Straight, No Chaser: Turbulence ahead, as airline ad spirals out of control

One thing you do at your peril in Denmark, it seems, is belittle the country, its customs or its food. Scandinavian airline SAS found this out the hard way the other day when its advertising bureau &Co launched a new campaign video entitled ‘What is truly Scandinavian?’.

After a promising start with the title, things rapidly went downhill as far as the chaps in adland were concerned. It turned out that ‘absolutely nothing’ was the answer. Everything from democracy to windmills, bicycles and votes for women has been imported. Worse still, liquorice is from China, rye bread from Turkey and the famous smørrebrød open-sandwiches are Dutch.

Hands off our rye bread
Danes rapidly rushed to heap opprobrium on SAS on social media. The whole thing blew up into a shitstorm about national identity. After all, there are limits when the archetypal favourite liver paste with beetroot on rye bread is under attack.

The ad was released on February 12, but the adverse reaction caused it to be pulled a day later, after which a slightly edited version was released, although the full version is still available on YouTube.

Kristoffer Meinert, the hapless SAS head of media relations, defended the decision to edit by citing reports that the airline had been the victim of a co-ordinated cyber attack – possibly by known Swedish extremists. The poor man had only been a week in the job, so perhaps he could be forgiven for getting the jitters.

The debacle continued with a bomb threat to the advertising agency’s offices in Adelgade in central Copenhagen, which necessitated the closure of a number of nearby streets by the police for a couple of hours before it was decided the threat was a hoax.

Bewitched, baffled, bewildered
As well as a nationalist backlash, there seemed to be genuine puzzlement amongst people interviewed on the streets by public broadcaster DR. Some liked it but the underlying message had simply gone over most people’s heads. The video is actually positive about Scandinavia – and, of course, it encourages travelling and broadening the mind.

It concludes with: “Going out into the world makes us think big even though we are quite small because every time we go beyond our borders we add colours, innovation, progress. Adding the best of everywhere to here. In a way, Scandinavia was brought here piece by piece by everyday people who found the best of our home away from home. We can’t wait to see what wonderful things you’ll bring home next.”

Lager louts
This is not the first time a Danish company has released a controversial advert that left a lot of people baffled. Carlsberg in the UK decided to tweak its recipe for lager and launched a campaign in support of this stating that it was ‘Probably NOT the best beer in the world’ (after having said exactly the opposite for almost 46 years).

As always, tweets soon appeared. These were actively endorsed by Carlsberg although written by people who didn’t like their beer. One such tweet was supplied by Roy@roystar11: “Our generation have trust issues because we were all raised on those awesome adverts saying Carlsberg is the best lager in the world only to finally taste the shit and realise it’s like drinking the bath water your nan died in.” Honesty, indeed!

Rather cleverly, Carlsberg even made a video quoting some of the tweets afterwards.

You could argue that this is a very risky strategy, especially for a successful brand. However, it does not seem to have led to the kind of backlash that SAS is experiencing over its video. Perhaps British consumers found it easier to see the funny side than their Scandinavian counterparts. However, woe betide anyone who implies that the Brits didn’t invent fish and chips and mushy peas!