Saab was established as an aircraft manufacturer in Trollhattan, Sweden, in 1937, and the company began building cars a decade later. Today, the car division is owned by the American giant General Motors. Last year, Saab sold more than 131,000 cars worldwide.
Saab works primarily with Lowe on its advertising, as well as with Interpublic's direct marketing outfit, Draft Worldwide. But, as Marten Wahlstedt, the marketing communications manager, points out: "Advertising has, of course, played an important part, but we like to make the product the hero."
He adds that being consistent throughout the brand's 50 markets is key to the Saab message: "Regardless of where you see the Saab message, it's basically the same."
The brand's functionality and clean, simple shapes hark back to its launch into the cold Swedish climate; there was no point bothering with the extravagant curves you're likely to find on an Italian marque.
Wahlstedt comments: "Think of US cars and you think of a car that looks great, like a pink Cadillac from 1959. Think of a Saab and what springs to mind is a car that is much more focused around human needs. It's subdued yet defined."
Nordic car brands are facing massive competition from Asian car manufacturers, particularly in the North American market, so Saab is sizing up its potential in a market where car ownership is soon to boom - China.
Positioning: From its heritage in Swedish airforce engineering, Saab
combines simple design with safety and performance.
Lead advertising agency: Lowe
Brand value: Not available
What's so Nordic about it? Saab was created in Sweden, where snow and
low temperatures are facts of life. The harsh climate engendered a need
for safety and sturdiness that is still in evidence today.
Those boxy Volvo estates used to be associated with the Muswell Hill polenta lovers. But today the brand is better known for representing quality, safety and environmental care.
These values - long-held at Volvo - have risen up the public agenda for car brands in recent years, especially as the world wakes up to the reality of climate change. And Swedish design means the cars look a damn sight better too.
Volvo sold more than 456,224 cars in 2004, with 140,000 being sold in the US. Tim Ellis, its Stockholm-based global advertising director, believes Volvo's approach to advertising helped to boost sales last year: following its "mystery of Dalaro" web campaign, showroom traffic increased sevenfold, he says, while its recent "life on board" campaign re-emphasised the brand's focus on people rather than motors.
Ellis believes that Volvo's focus on people rather than cars is what makes Volvo typically Scandinavian: "Sweden is a very caring society and Volvo is all about safety. It's about giving you a secure and comfortable sense of wellbeing while you are driving."
The brand was established back in 1927 when Assar Gabrielsson and Gustaf Larson began producing Volvos from a small, Swedish factory. Today, Volvo, which is owned by the American car giant Ford, employs more than 70,000 people in 125 countries.
Positioning: Cars are driven by people, so the safety, health and
wellbeing of people are fundamental to the brand.
Lead advertising agency: BBDO
Brand value: Global sales in 2004 were $28.1 billion.
What's so Nordic about it? Its simple, Swedish design and
customer-friendly details, such as interiors made from hypo-allergenic
materials, all embody the car marque's brand mission.
The ugly brawl that erupted over sofas at a store opening in Edmonton, North London, showed just how popular Ikea's products are (or that you're better off never going to Edmonton). More than 40 million people visited one of Ikea's 207 stores in 2004 and the brand is now present in 30 countries worldwide.
Perhaps surprisingly, considering its global presence, Ikea has never pursued an advertising solution with an advertising network, preferring to work with small, independent shops. Its agency of record in the UK is Karmarama, whose sniffy faux designer, Van den Puup, heads up Elite Designers Against Ikea. The brand also works with StrawberryFrog in Amsterdam, Crispin Porter & Bogusky in Miami and Weigertpirouzwolf in Germany.
Ikea has been known to celebrate its Swedish roots at store openings by having "fans" turn up who listen to Abba and paint their faces blue and yellow. But Ikea's Swedishness isn't just skin deep: it prides itself on its typically Swedish management style. It has a "consensus culture" where there's no big bad boss ticking off "co-workers" for taking a minute too long on their tea break. "Everything is done by agreement," Bill Agee, Ikea's external marketing communications manager, says. So it's the very opposite of trying to construct Ikea's flat-pack furniture, when arguments, tantrums and profanities prevail ...
Positioning: Reasonably priced, simply designed and functional
Lead advertising agency: None
Brand value: $7.2 billion (Interbrand, 2004)
What's so Nordic about it? Its corporate colours mirror the Swedish
national flag, it serves up Swedish food at its stores and its products
have outlandish Swedish names. Ikea headquarters remain in the small
Swedish town of Almhut.
The Finnish handset-manufacturer has the biggest market share in the world, with an impressive 30.7 per cent of the global mobile market - more than Samsung and Motorola combined.
The company began life as a wood-processing plant in 1865 and, via dabbling with cables, rubber, paper and, most profitably, electronics, it grew exponentially during the 90s to become the most successful brand to emerge from Finland.
Nokia's corporate history could not be less "typically Scandinavian". In a region that is renowned for consensual management and family businesses that grow organically, the company's history is chequered by comparison with most Nordic brands. It managed to survive the threat of hostile takeover and financial ruin; its chairman and chief executive Kari Kairamo committed suicide in 1988; and both the collapse of a core market in the former Soviet Union and losses in the consumer electronics industry hit it hard. Nokia has lived through all of this and become a sprawling global brand; Interbrand estimates it to be the eighth-most-valuable brand in the world, with an estimated brand value of $24 billion in 2004.
Tom Blackett, the group deputy chairman at Interbrand, comments: "A lot of people originally thought that Nokia was Japanese because it's such an unusual name. It has been incredibly focused to acquire so much critical mass and it hasn't done it by using its Finnish heritage at all: nothing about the product represents Scandinavia."
Positioning: "Connecting people".
Lead advertising agency: Grey
Brand value: $24 billion (Interbrand, 2004)
What's so Nordic about it? So little that some people think it is
Carlsberg's line - "Probably the best lager in the world" - competes with Stella Artois' "Reassuringly expensive" to be the most instantly recognisable in the world of premium beer brands.
But to some, Carlsberg's slogan is looking a little tired nowadays, and could do with a makeover to freshen its appeal. Still, it is an intelligent use of understatement that helps it stand out from a crowd of more boisterous macho rivals.
According to Jakob Knudsen, Carlsberg's international brand director: "The Scandinavian understated sense of humour is an integral part of the brand's DNA. If you take other premium Scandinavian brands such as Bang & Olufsen, they won't tell you they're the best. Instead, they let the quality speak for itself."
Saatchi & Saatchi Italy created the slogan 30 years ago for the UK market, and the brand still works closely with the network. "Advertising brings the emotional side of the brand alive," Knudsen says, "but we also sponsor international football tournaments."
A key marketing strategy is communicating the brand's link to football through events and through its sponsorship of Liverpool football team. The brand also sponsors golf and skiing events.
Carlsberg aims to be the biggest premium lager in its core market of Western Europe, as well Eastern Europe and Asia, which it has earmarked for ongoing growth; sales have reportedly trebled in the former Soviet Union over the past four years.
Positioning: To become one of the leading lagers in the world.
Lead advertising agency: Saatchi & Saatchi
Brand value: $1.1 billion (Interbrand, 2001)
What's so Nordic about it? Cosmopolitan and contemporary, Carlsberg is
an understated beverage (unlike many of its loud-mouthed Australian
rivals) and likes to let the quality of its lager speak for itself.
Lars Olsson Smith, the bald, bearded father figure whose portrait appears on every bottle of Absolut, launched the vodka in 1879 under the name Absolut Rent Branvin ("absolutely pure vodka").
More than a century later, the vodka is still made from Swedish winter wheat and well water, and is available in 126 countries. Like many of its rivals, Absolut has had to diversify its product to keep up with drinking fashions. Absolut Apeach (peach) is the latest addition to its range, which also includes flavours from lemon to peppermint. It is the world's third-biggest spirits brand.
Absolut marketing eschews lifestyle advertising in favour of product shots: TBWA has been behind the world-famous print-led campaigns since 1979, when the brand hit America, its biggest market.
"The bottle is the focus of everything," Michael Persson, its director of marketing, says, "and the advertising is about not compromising. If we think an activity could be something our competitors might do, then we won't do it."
Persson adds: "Advertising has played a part in Absolut's success, but we would not have achieved it without the fame and heritage of the product itself."
Absolut has also established a foothold in the glamorous worlds of fashion, music and art. The bottle was reproduced by Andy Warhol in 1986, inspiring a blueprint for artists and designers to reproduce its unmistakable shape. "Creativity runs through everything we do," Persson says.
Positioning: Clarity, simplicity, perfection; the product is the hero.
Lead advertising agency: TBWA
Brand value: $1.4 billion (Interbrand, 2001)
What's so Nordic about it? Every bottle features the words "Country of
Sweden". To this day, the vodka is made in distilleries in Ahus in
More than 400 million children and adults will play with Lego bricks this year. It speaks volumes about the global love of Lego that parents still elbow their kids out the way to play with the bricks themselves, seizing the chance for flashbacks to their own childhoods.
Alongside Carlsberg, Lego is one of Denmark's most popular exports, and Christian Iversen, Lego 's vice-president of marketing and communications, believes that the brand has been consistent in its mission during the past 70 years - it remains committed to developing children's creative and imaginative abilities.
"Our values are centred on creativity, quality and imagination, thus giving individuals the ability to express themselves," Iversen says.
Lego uses Saatchi & Saatchi and Advance for its advertising needs, but also offers more experiential marketing through Legoland in Windsor.
Iverson reveals that the brand is attempting to recreate the Legoland experience in the brand's shops so that children all over the world can engage with the product.
It remains a private, family-owned company and is still based in Billund, Denmark. It employs 7,400 people who, to this day, are guided by the motto adopted in the 30s by the Lego founder, Ole Kirk Christiansen: "Only the best is good enough."
Positioning: Quality, creativity, imagination.
Lead advertising agency: Saatchi & Saatchi
Brand value: $4 billion (Interbrand estimate)
What's so Nordic about it? Colourful, family-centric and fun, Lego's
play materials and unique building systems have become timeless
The Swedish businessman Erling Persson chose Vasteras, Sweden, as the site for the first Hennes store. It grew throughout the 50s and 60s and then acquired Mauritz Widforss, a hunting and gun store with premises in Stockholm in 1968.
It then became Hennes & Mauritz and began selling men's clothes. Today, it has 1,068 outlets in 21 countries and employs more than 45,000 people. In typical Scandinavian style, it has made the most of the internet and was quick to allow its customers to purchase its clobber online, launching an e-commerce service in 1998.
H&M has also tried its hand as a media owner. Its website carries its own lifestyle e-magazine complete with fashion tips, trendy travel destinations and interviews with its designers and photographers, as well as its latest collections.
The company's simplicity is what makes it most typically Nordic. It buys in large volumes, cuts out as many middlemen as possible and has an efficient distribution system in a bid to give the customer the best deal. This is reflected in its advertising, which is created by "independent creative professionals" in Sweden.
Bjarte Eide, the global account director and executive vice-president at Lowe Brindfors and Lowe Nordic, comments: "H&M's clean-lined fashion, clever touch of me-too design and great value for money have changed the rules of fashion all over the world. H&M has taken a long-term view on geographic expansion and built both the company and the brand through organic growth."
Positioning: Fashion and quality at the best possible price.
Lead advertising agency: None
Brand value: Turnover in 2004 was £45 billion
What's so Nordic about it? Simple, consistent and stylish, H&M puts the
customer first and was an early adopter of online selling.