Tourism board Visit Sweden teamed up with Prime Weber Shandwick, Stockholm, to launch a PR campaign inspired by Swedish folklore.
Tapping into interest around mysticism and the occult, and the trend of Dark Tourism, Visit Sweden partnered with international horror writer John Ajvide Lindqvist to create a haunting audio story about the mythical creatures that, according to folklore, inhabit Sweden’s woods.
The immersive experience was geo-locked, meaning it could only be enjoyed while in the one of Sweden’s national parks. Once the listener arrived at forests, such as the ones in Åsnen National Park in Småland and Fulufjället National Park in Dalarna, they could access the audio on Spotify.
The story, called Kiln, was written in the first person, to enable the listener to take on the role of the main character as they walk through the forest. The story starts off at the remains of a kiln, an ancient earth pit used to make charcoal, and as the story progresses, the main character encounters various mythological beings, including a ‘huldra’ (a seductive forest nymph).
‘In comparison to Norwegian fjords, Icelandic volcanoes, and other epic nature destinations, Sweden is quite non-spectacular,’ Amanda Engström, CSO at Prime Weber Shandwick, told Contagious. ‘To attract today’s seen-it-all-done-it-all traveller, we needed to find a layer that could out-drama the competition. While Swedish nature might not look so exciting, there’s drama hidden in the woods. The idea that nature is alive is a core part of Swedish culture. Stories of supernatural experiences and encounters with mythological creatures like elves, trolls and huldran have echoed here for centuries.’
Kiln is just the first phase of the Spellbound by Sweden campaign, which will act as a platform for activations across the country. For those who can’t listen to the audio, Visit Sweden has more information about its forest creatures and their connection to Sweden’s nature on its website, as well as suggestions for places to visit.
Results / The two-month campaign launched on 28 September 2022, achieving a reach of around 150 million in its focus markets of the UK and the US. According to the agency, the digital content scored above benchmark for engagement, particularly the in-depth content on the website, which had up to 10 minutes reading time in some markets. The campaign reached 80% of Visit Sweden’s target audience in the UK and the US and increased their awareness of Sweden as a destination by 16%, strengthened their perception of Sweden as a culturally rich destination by 14% and boosted their intention to travel by 5%.
Contagious Insight /
Challenge tropes / This campaign abandons convention and digs into unusual reasons to want to visit Sweden. Rather than lean into the beauty of the landscape, Visit Sweden focused on the fascinating culture and history tied to Sweden’s forests. ‘We turned every rule of destination marketing upside down,’ Amanda Engström, Prime Weber Shandwick’s CSO, told Contagious. ‘With this approach, we could catch people’s interest and show that the modest forests of Sweden are not so mediocre after all. Switching the perspective from visual to emotional, encouraging travellers to pay attention to how places make them feel, not just what they look like.’ The strategy allows Sweden to compete as a nature destination with the likes of Iceland and Norway, she explained, and provides rich ground for new travel experience ideas based on Sweden’s cultural heritage. ‘The concept cast new light on the things they might have forgotten the magic of, but were right in front of them.’
Cultural fluency / The campaign was also designed to coincide with an increased interest in folklore and the occult. The popularity of the so-called #WitchTok community on TikTok, for example, or the widespread adoption of crystals and astrology among Gen Z and millennials. ‘A growing number of young people [...] have turned away from traditional organised religion and are embracing more spiritual beliefs and practices like tarot, astrology, meditation, energy healing and crystals,’ reported the LA Times in 2019. At the same time, Sweden has gained cultural capital and recognition over the past few years through popular TV crime dramas such as The Bridge. ‘In our target markets (UK and the US) and beyond, we see an increased appetite for all-things-dark in culture,’ said Engström. ‘Fantasy and horror dominate film, TV, literature and even podcasts – a format booming in consumption but underused by brands. The culturally explosive nature of anything unreal or haunting made us think: What if we could attract people by scaring them away?’
Listen up / Using audio helped Visit Sweden create an immersive experience. ‘We wanted to shift the perspective from sight-seeing to feeling, and using sound was the perfect way to get people’s imagination going,’ said Engström. ‘With audio, you can create an intimate experience that really brings the story to life in the person’s head – it’s almost like being in it. Which when you think of it, is quite perfect for a destination brand.’ The media choice is both cost-effective (Sweden is a small country and so was Visit Sweden’s budget, says Engström) and can travel across markets. ‘We wanted to bring Swedish nature to life in a modern, horror-themed folk-saga, created to unlock a new dimension of the travel experience that is more sensory and emotional.’ The geo-lock feature is an example of how to use tech simply and effectively – and for maximum PR. It doesn’t matter that most people who read about this won’t experience it, it matters that journalists write about the campaign.
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