The Mote in Thy Brother’S Eyebswedes in Danish Ads

ABSTRACT - Our paper examines selected film ads, all drawing explicitly on widespread Danish stereotypical notions of the neighbouring Swedes. We see the ads as fragments of contemporary Danish discourse on Swedish culture and national identity. We analyse the themes touched upon in this discourse and the pre-understandings behind them. In addition, we report the results from a number of focus group interviews with both Danes and Swedes. They were carried out in order to see how the spots are interpreted and received, and to get further impressions of discourse on Swedes and Danes at an everyday level.


Martine Cardel Gertsen and Charlotte Werther (1999) ,"The Mote in Thy Brother’S Eyebswedes in Danish Ads", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, eds. Eric J. Arnould and Linda M. Scott, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 678-683.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26, 1999      Pages 678-683


Martine Cardel Gertsen, Copenhagen Business School

Charlotte Werther, Copenhagen Business School


Our paper examines selected film ads, all drawing explicitly on widespread Danish stereotypical notions of the neighbouring Swedes. We see the ads as fragments of contemporary Danish discourse on Swedish culture and national identity. We analyse the themes touched upon in this discourse and the pre-understandings behind them. In addition, we report the results from a number of focus group interviews with both Danes and Swedes. They were carried out in order to see how the spots are interpreted and received, and to get further impressions of discourse on Swedes and Danes at an everyday level.


The purpose of this paper is to throw light on central aspects of how Danes discursively construct "Swedishness". We are going to look at the themes dealt with in the discourse on Swedes and Swedish national identity, and some of the forms this discourse may take. We use the German discourse analyst Siegfried JSger’s understanding of discourse (cf. JSger, 1993, p. 153; see also Langer, 1997). He defines discourse metaphorically as a river of texts, speech and knowledge through time. This formulation implies that although discourse is structured and regulated to a certain degree, it is malleable and dynamic and has a historical dimension. Our unit of analysis is the discourse fragment: a text (in a broad sense) which deals with a specific theme. A certain number of such discourse fragments constitute a discourse string. The discourse strings form discursive "tributaries" so to speak, made up of discourse fragments about the same theme. What we are looking at is primarily the discourse string about Swedes as it unfolds in Denmark, and, to a lesser extent, the Swedish discourse string about Danes. What follows is not an exhaustive survey of the Danish discourse on Swedes, it is an exploratory study of exemplary, related discourse fragmets.

The discourse fragments we have chosen are a number of ads that all draw on certain perceptions of Swedes clearly assumed by the producers to be widespread among a Danish audience. The 20 spots we have analysed advertise three different products: the Swedish Wasa crispbread, the Danish Carlsberg beer, and the Danish tabloid Ekstra Bladet. The ads have been shown on Danish TV and in Danish cinemas during the last few years. The reason we have chosen these discourse examples is that ads are an influential and prominent genre in our societyBas well as in most other societies. We all encounter ads daily, and they contribute to our construction of personal and group identities. The 20 ads also function as inspiration for another type of discursive fragment that we look at: focus group interviews where we have Danish respondents discuss the spots as well as Swedes generally. Finally, we include results from focus group interviews with Swedes, who were also shown the spots and asked to discuss Danes.


It is evident that both in the ads and in our interviews a number of stereotypical conceptions form an important part of Danes’ pre-understandings of Swedes. Over the years the word stereotype has been used differently, so we will briefly specify our understanding of the notion. We have chosen to work with a social constructionist concept of stereotypes and thus see stereotypes as discursively constructed images of "the Others". We do not go into empirically testing the validity of Danes’ stereotypical perceptions of Swedes, but are more interested in the processes by which social realityBof which stereotypes form partBis constructed.

Like the resembling concept of sterotypes, national identities are today often seen as something socially and discursively constructed. Most researchers working with national identities no longer write descriptions of different peoples’ national characters as objective facts, but rather analyse national identities as something relational instead of absolute. In this perspective one national identity is created in relation to and against other national identities. Throughout history Sweden and Swedes have constituted one important mirror for Denmark and Danes to be reflected in, and Swedishness has, in its turn, set itself against Danishness. However, the image has changed continuously, and for Danes Sweden has been alternately arch-enemy (during the 15th to the 18th century) and brotherBthough sometimes an elder brother who is annoying, but still reluctantly admired.

When Sweden was viewed from Denmark during the latter half of the 19th century, it was seen as a relatively poor and backward nation. But since the rapid development of Swedish industry and society in the 1930s, an image of Sweden as a modern, but centralist and controlling society has been prevalent in Denmark. Though Sweden is generally perceived as a successful nation (and more so than Denmark), the country is often criticized for what is seen as an excessive tendency to issue bans and prohibitions, for instance regarding alcohol consumption. In the same vein, but on the interpersonal level, Swedes are accused of taking things (including themselves) too seriously, and of having no sense of humour (cf. e.g. L÷fgren, 1986; Rasmussen, 1988). The question is whether the way in which Danes talk and write about Swedes has changed radically during the last decades, or to what extent the perceptions very briefly outlined here can still be detected in Danish discourse.


The fact that several ads (a total of 20 spots, all produced exclusively for the Danish market) making fun of the Swedish have been shown n Danish TV and cinemas within the last couple of years seems to indicate that Sweden is still seen as an appropriate target for Danish sarcasm. In the following, we will look more closely at three of the spots.

3.1 Wasa Crispbread

The first spot we shall look at was taken from a series of 12 spots promoting a product that both Danes and Swedes consider typically Swedish: Wasa crispbread. All the spots are located in a crispbread warehouse and feature two comical characters: the Swedish warehouse workers Bengt and Johan. They wear brownish overalls but alsoBremarkablyBhelmets and ear-protectors, even though a crispbread warehouse is presumably not a very noisy or dangerous work-place. The ear-protectors may probably be accounted for by the crunchy crispiness of the breadBa product quality which is thereby highlighted. In addition, their outfit suggests Swedes’ imagined obsession with safety. The first spot of the series goes as follows:

Transcript of Wasa ad no. 1:

Johan (trailing a load of crispbread packages behind him): This is the Danes’ new Wasa Sesame.

Bengt (contemptuously): The DanesBwhat the hell do they know about crispbread?

Johan (reading from the package): "Thin crunchy crispbreadBwith sesame"

Bengt : On crispbread!? (Grabs the package and rips it open)

(Frozen close-up of packageBwith the text: "New Wasa Sesame")

Announcer (in Danish): New Wasa SesameBcrispbread as we Danes like it.

Bengt (tasting the crispbread): Perhaps it goes well with light beer? ("lStt÷l"Ba Swedish type of light beer)

Johan’s first line about "the Danes’ new Wasa Sesame" establishes the distinction between "them" and "us". At the same time, the Danish viewers and the product are linkedBthis is not ordinary Swedish crispbread, but special crispbread for Danes. The suggestion is that Danish viewers should identify with the productBin spite of its being Swedish. Bengt immediately introduces opposition and dissociation, which is underlined by his derisive tone, not least when saying "the Danes". Bengt’s patronising attitude suggests the superior Swedish "elder brother". But Bengt’s comical appearance undoes his deprecating statements about DanesBhe has neither credibility nor authority. This is reserved for the Danish announcer, who states that "we Danes" like the product, discursively establishing a common Danish identity. Bengt’s last line seems to suggest that he has recovered from his initial scepticism. However, it is also the punchline of the ad, which simply plays on the tighter Swedish policy on alcohol and the resultant consumption of low-alcoholic "lStt÷l". Not only the combination of light beer and crispbread seems slightly ridiculous, but also the mere factBas the ad gloatsBthat Swedes drink this type of beer at all.

3.2 Carlsberg Beer

The second spot we will look at promotes the well-known Danish-produced Carlsberg beer. This ad forms part of a series of humorous ads that sought to establish the slogan "Our beer". The scene is an exclusive bar somewhere in Denmark. The characters are a stylish, middle-aged Danish bartender dressed in a white shirt and bow tie and a young Swede with semi-long, whitish blonde hair dressed in a light blue, washed-out denim jacket. In addition, this spot, too, features a Danish announcer.

Transcript of Carlsberg ad:

Announcer (sounding as if reading the news): As from today all Swedish citizens who wish to consume alcoholic drinks in Denmark must make the following pledge:

Bartender (in Danish): I pledge not to call after your women.

Swede (in attempted Danish, but with a Swedish accent): I pledge not to call after your women.

Bartender: I pledge not to start fights.

Swede: I pledg not to start fights.

Bartender: I pledge not to fall asleep in "Str°get" (main pedestrian street in Copenhagen).

Swede: I pledge not to fall asleep in "Str°get".

Bartender: I pledge not to be sick in Tivoli (amusement park in Copenhagen).

Swede: I pledge not to be sick on (sic! The prepositions normally used in Danish and Swedish are different) Tivoli.

Bartender: I pledge not to piss in your parks.

Swede: Piss?

Bartender: In your parks.

Swede: Piss in your parks.

Bartender: And finally I pledge to catch the last boat home (across the Sound).

Swede: And finally I pledge to catch ..yes ..yes, I do.

(Close-up of a Carlsberg beer and a glass)

Announcer: Now it is all right for him to have our beer.

(Close-up of campaign slogan "OUR BEER" between two small, red hearts)

The announcer, who sounds as if he was reading the news, comes over as authoritative and impersonal, and reads a discriminating special law that applies to Swedish citizens who wish to drink alcohol in Denmark. The impression is (pseudo)-official and serious ("consume alcoholic drinks", etc.) and alludes to the Danish idea of Sweden as a very restrictive place. The permission for the Swede to have "Our beer" also comes from the announcer, who has, however, lost the impersonal official touch in his final line. He is still authoritative, but strikes a more personal note. We have moved from a general, universal level (a law that applies to all Swedes in Denmark) to the particular, interpersonal level (we Danes allow the Swede in the ad to drink our beer). This change creates a feeling of community more effectively than a resumption of the impersonal announcer personality would have done; the viewer becomes more involved and is brought to feel that he is part of a Danish community that allows the Swede to have beer.

Five of the six pledges the Swede has to make are negated, which makes for an indirect description of Swedish behaviour; it is presupposed that Swedes call after women, start fights, etc.Band that viewers know that this is how Swedes behave when they have been drinking in Denmark. Please note that the Swede is not made to promise that he will not drink too much. It is implicitly understood that it is OK to get drunk, what matters is to be able to hold one’s liquor (like the Danes). The pledge to catch the last boat home is the only one that is not negatedBhe is to promise to do one thing: to go back home. Of course the presupposition is that he normally doesn’t.

The ad focuses on the widespread perception in Denmark that Swedes drink alcohol excessively, and the young man in the ad fits the image held by most Danes of a typical Swede on a drinking spree in Denmark. In addition the perception of "Restrictive Sweden" looms large: Swedes are subject to so many prohibitions that they get out of control when they are let loose and let go (in Denmark). That is why "we Danes" have to have special laws for them. But of course no real harm is intendedBthey merely need a bit of humiliating and teasing before they are allowed to have "our beer". The making of pledges is not credible ("we" know that they’ll be up to their usual behaviour anyway) and the final pledge of catching the last boat home is actually not made.

The final shot is of the slogan of the campaign "OUR BEER" in capitals between two small red hearts. The hearts emphasize that Danes’ relation to "their" beer is no trivial matter, it carries emotional importance. Others may drink it too, of course, but "we" have prior claim and decide who is and who is not allowed to drink the product. The ad builds on an idea of national identification; of Carlsberg as a special Danish beer drunkBand ownedBby "us Danes". Again, the intention obviously is to make Danish viewers identify with the product as part of a process of national identification.

3.3 The Tabloid Ekstra Bladet

The last ad we have chosen comes from an image campaign run by the Danish taboid, Ekstra Bladet, comprising 6 TV spots and a cinema version. All spots are situated in a room overlooking the Town Hall Square in Copenhagen. Only one character appears: the Swedish actor Ernst-Hugo JSregsrd in various guises that suggest certain perceptions of Swedes. In contrast to the ads we have looked at so far, all these ads are subtitled.

The majority of Danish viewers probably recognize Ernst-Hugo JSregsrd from the popular TV series The Kingdom (Riget) directed by Lars von Trier (the Danish director of Breaking the Waves). The Kingdom is set in Rigshospitalet (the Danish National Hospital) and the title is a nickname for the hospital while at the same time metaphorically referring to the Kingdom of Denmark. In the series JSregsrd plays the evil and tyrannical Swedish chief surgeon Stig Helmer. The Kingdom is a central intertext and is a necessary background for fully appreciating the ads. JSregsrd’s character, chief surgeon Helmer, misses Sweden and hates Denmark, which he finds messy, undisciplined and unprofessional, and this could not be more true of Lars von Trier’s depiction of the Danish National Hospital. However, Helmer’s authority and credibility is undermined by his dishonest attempts to cover up a fatal mistake which he has made during surgery on a child. Overall, he is not a very likeableBbut a perversely amusingBcharacter. JSregsrd’s statements about Denmark in the ads are entirely in the spirit of chief surgeon Helmer. Like The Kingdom, the ads have been filmed with handheld camera and are held in gaudy yellow coloursBobviously a la Lars von Trier. We shall now look at one of the ads:

Transcript of Ekstra Bladet ad no. 5:

Ernst-Hugo JSregsrd dressed as a womanBwearing make-up, tits and a wigBreads from Ekstra Bladet:

"Homosex. Whipping. Massage."

Derisively throws the paper to the floor:

"We have never had anything like this in Sweden. Well perhaps.. in Malm°" (a city in Southern Sweden, close to Denmark).

Carrying a doll in the image of Swedish Astrid Lindgren’s children’s book character Pippi.

"Now this is a symbol of you and me."

Walks towards a moose head trophy placed on a table:

"Ekstra Bladet. What a shitty paper. CopenhagenBSodom and Gomorrah."

The camera zooms in on the view over the town hall square.

Addressed to the Pippi doll:

"It is disgusting."

"We are red. We are white" (in attempted DanishBalluding to the chant of Danish football supporters: "We are red. We are white. We are Danish Dynamite")

Addressing the Pippi doll once more:

"To hell with it."

The logo of Ekstra Bladet is shown in (Swedish) blue and yellow. A slamming sound is heard and the colours change into the usual (Danish) red and white, while the logo is smacked up into Ernst-Hugo JSregsrd’s face.

Subtitle: "Ekstra Bladet: Keeps daringBwhen others keep quiet." (Ekstra Bladet’s longstanding slogan)

Ernst-Hugo JSregsrd’s drag attire is inherently funny and he appears to be a grotesque moralist when he claims: "We have never had anything like this in Sweden. Well perhaps... in Malm°" obviously referring to sexual excesses in Denmark and not least in Ekstra Bladet, which daily features several pages of ads offering all sorts of sexual services. This is further touched upon in a subsequent line where he refers to homosex and, addressing Pippi, the children’s book figure, says: "It is disgusting! Whipping. Massage." By presenting itself as the opposite of a Swedish hypocrite with evident double standards, Ekstra Bladet becomes a representative of (alleged) Danish broad-mindedness.

When the logo changes from Swedish blue-yellow to Danish red-white and is smacked up into Ernst-Hugo JSregsrd’s face, Ekstra Bladet is discursively constructed as a safeguard against unreasonable statements or behaviourBin this case exemplified by JSregsrd who is smacked. The newspape administers punishment on behalf of Danes generally, a guardian of national justiceBentirely in accordance with the slogan of the paper: "Ekstra Bladet: Keeps daringBwhen others keep quiet". Because of JSregsrd’s ridiculous and provocative behaviour the discursive construction more or less forces viewers to take the side of Ekstra Bladet.

Still, the way in which the ads attempt to make viewers include the product in a process of national identification is somewhat more ambiguous than in the other two ads. The irony is pervasive and the mere fact that the ads contain criticism of the product is in itself controversial. Although JSregsrd’s voice is obviously neither authoritative nor pleasant, his statements about Ekstra Bladet cannot be completely negated. JSregsrd’s ironic characterization of Ekstra Bladet as a "Marvellous, intellectual, cultured newspaper" (in one of the other spots) is interesting, since hardly anyoneBeven among the regular readershipBwould be likely to describe the tabloid Ekstra Bladet as a serious quality paper. Therefore, the ads may be seen as postmodern in their undecidability of meaning (cf. Calinescu, 1987). Aesthetically, too, the ads have postmodern qualities. The filming technique and the frequent cuts result in a fragmented, kaleidoscopical and non-narrative impression. Also, the spots are crammed with quotations and references to other fictitious worlds, e.g. The Kingdom, the book about Pippi, and the Bible’s Sodom and Gomorrah.


It is clear that the selected ads all refer to certain stereotypes which the advertising agencies presume Danish viewers to be familiar with. In order to find out how well these stereotypes correspond with Danes’ discursive construction of "Swedishness" at an everyday level, we carried out a number of focus group interviews. We made two focus group interviews with Danes. Our respondents were selected at randomBthree men, four women, ages ranging from 20 to 48Band they knew nothing about the theme beforehand. When they arrived, we told them that we wanted to discuss "Swedes" with them and asked them to make a collageBwith cuttings from various Danish and Swedish magazinesBto illustrate the theme "Swedes". During this process they talked freely about their own views and attitudes concerning the topic. Afterwards, we showed them the 20 spots and asked them about their reactions. The two interviews with Swedes, which took place in Lund in Southern Sweden, were similar, except that we initially asked them to discuss "Danes" instead. Our Swedish respondents were three men and four women, ages ranging from 26 to 45. Each of the four interviews took about an hour and a half.

4.1 Danes About Swedes

The most salient stereotype discussed was that of Swedes coming to Denmark to drink and buy alcohol. One respondent put it this way: "The greatest cultural barrier between Danes and Swedes is that Swedes are always drunk when you meet them". Several respondents mentioned words such as "liquor", "spritbolag" (state-owned and controlled liquor outlets in Sweden), and "prohibition country" and in preparing the collage, several cuttings of bottles of beer and liquor were added.

Regarding the Swedes themselves, it was repeatedly mentioned that they are very professional, they have many big industrial companies and they do well on the international stage, be it as politicians, artists, gold-medal-winning sports stars or pop stars. They stand for quality, safety and success in many ways. It was the Sweden of modernity and industrialization that emeged. In many ways, the clever "elder brother" gets favourable and appreciative mentioning, but the respondents also refer to the overly "polished" Swedish image; everything in Sweden is a little cleaner and tidier, Swedes are more homogenous, and Sweden is more collective and social democratic than Denmark. The formal, reserved and conformist Swede, who hasn’t got the natural individualism and humour of the typical Dane (as he apparently likes to see himself), soon surfaces as the dark side of the picture. Our respondents explained these attitudes themselves by saying that Danes have an inferiority complex vis-a-vis the professional Swedes, who know how to do many things that Danes cannot, such as producing cars (e.g.Volvo and Saab). One respondent added this comment (which was found very amusing by his co-respondents) to the discussion about a Danish inferiority complex: "Oh well, anywayBbeing Swedish is almost like paying for the gold medal with your soulBI’d still rather be Danish and not get any gold medals".

It was characteristic of our respondents that their knowledge of Sweden was not very up-to-date, which suggests that they do not follow Swedish events. This became apparent for instance when discussing how the Swedish economy was actually doing. Several respondents were unaware of any recent problems and believed that it was doing just fine as usualBthe idea of Sweden as an economically successful nation seems to be quite resistant to change.

The Danish respondents found the ads entertaining and laughed when they were shown. Generally, Ekstra Bladet’s ad was found to be the most amusing. All said that they did not really think that Swedes would resent the ads. They were easily able to recognize the stereotypes about Swedes referred to in the ads, with one exception: The Wasa spots show Swedes as (among other things) stupid, and this does not correspond to the perception of Swedes as clever. One respondent said that therefore he did not feel that this ad had all that much to do with SwedesBit was "more discriminatory towards warehouse workers than towards Swedes". Some respondents felt that the Carlsberg ad was somewhat banal because the drunken Swede in Denmark is such a clichT. It was mentioned that Ekstra Bladet’s ad was much more sophisticated since it draws on less obvious but still recognizable ideas about Sweden.

It was obvious that the relationship between Denmark and Sweden was not construed as a real conflict. Danes and Swedes basically have a good relationship, they are fairly similar and speak related languagesBalthough Swedish was described as as "ugly", "a palate language" and (jokingly) "a dialect of Danish". The basically fine relationship allows for friendly teasing: "It is OK to be rude, since no harm is intended". Several respondents refer to Sweden as a "brother nation"Busing a metaphoric expression which was common in the rhetoric of Scandinavism a century and a half ago. One said: "You can say what you like to your friends and family, can’t you?". But interestingly, this type of Danish-Swedish commonality is primarily constructed in contrast to other nationalities. When asked, for instance, whether it would be OK to make fun of Germans rather than Swedes in ads, the respondents said that it would not be possible in the same way because "they wouldn’t understand it" and "they are not a #brother nation’ in the same way, so you have to be more polite".

It can be argued that the commonality is constructed discursively because the differences between Danes and SwedesBdifferences which the respondents have nevertheless been able to say a good deal aboutBare perceived as minor as soon as e.g. Germany is brought up. When contrasted with the Germans the formal Swedes suddenly appear to have more sense of humour. The respondents also agreed that similar ads featuring people from the Middle East or immigrant groups would be considered much more taboo and less harmless.

4.2 Swedes About Danes

Whereas our Danish respondents clearly had a well-established repertoire of stereotypes about Swedes to draw upon, our Swedish respondents seemed a little more hesitant when asked to characterize the Danes. We cannot rule out the possibility that our respondents may have been influenced by the fact that we ourselves (as interviewers) are Danes and that they may have held back some negative statements out of politeness, but it was our impression that they had less clear-cut stereotypes.

Still, beer was mentioned frequently, along with other types of (unwholesome!) nourishment such as sausages and Danish pastry. Denmark was associated with shopping, visits to museums, city walks, etc. since Copenhagen is the closest big city for people living in Southern Sweden, and our respondents go there relatively often. They also came up with a number of associations relating to previous holidays in Denmark: the sea, boats, Skagen (popular holiday resort), etc. But as to the Danes themselves, the images were less clear. It was mentioned that Danes are less health-conscious, they are fond of eating, eat more fatty (but often tasty) food and smoke a lot. An image that seems to be widespread is that of elderly Danish women smoking cigars or cherootsBthis is apparently unheard of in Sweden. One respondent also mentioned drug addiction.

Generally, however, the respondents agreed that Swedes have a predominantly positive attitude towards Denmark. They saw Danes as more laid-back and more prepared to enjoy life, for instance by not focusing so much on a healthy diet, and not caring so much about industry and material goods. It was mentioned that the laid-back feeling was notable when comparing Copenhagen to Stockholm, where the pace was perceived as faster and more stressing. Copenhagen was described as more pleasant and less modernBthere are, for instance, still small grocer’s shops, while in Sweden, these are only found in small villages nowadays.

As for the ads, our Swedish audiences (not surprisingly) laughed less than the Danes, though they, too, found that Ekstra Bladet’s ad was the best. No one said that they felt offended by the ads, but it was our impression that some felt a little annoyed by Carlsberg’s ad, though the issue of Swedish youngsters drinking in Denmark was easily recognized and has actually been debated as a problem in Southern Sweden. It was well-known that Danes have this stereotypical image of Swedes, and one respondent said that she found it very irritating that the Danes she met always joked about this.

Apart from the product crispbread in itself, our respondents found it more difficult to recognize anything typically Swedish in Wasa’s ad. It was mentioned, though, that crispbread with cocoa taste (referring to a spot not cited here) would never have been thought of in Sweden, since it sounds rather unwholesome.

In connection with Ekstra Bladet’s ad several respondents said that they could not imagine a Swedish ad actually disparaging the product, and it was suggested that this type of irony might be typically Danish. The TV series The Kingdom has also been shown on Swedish TV, and several respondents had seen it. But whereas Danish viewers primarily associate JSregsrd with this series, he was a well-known, very controversial character in Sweden and and people apparently felt quite strongly about him. Most of the comments about Ekstra Bladet’s spots had to do with him and his personality. (JSregsrd died very recently, but after we carried out our interviews).

When asked whether they were able to imagine similar Swedish ads joking about the Danes, our respondents all said no, though one added as an afterthought: "maybe a beer ad...". There was general agreement that if the Swedes were to make fun of another nationality in an ad, it would definitely be their other neighbours, the Norwegians, since "Norway-jokes" have been popular in Sweden for years, whereas no one had ever of "Denmark-jokes". When asked why this is so, we were told that except perhaps in Southern Sweden, people do not think very often about the Danes, whereas the Norwegians are gographically closer. Our respondents (who were all from Southern Sweden) indicated that the distance between Southern Sweden and Stockholm is perceived as considerable, also mentally. They said that people from Stockholm have stereotypical ideas about people from Southern Sweden who are seen as fat, lazy and speak a funny dialect. In return, people from Southern Sweden find them conceited and arrogant, and some respondents were able to illustrate this with their own experiences.

It was our impression that they felt more strongly about the relationship between Southern Sweden and Stockholm than about the relationship between Sweden and Denmark, and that they found it more problematic. When discussing it, they repeatedly identified with the Danes, saying for instance "we are more like Danes and in many ways, we are closer to Denmark". In spite of this, several respondents found it difficult to come up with names of well-known Danes, and some were only able to think of very obvious examples, such as for instance the Danish queen. Like the Danish respondents they did not seem to follow events in the neighbouring country very closely.


It is evident that the humorous points of all the ads rely on acquaintance with the stereotypical perceptions of Swedes held among Danes. The number of stereotypes used by the ads (including the spots about Wasa and Ekstra Bladet not dealt with here) is fairly limited, and almost exactly the same stereotypes emerged in our Danish focus group interviews, even before the respondents watched the ads. Generally these are well-known discursive constructions, which seem to display a certain inertia.

The restrictive policy on alcohol in Sweden and Swedes’ resultant excessive purchase and consumption of liquor in Denmark is a prominent theme. The image of the uncontrollably drunk Swedes seems to clash with another stereotype, that of the formal and professional Swedes who have organized a well-run society. In spite of that, the two images are connected: Swedes drink excessively in Denmark because that has become difficult in well-organized and regulated Sweden, which Danish pre-understanding sees as "Restrictive Sweden". Accompanying this image are perceptions of a society characterized by inflexibility, bureaucracy and excessive regulation. In terms of individuals the associations are boredom, no sense of humour and a prudent, healthy lifestyle. However, Swedes are also perceived as more competent than Danes in a number of areasBespecially within industry and business, but also in terms of sports and the arts. This is probably where the root of the know-all, elder-brother-like Swede can be found. All the negative stereotypical perceptions of Swedes implicitly hold positive Danish counter-images: Danes know how to enjoy themselves and hold their liquor; they are relaxed, flexible, humorous, self-ironic, modest, etc. Our interviews suggested that our respondents had a limited factual updated knowledge of Sweden, but they were immediately capable of drawing on well-established and concurrent pre-understandings which were totally dominated by the stereotypes mentioned.

Our Swedish respondents seemed to have significantly fewer stereotypes concerning Danes. It was our impression that theyBas inhabitants of Southern SwedenBrather tended to contrast themselves with people from Stockholm, and actually identified with Danes to some extent. Their reactions to the ads showed that they were familiar with some of the stereotypes held by Danes, especially those concerning alcohol consumption. The ads were generally not seen as very funny, but hardly as very offensive, either. They were found somewhat puzzling, since most of our Swedish respondents were unable to imagine similar Swedish ads featuring Danes. In this sense there seems to be a certain asymmetry in the relationship between Danes and Swedes.

It would be a mistake to interpret the Dnes’ negative stereotypes about Swedes as an indication of a particularly problematic relationship between Danes and Swedes. The humorous context of the stereotypes takes the sting our of the spitefulness, not least because the prejudice of the ads is obvious and vented in a public space. At least our respondents interpreted the ads as friendly teasing. It may well be possible to thematise negative attitudes to Swedes on TV and in cinema ads because Danish viewers consider it to be implicitly understood "that we don’t really intend any harmBwe are merely teasing".

IfBnot least in the light of the currently rather heated Danish debate on immigrants and refugeesBone imagines similar ads based on stereotypes about people from e.g. the Middle East, they would inevitably be perceived differently and much more emotionally by the viewers. This would be referring to an antagonism that wouldBat least by some viewersBbe considered much more real, and the potential consequences of such stereotypes would be more serious. In times when many ads very consciously use the breaking of taboos (e.g. Benetton) such ads are not inconceivable, but they would meet with a different reception from the ones we deal with hereBthe humour would probably be overshadowed by the provocation and the political incorrectness. They would therefore require much more complex considerations of image and market communication strategies by the advertising company.

Even if some ads become more and more globally homogenised and standardised (e.g. Coca-Cola ads) there is a parallel tendency that more and more ads use well-established stereotypes of national differences (cf. Kelly-Holmes, 1996). The stereotypes are used in different ways: Positive stereotypes about the country of origin of a product are frequent (e.g. German technical quality in advertising an Audi car), but also negative stereotypes are used in a humorous context, like we have seen in the examples analysed (e.g. a Volkswagen campaign where the theme is: if only German humour were as reliable as German cars). However, the ads for Carlsberg and Ekstra Bladet are different, because the products have no relation to SwedenBthey are neither Swedish produced or developed in Sweden. Here the idea is to create identification with the product among Danish viewers, not to use perceptions of Swedes to underline certain product qualities.

Although it may appear paradoxical that national stereotypes seem increasingly to become a theme in ads when contacts and co-operation among countries get more frequent, it may after all be an explicable trend. An increasing number of international contacts possibly stimulate interest in what is specific to nations and activate perceptions of the nationally specific (cf. e.g. Robertson, 1992, on the link between the local and the global). Against that background the discourse fragments we have looked at are not merely attempts to comment on Swedes, but equallyBor even more soBattempts to develop and maintain a sense of national identity among Danes. The ads employ the attraction of belonging to a national community for marketing purposes. Basically the ads attempt to do two things discursively: to establish a community among the Danish viewers and to create identification with the product among the Danish viewers. For these purposes they present a well-established stereotypical discourse about Swedes for Danes to identify against.


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Martine Cardel Gertsen, Copenhagen Business School
Charlotte Werther, Copenhagen Business School


NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 26 | 1999

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