We, the Finns, are the worst - when it comes to branding our own country. You do not believe? Let’s take a closer look. As a northern European country, we - the Finns – have an unknown brand in comparison with our neighbouring countries. A good example is our neighbour Sweden. The Swedes have meatballs, IKEA and are known to be blond and beautiful. Even though we Finns do not have IKEA, other than the Swedish one, we do have some quite well-known brands, such as MARIMEKKO. We also have meatballs – also outside IKEA restaurants. There are some beautiful blonde people. However, this might not be the first thing that foreigners associate with Finland.
The whole world knows the Russian president Putin. He flies with birds, plays ice hockey and appears in posters half-naked. Finland, however, has only Sauli Who? and Tarja Who? None of the Finnish presidents have chased birds with aeroplanes, nor had half-nude photos taken. Finnish presidents simply do not appear in the tabloid press.
A question arises. Why are we so bad at branding ourselves and our country? The lack of promotion can be explained by our nature. Most of us are very modest, very direct and logic loving. The love towards logic stems from reliance on engineering. Finnish companies, such as Nokia, were founded on engineering. You throw a snowball on a crowd, and it is most likely to hit an engineer. An M.Sc. is the most common degree in Finland, making it a truly engineers’ country. The number of engineers in Finland is extremely high given the small size of the population. Finns are so bad at branding that Finland is not known for its engineering, but Germany is.
What is Finland known for
The answer is simple: NATURE. If you ask any foreigner what they know about Finland, they will mention nature as one of the top three things they know about Finland. Even though Finns are engineers at heart, Finns love to spend time outdoors. Now, you might be wondering who initially promoted Finnish nature. Was it done by a Finn or by a foreigner?
To answer that question, we must go back hundreds of years. First known written reference to Finland can be found in a runestone. The text was carved in stone about 1030. The writing is an obituary for a Viking warrior. We know who died and where. Nature has not been mentioned, but the runestone is in Gävle, Sweden. Therefore, we know that Swedes started branding Finland before the Finns could even write. Literacy gave them a head-start.
As Finns have learned to read and write, something could be done for the poor Finland brand. After all, Swedes do not really have a motive to continue Finland’s branding. The only Viking sailing the Baltic, is a ship line headquartered in Aland. Aland, as we all know is a group of islands - kind of - belonging to Finland. Sweden has no particular reason to promote Viking ferries.
Since Sweden has run out of Finland bashing Vikings, Finns must roll their sleeves and start promoting the Finland brand. Every Finn should feel like an ambassador and give their best pitch for Finland.
I have collected some discussions I have overheard over the years.
Promoting a Finnish lake to a foreign visitor
Almost all Finns either have a summer cottage, know someone with a summer cottage or otherwise just live nearby a lake. Finland is known as the country with hundred thousand of lakes. The lakes are also known for being clean. Where there is a lake, a boat is needed. 5 milloin Finns have over 1.2 million boats. It is probably a world record.
One might think that clean water would be used in marketing. To certain degree it is. Finnish tap water is bottled and sold in Saudi Arabia. However, there is no real branding. Finns are also known for bluntness. A straightforward comment can easily sink the whole concept of clean water. For example, a Finn might say- and I have actually heard this version more than once:
“The water is so clean that not even fish pee in it!”
That is obviously a major turnoff. When advertising a cleanness of a lake a Finn should say:
“It is just like swimming in mineral water!”
Now, the next thing that a Finn needs to do is to convince their foreign visitor that it is completely safe to swim in a Finnish lake. Of course, when asked if there is anything dangerous in a Finnish lake, as an engineer at heart, a Finn would use reasoning. Here are some examples collected for this purpose:
- The most dangerous creature in a Finnish lake could be a pike, a fish with teeth. It might nibble your toes if you are a very unlucky person.
- If you see a snake in the water, the likelihood that it will bite you is very, very low. Unless you are as unlucky as my uncle. It happend to be a very angry snake, not afraid of drowning. In that case, get out of the water!
- There is only one type of a shark that could survive in a Finnish lake for a maximum time of two weeks. One would need to airlift it in and out of the lake.
My own findings have shown that a foreign guest might be less eager to jump in the lake than before the reasoning. It just seems that not everyone is keen on using knowledge and logic when making decisions. Engineering has its limitations.
The Finnish Sauna
Finland is known for its nature and lakes. A Finnish sauna is closely linked to the lakes. Although, saunas also exist on dry land, even in condominiums. Being a northern European country, the Finnish weather can get really cold. Saunas have a big part in local lifestyle. Pretty much every house and apartment building has its own sauna. However, the real sauna experience requires a lake, river or the sea. It is so much nicer to dip into a Finnish lake after spending some time heating up in a Sauna.
It might come as a shock - especially to German speakers, but there is no such thing as “Finnish Sauna Rules”. Finns are known for their love of following rules, but rules don't exist when it comes to a Finnish Sauna. In German speaking countries, the use of a Finnish Sauna is strictly limited by a set of “rules”. For example, in Germany you may even need to have a doctor’s appointment before entering a Finnish Sauna. You may only spend 10 minutes inside the “German” sauna at a certain temperature. Germans even have a “Sauna Master”. A “Sauna Master” is someone who performs a “towel dance”. This whole ordeal is being advertised as part of Finnish Sauna Culture. Most Finns would just have their jaws dropped open by such a performance, but they are too modest and shy to correct such a misunderstanding.
The Finnish sauna had a place in pre-Christian religions. The church tried to curb pagan religions and was – over the years – very successful. A Finnish sauna is free from rules and religions. However, old myths are still alive. Some Finns believe that every sauna has its own “Saunatonttu”, a sauna elf. It is advisable not to upset the “Saunatonttu”, as it can easily get angry and burn down the sauna. According to the statistics there is a good reason to keep a “Saunatonttu” happy as the amount of sauna fires is quite high. Nowadays, the most common way to anger the sauna elf, is to dry laundry on top of the electric sauna stove.
So, is there a way to promote Finland? Well, yes. Hire a Swede.
Finnish Sauna Rules - Rules created by Germans and advertised as part of Finnish Sauna culture.
Sauna Master - A German invention. A Sauna Master is a person who performs a "towel dance" in a Finnish Sauna.
Saunatonttu - Some Finns still believe that every sauna has its own sauna elf. Nowadays, the most common way to anger the sauna elf, is to dry laundry on top of the electric sauna stove.