Campaign Trail: Klarna’s oddball ads spotlight Swedish roots, outlandish quirk

Linda J. Dodson

Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best and worst new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.

Bizarre intrigue is the bedrock of Klarna’s creative strategy, blending humor and outlandish quirk with the payment service’s Swedish roots. That Scandinavian silliness is back this summer for the brand’s biggest U.S. campaign since it expanded to the region in 2015.

Anchoring the “Swedish for Smooother Shopping” campaign, 15 video ads use scenes cut from 50 years of classic Swedish cinema and add English subtitles that don’t match the visuals. In one, a man serenades a woman while subtitles tell a story about three small beings whispering into his mind. The spots close with the line, “Klarna: Swedish for smooother shopping.”

Comedic hooks and a unique brand aesthetic make the ads entertaining and memorable, potentially encouraging new American audiences to discover the Klarna brand. Interactive activations, influencer collaborations, gaming integrations and shoppable ads that illustrate the ease of using Klarna will roll out in the coming weeks, rounding out the campaign.

“Leaning into our Swedish origins allowed us to be very unexpected and just grab attention and offer some levity during the pandemic and really heavy times,” Klarna’s U.S. Head of Marketing Megan Gokey told Marketing Dive.

 Wading into fresh waters

Klarna began in 2005 as a bank specializing in online shopping payments for shoppers and merchants. Now, “Swedish for Smooother Shopping” is part of the company’s evolution from a focus on payments to more of a lifestyle shopping brand, according to Gokey. Klarna started out as a buy now, pay later service for online shopping and has since expanded to enable users to make wishlists, follow influencers and get price-drop alerts. A U.S. mobile shopping app launched in 2019. 

“At the core of it, we’re really trying to deliver entertainment and a new kind of shoppability,” she said.

The latest effort in the U.S. is comprehensive, relying on quirky creative and interactivity to reach digitally savvy millennials. The digital campaign features the 15 online films, virtual experiences, shoppable and social content, merchandise deals with Highsnobiety and giveaways throughout the summer, along with paid placements on streaming platforms like Hulu and Roku. Wading into new territory, Klarna is readying a yet-to-be-announced gaming integration.

“I’ll call it a shoppable in-game experience with what is one of the most hyped games of the moment,” Gokey told Marketing Dive. “I’ve always felt like there’s so much opportunity in the gaming community, especially when you start to think about the intersection of fashion and gaming.”

The push keys into a promising uptick in mobile entertainment and online shopping during the coronavirus pandemic. A Snap study this week found that the pandemic is driving a surge in mobile video consumption, a boom that may herald a permanent shift in how marketers such as Klarna reach younger audiences.

Remixing vintage footage

Klarna and agencies Mirimar, Noble People and Movement Strategy began work on “Swedish for Smooother Shopping” in late January, before the novel coronavirus spread and shuttered production studios. The plan was always to dig up archival footage from Swedish TV and film, but now aligns with how many brands are repurposing old content to create new assets while working from home.

Director and fellow Swede Andreas Nilsson helped to remotely produce the clips.



Award-winning director and fellow Swede Andreas Nilsson teamed with Klarna and its agencies to remotely produce the campaign from New York, Stockholm and Los Angeles. Nilsson is known for directing ads like Volvo’s 2013 “Epic Split” and Expensify’s interactive Super Bowl spot in 2019.

“He knows the Klarna brand, our quirk, our character. The reason he signed up for this project was not only because it was just such a different, beautifully absurd idea, but it also really allowed him to go down a wormhole of clips from his Swedish childhood,” Gokey said.

The ads’ entertainment focus may come as a welcome respite from the mostly somber COVID-19 messaging that took over marketing much of this spring. An international survey conducted in April found that 41% of people were ready to hear from brands about topics unrelated to the pandemic. Since then, brands including Coca-Cola and Truly Hard Seltzer have aired non-coronavirus spots, suggesting marketers may see an environment that’s conducive to returning to “normal” creative themes.

“We were really mindful of kind of the consumer mindset and making sure it would bring the kind of levity and level of entertainment that I think people were looking for,” Gokey said.

Bucking the status quo

Though it is now dabbling with more innovative elements like interactivity, Klarna’s European ads for years have flexed a creative strategy that stands out from the typically sterile ad efforts of the finance industry. Klarna’s 2018 spoof spot depicting a topless man jamming out to bass-heavy music in his living room, bare stomach rippling to the soundwaves, went viral on Instagram. In 2017, the payment company’s snippet of a “mermaid” Afghan dog swimming became a viral sensation across social media.

“We have a long history of kind of bringing fun and unexpected to our marketing efforts. Core to our DNA as a brand is to buck the status quo and do things differently,” Gokey said.

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