerned foreigners call, and assure the would-be-tourists that everything is OK.

Tourism Brussels - #CallBrussels - (2016) :60 (Belgium)


The phone booths were up for a very limited time, from the 7 January to 11 January, but the campaign was a success in that it was written up in a lot of foreign newspapers so foreigners did actually call the numbers available.

Enough people to make the case study video above. The first caller asks "Do you see some people who are fighting with gun or bombs in the street?" and the woman who answers laughs "No. No. Oh my god, no way."

Then the Brussel attacks happened, and shortly after this case study video vanished from youtube.



Not soon enough, as people made re-edits of it, adding the Brussels airport bomb footage to the case study.

Now the danger of user generated or interactive campaign ideas is that they will be remixed and re-edited and everyone in advertising should know this by now.

The Call Brussels idea was contained to phone booths, each interaction was filmed by the agency, and live streamed on the site so callers could interact with the person who answered. Presumably there were several safety checks I haven't even thought of as well, from reviews I gather that those who called had some issues with calls being dropped but technically it worked most of the time.

Sweden, meanwhile, seems to have not thought of the trolling potential at all when it comes to their national telephone number.
Just like "Call Brussels" the idea rests firmly on the fact that Swedes who wish to be ambassadors for the country are the right combination of hospitable and proud of their country.
You need to install an app, "The Swedish Number" (Android, iTunes) to participate, and once you have that installed you will be getting random calls.

Ugh. I'm Swedish, I don't want to answer the phone even when it's for me, the idea that lots of Swedes will sign up for this is counterintuitive to the Swedish famously reserved psyche.
People who want to troll random foreigners calling might get the app though....
Of course the news of the number spread as fast on chans & at Swedish forums like Flashback, as it did in the mainstream media, and soon pranksters decided to call in some troll conversations, and their trolling is now getting as much press at the number itself.

One of the callers, who actually lives in Sweden as he states so in a recorded call, manages to get another reserved Swede to sing along to a nasheed song.

Swedish Tourist Association "+46 771 793 336" 1:30 (Sweden)


Beyond the short sighed Swedish naivité regarding the trolling potential of anything interactive, it's the tone of this idea that - in similarity to the Brussels idea - seems far removed from reality.
In the ad agency ivory towers you might not have noticed what the bus drivers, football fans, retired people and taxi drivers of your countries see & discuss on a daily basis.

Sweden is "celebrating" that we've banned censorship oh so many years ago, but just like our famous neutrality in wars it's really just a facade while we transit Nazi German troops through Sweden.

In a country where you will get expelled from the Union for supporting the wrong political party, where a drunk football fan is convicted for doing the nazi salute when joking with friends, where a street artist gets six months in prison for his overly spicy sarcasm a.k.a hate speech, the freedom of the press does exist but self censorship is rampant, even among the police.

In a country where political party posters trigger minor riots to tear them down, you'd think the ad agency would consider the potential disaster scenario of a phone number that leads directly to a random Swede.

The main complaint that has been heard about the Sweden phone number is that you often get a Swedes' answering machines instead of someone on the phone.
My complaint with the idea is you didn't really think this through, did you?
The idea seems so divorced from reality, I wonder if the creative team has left the office in the past six months.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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William 's picture

Brilliant review of Sweden's "Answer The Phone" [place branding] campaign. Like most advertising, it assumes culture(s) seek to become part of a commercial effort, rather than having the activation become seamlessly intertwined in culture, relational, organic and authentic.

That requires a National cultural map that reflects: the people's needs & wants.

Thanks.. Nice article!


Richard Wolf's picture

Good for you mentioning Sweden's "neutrality" during the war. It was anything but.
Sweden didn't just let German troops through to Noway by train, they sold tungsten for Nazi gold, they lent money to the Nazis, and even provided military naval escort to German ships in the Baltic.

"Neutral" and "no censorship"

Dabitch's picture

The world isn't black and white.

@johancb's picture

Nah, it's all good. I have taken seven calls so far, missed four. No trolls, some tricky accents, some awkwardness, a couple of weird questions, but mainly a lot of fun. To me, honesty and trust is the whole point here. Of course you'll get some trolls and politically incorrect posters, but so what? We're not in adland here. We're not projecting fake images of perfection. We're in tourism. Going new places means taking risk and being willing to overlook the dirt in the corners. Your experience as a guest will reflect what you give. And as for the brains behind this: trusting random Swedes to be good and helpful people shows guts and pride. Live a little!