Hans Rosling, Swedish values, and branded content: 3 takeaways

Hans Rosling - Gapminder

Yesterday, Swedish social commentary publication Kvartal published an essay entitled “Svensken — den sista människan?” (‘The Swede — the last human?’). The essay looks at Swedish values in the context of what Adam Nelvin describes as the “myth” of humanity’s forward progress and the end of history.

What caught our eye was that the essay’s starting point is a quote from Hans Rosling, taken from an interview published in The Local in May 2015 in which the Swedish celebrity statistician claims there was ‘no such thing as Swedish values’.

While values like equality, tolerance, and transparency may often be associated with Sweden’s reputation abroad, Rosling argues such values aren’t actually Swedish.
“There is no such thing as Swedish values. Those are modern values,” he says.

The article cited by Nelvin was part of an ongoing sponsored article series produced in partnership with Connect Sweden, a collaborative effort to strengthen Sweden’s international air links. Seeing a sponsored article published more than a year ago cited in an analytic essay demonstrates three important points about English-language branded content:

1) Strong content can drive engagement long after the campaign ends: back in 2014, the New York Times and Netflix teamed up for a sponsored article about women inmates to promote ‘Orange is the New Black’ that continues to attract attention for its in-depth examination of women in prison in the US. Similarly, our interview with Rosling (and other articles in the series) touches on a theme — Sweden’s place in the world — that’s part of an ongoing conversation.

By finding an accessible, relevant theme and getting notable figures like Rosling to discuss it, we were able to create a body of content that transcends the campaign itself (which ended in July 2015) and thus helps extend the conversation to new audiences.

2) Treat all communication as international communication: anyone who ignores how far and wide content can travel in today’s connected, digital world does so at their own expense. With a few clicks, any message first delivered in one language or context can quickly be transferred to another context or audience. Sure, this can bring risks, but the opportunities for extending reach and engagement with new audiences are far greater.

The Connect Sweden article series was meant to reach a primarily international, non-Swedish audience of English-speaking professionals for whom international air travel is a part of daily life. But that didn’t prevent a Swede from accessing the content and giving it new life in a Swedish-centric (and Swedish language) discussion.

3) Sponsored content doesn’t equal ‘second-class’ content: while it remains important to distinguish between sponsored and editorial content (not least when it comes to labeling), in an era when people increasingly access content via headlines shared on social media, the quality and relevance often matters more than the byline.

At its best, sponsored content strives to connect with audiences’ hearts and minds, rather than simply pushing a product or service. If it’s interesting and relevant, people will read it; if it contains useful insights or information, it will engage.