In January 2021, the small Finnish city of Salla (pop. 3,407) announced it intended to go head-to-head with cities like Madrid, Jakarta, Istanbul, and Doha to officially bid to host the 2032 Summer Olympic Games. Salla is different from those better-known cities in many ways, but perhaps most notably is its annual average temperature of 31.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
Historically, being located above the Arctic Circle would be considered a competitive disadvantage to host the Summer Games, but if climate change continues apace, Finland’s coldest town up in the country’s Lapland region believes it would be ready.
In a campaign created by São Paulo-based ad agency Africa and Lapland’s marketing arm, The House of Lapland, “Salla 2032” mobilized the entire city, with content like a hilariously straight-faced bid video that starred Salla citizens stumping for summer, and a jaunt from the mascot and the mayor to the IOC’s Swiss headquarters to deliver the official bid. It’s the winner of the advertising category of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards.
The novelty of an Arctic town bidding for the Summer Games got attention, especially with support from Greta Thunberg’s advocacy organization Fridays For Future. And the campaign strategically leveraged that attention, timing it when the world was watching the Tokyo Summer Games, to raise awareness and spark action on climate change. It’s a fun way to get a deadly serious point across, and illustrate the very real consequences of not acting quickly enough on climate change.
“We are concerned about climate change, and as we live here in the Arctic circle, we are experiencing it before many others,” says Salla’s mayor, Erkki Parkkinen. “We don’t want to be the best place to host Summer Games in 2032 because that would mean that temperatures would have not stopped rising. Summer Games’ values are to unify people and nations. We need this same spirit to stop climate change.”
Africa creative director Nicholas Bergantin says the key to the content and campaign resonating was getting locals to really buy into the idea. “They all believed and acted like they would host the Summer Olympic Games,” says Bergantin. “They all believed in doing something that mattered. There were no actors. Only real people from Salla doing their best to sell a crazy idea, but with a serious message. Without the community support, the campaign would never be successful as it was.”
The 2032 Olympics eventually were awarded to Brisbane, Australia, but with no media budget, the Salla campaign garnered more than 7 billion media impressions, and $157 million in earned media, all to help remind us that the climate emergency is no game.