The Law of Jante

Mads Neilson






By @madsalexanderdk


One cultural difference between Denmark and England is the Law of Jante. It’s the philosophy that the collective is worth more than the individual. It weighs heavily in many Scandinavians’ subconscious even though we think we have outgrown it.

The law tells you not to think that you are better than anyone else. It’s summed up in the following ten commandments which I have “borrowed” from Wikipedia:
1. You’re not to think you are anything special.
2. You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
3. You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
4. You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
5. You’re not to think you know more than we do.
6. You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
7. You’re not to think you are good at anything.
8. You’re not to laugh at us.
9. You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
10. You’re not to think you can teach us anything.
Supposedly it was ironically written as a criticism of the rigid social classes. Somehow, it has grown into a cultural defining norm, which is even taught in schools.
On the bright side it enhances the feeling of being equal, and improves our ability to empathise with others which is useful when creating advertising. It enables you to get inside your prospects’ minds and allows you to understand the audience.
On the downside it can make people take a step back. It is common to feel uncomfortable standing out from the crowd. Perhaps some clients suffer from a form of the Law of Jante, which is why they too don’t want to stand out, which is why they create commoditised advertising.
Steve Henry, our ECD, tells us to begin every brief by surrounding ourselves with the advertising of our competitors’ products, in order to create something that stands out from the crowd.
At SCA we are encouraged to believe that we are a specially chosen few. And every brief should be an opportunity to show off to others and make the best work in the world. Every year Marc creates a story that the intake should use as their manifesto. Ironically enough, this year’s story is “fame”.


So, is the Law of Jante making Scandinavians less competitive or more relevant for society?


Is prioritising the collective over the individual a way of ensuring that every achievement should be for the common good?


Or is it just blocking the ability to explore the unknown? At least it might make whatever you do, more well-thought-out.


But who am I to say.

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