The Scandinavian Scuffle Over the Northern Lights

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The Players: Per-Arne Tuftin, a tourist official from Norway who isn't sold on the Finnish Northern Lights;  Mervi Holmén, who works for the Finnish Tourism Board and hopes to bank off of their Northern Lights-gone-viral marketing success

The Opening Serve: It all started with this video.

In September, Visit Finland posted a clip on YouTube touting their view of the Northern Lights. Around 400,000 people have noticed. One of those was Per-Arne Tuftin, who works for Innovation Norway, a state-owned tourism company.  "We can not stand by and watch the Finns try to grab a bigger share [of the Northern Lights]" said Per-Arne Tuftin to the local paper Nordllys. "We will not give up -- the northern lights will be ours. Through the northern campaigns such as this continues we will work to establish Norway as the best country in the world to experience this amazing natural phenomenon." Der Spiegel notes that in 2009, Tuftin's company tried to brand the Northern Lights as a Norwegian phenomenon. 

The Return Volley:  The Finnish Tourism Board is unimpressed. "The reaction suggests alarm and emotion," said Mervi Holmén. Holmén told the Finnish paper Helsingin Sanomat that there will be more Finnish marketing of the Northern Lights in the near future. Der Spiegel adds, "The Finns readily admit that the aurora is often more easily seen in Norway" and that the "resentment on the Norwegian side is also fueled by the fact that the Finns have already tried to claim Father Christmas for themselves, establishing a 'Santa Claus Village.'"  Helsingin Sanomat sarcastically quipped, "Perhaps the midnight sun could also be hijacked from the Norwegians ...  Then again, the Norwegians could of course fight back with the ultimate weapon of mass distraction - taking Santa Claus hostage."

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What They Say They're Fighting About: The Northern Lights. Are they Norwegian? Or are they Finnish?  A Scandinavian split? But Norway does have an advantage that the lights are more easily seen from their end, but even then the margin is slim--90 percent compared to the Fins' 75 percent rate, according to Der Spiegel and Helsingin Sanomat. And that small of a margin, or that Tuftin's company claimed the lights first, won't stop the Fins from including the lights in their marketing strategy. 

What They're Really Fighting About: Money. Well, it's specifically about the tourism driven by the lights. It's why Tuftin's company sought to brand the lights as Norwegian in 2009. It's why Tuftin is vocally complaining to papers about the Finnish marketing strategy (and adding in his own two cents about the Norwegian view).  And it's also why the Finns won't stop marketing the lights despite Tuftin's complaints. 

Who's Winning Now: Finland. They have the savvier marketing scheme (Santa Claus and the Northern Lights) along with the viral support. Tuftin would be better served figuring out a better marketing scheme in the time he spent complaining (though getting Norway publicity is a good first step). But the trouble is, you can't own the Lights like you would Old Faithful or Mount Rushmore or a Kardashian estate. If the views from Norway and Finland really are indistinguishable and Tuftin is only getting upset now, it's because he's seeing a successful marketing scheme unfold and that his company sat on their Northern Laurels Lights for a little too long. If Santa does indeed go missing from his Finnish village, we know where to look. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.