An employee of Swedish underwear company Björn Borg AB has just returned from Pyongyang – where he dropped off 450 pairs of “sexy” underpants.
Staying in North Korea’s capital for five days in the first week of November, an employee of the company left pairs of Björn Borg’s distinctive pink underpants outside the Yanggakdo International Hotel, dropped some out the window of his hotel, handed them out to his tour guides, and left some for hotel staff in his room.
But the decision by the company to drop off the underwear in Pyongyang was not pre-planned – it was part of a campaign called “The Drop”, where members of the public voted which place was most in need of “love and seduction”.
The company, named after the Swedish tennis star of the same name, gave a promise that whichever place was voted the “sexual cold spot of the world” would be “lovebombed by weapons of mass seduction”.
Speaking to NK News, Björn Borg AB’s Global Marketing Director Lina Söderqvist said that “since the world chose North Korea for us, we wanted to deliver. We think that the right to love and seduction is imperative, wherever you live”.
FLAWED FACTS & ETHICAL ISSUES
But some are not so sure that Björn Borg AB made the right decision to go ahead with the plan. Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, told NK News that the company’s facts about North Korea were flawed.
Given the country’s high rates of sex trafficking, he argued, “Bjorn Borg’s idea that North Korea’s problem is that it’s a ‘sexual cold spot’ in need of ‘weapons of mass seduction’ denotes poor judgment, to say the least”.
“North Korea continues to be a fairly conservative society when it comes to openly talking about love or sex,” he continued, “a foreigner handing out underwear was certainly a bizarre, if not embarrassing scene, especially if a man attempted to offer underwear to persons of the opposite gender”.
The campaign by the company, he argued, “is another endeavor that is out of sync with North Korea’s reality, that distracts attention away from North Korea’s real issues, and provides more material to those keen on a superficial tabloid-style approach to that country”.
Asked about the ethics of the use of North Korea in a marketing campaign to promote underwear, Söderqvist insisted that “we chose to run a campaign focusing around love and seduction where the whole world got to nominate – and vote for – a place in the world in need of love and seduction: The world chose Pyongyang in North Korea, and we find that everybody should have the right to some love and seduction, no matter where you live”.
“What we have done is delivered what we call our ‘weapons of mass seduction’ – our underwear – to a spot that the world considered as being the sexual cold spot of the world,” she said, adding it is “the place most in need of love and seduction”.
Söderqvist said that the company was surprised that North Korea was voted. “We certainly couldn’t predict this, it was completely out of our hands. It has been very interesting, thrilling even, to follow the progress on our site”.
“The initial plan was to airdrop our underwear over the winning spot, but it being North Korea, that was not a possibility. It is one of the most closed dictatorships in the world and despite that, we were able to deliver some underwear love to the North Koreans. We are very proud of that”.
At first the leading contenders were based in Sweden – the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg and the headquarters of the Swedish Left Party.
But a week after the month-long campaign was launched, there was a sudden rise in traffic on the campaign site. Around 100,000 South Koreans visited the site over a night to vote for Pyongyang.
“That was the most interesting part in the whole thing,” Mrs. Söderqvist said, “that their neighbors wanted to love bomb them. In our eyes, it looks like an act of peace.”
The Björn Borg volunteer’s full account of his trip to Pyongyang can be found on a blog here.
Main picture: Bjorn Borg AB