Björn Borg was the Lionel Messi of tennis in the early 1980s.

He won 40% of the Grand Slams he entered and 90% of the matches in the big four tournaments overall. His flowing blonde locks were the pro sports’ parallel to Abba’s Swedish invasion of the Western world.

Björn rewrote the rulebook on excellence in his field.

Björn put down his racket when he was 26 and turned his attention to business. His first couple of ventures failed, and he flirted with bankruptcy.

Then Björn hit gold dust. And I wear that gold dust around my backside every day.

Does your mother know…

My first Björn experience came when I was living in Amsterdam in about 2008. My mom came to visit me from Canada and, as mom’s do, bought me some underwear. I had no idea at that time how life-changing that moment would be.

See, previous to that time, I had no underwear worth speaking of. I had long graduated from the tighty-whiteys of my childhood, but my selection remained… well… boring.

A few white, a few black and a few blue ones for days when I just felt crazy. But overall I was living a listless, colourless life.

I opened the packaging of this new Björn underwear… and my first impression? “Huh, these look sweet.”

Oh, but I still had no idea.

I put them on and I found… utopia. Forget bacon. Forget whiskey. Forget illegal street drugs. I found utopia.

Were I a true wordsmith, I’d have the words to describe the intensity of the comfort I felt on that glorious day. But I am a mere digital marketer, so let’s just put it this way: me, and by me I mean my hinterlands, were reborn that day.

Björn’s underwear was the most comfortable underwear I had ever worn. And stylish! The designs were not just ahead of their time, Björn was creating a new category for fashionable ‘package’ coverings.

Remember, in 2008, hipsters were but a gleam in the eye of moustache wax ad-men. Beards were for hobos. ‘Pop-ups’ referred to children’s books and man buns referred to what Björn’s were to soon cover.

Underwear, up until this point, was either boring, or gimmicky (think: Space Jam boxers. Yeah.)

Björn’s introduced me to the wild world of colourful underwear, and my life hasn’t been the same since.

Gimme Gimme Gimme (some pants after midnight)

Fast forward to today: I own 18 pairs of Björn underwear… and a further 22 pairs of Björn socks, which are equally awesome.

And this for me is a feat. See, I’m not a brand-loyal person. I tend to live quite a utilitarian life. Having lived in three countries and who knows how many houses over the last 10 years, I’ve learned minimalism as both an art and a skill. I don’t like stuff.

In fact, I have very few prized possessions. Aside from a Luongo-signed hockey puck, a battery-powered A-Team van, and a flea-market-bought cowboy hat, I don’t care about many things.

Things are liabilities. Things get old. Things go away. But not my Björn’s!

And surprisingly, Björn’s are a premium brand.

I understand the allure of premium brands, but I don’t personally gain any enjoyment from having an expensive thing.

Maybe it’s my austere upbringing, or maybe it’s common sense. But I have been trained by Björn, to spend more on my underwear and socks than I ever imagined I would. And I don’t regret spending a single penny.

The Winner Takes It All

Growing up, I, of course, knew who Björn Borg was, so the brand had instant recognition with me. But, I’m not a tennis guy. Unless you lace up ice skates and punch people, your sport doesn’t really interest me. Still, the recognition was there.

But since I’ve become a fan of their brand, I’ve watched out for their marketing campaigns and they don’t disappoint. And I learn from them…

Case 1: The Drop – Björn’s in North Korea

Colourful underwear and the world’s last closed communist dictatorship are strange bedfellows. And herein lies the opportunity.

See, one thing that bugs me about marketing these days is it’s boring.

For example:

Social Media Manager at Brand A sends out a marginally funny tweet about Brand B.

Social Media Manager at Brand B hits back with another marginally funny tweet about Brand A.

And hilarity ensues.

Or actually, what ensues is a pointless interaction attempting to humanise huge brands that ceased to be animated long ago.

It’s a self-gratifying combination of boring, silly, pointless, non-revenue-generating tosh. But I digress.

Björn, if nothing else, is creative and courageous.

In 2013, Björn asked its customers to vote for, and I quote, “which place in the world needs some love and seduction?”

The runaway winner: North Korea!

So what did Björn do? It got one of its staff to smuggle dozens of pairs of Björn’s into the secret state of North Korea and surreptitiously distribute their colourful wares to people throughout the rogue nation.

Think about that for a sec.

Most brands have a failed stand-up comedian send out a few tweets, Björn Borg smuggled colourful underwear into the world’s most secretive state!

Marketing in 2015 and beyond needs to be courageous.

For example: my company is in the email marketing business. And, we know that the last thing anyone needs is another four-page whitepaper that’s a thinly veiled brochure for a commodified service not unlike 1,384 other whitepapers on the internet.

The first reason why I love Björn is it has taught me to be courageous, and I have taken its lesson and applied it to my own company.

You’ll either love it, or be deeply offended. And that’s the point. Like the time we made a joke about Arsenal losing to West Ham, and an email marketing person from Arsenal FC unsubscribed. Whoops.

Check out Björn’s venture The Drop on this link. Note that the site has been taken down now as it was a while ago, so this less-awesome version is hosted on the WayBack machine.

Case 2: Pun-tastic plays on words that define a campaign

Most copywriters will agree that puns are something to stay away from… unless they’re awesome. Björn has developed an entire marketing campaign around a pun. And not just any pun – one that is controversial, or at least edgy.

See, Björn position themselves as being underwear for sexy people. (Editor’s note: Parry is not the target audience.)

But how do you stand out from the crowd? Other brands spend billions of pounds branding themselves, with expensive celebrity endorsements and the like.

First: if a company has to resort to a celebrity endorsement, clearly the product isn’t very good. Just saying. Maybe I’m a cynic, but hey, it is what it is.

Second: this is often ‘easy’ marketing. Sometimes it’s done well, but often the celebrity is simply an unfranchised face, flogging a brand for a paycheque. Which to me, is disingenuous.

Björn eschews that. It is original. It is courageous. And Björn is awesome.

The following, most likely, is my favourite brand-led marketing pun-paign of all time.

Weapons of Mass Seduction

The imagery is sweet, and the message is clear. No longer is underwear a pawn, it is now the king.

Björn has, through the cunning use of language and positioning, moved its product from being basic loin-coverings… to a must-have fashion accessory.

Money, Money, Money

More marketing = more sales. This is a fact, and that’s why we do what we do.

But… Good marketing = more advocates.

Here are some facts:

  1. Björn Borg is the only brand that I follow on the four main online channels I use: Email, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
  2. The only underwear I’m willing to wear now are Björn’s. There are other brands out there like them, but they are the one for me.
  3. Ask anyone who knows me – if you want to get me excited about a topic, ask me about my Björns.

You can’t buy that level of advocacy.

That is money.

For Björn, it’s not just about making one more sale this month compared to last month. It’s about creating brand loyalty… and ultimately, creating brand advocates.

I’ve just spent the better part of an hour writing what is basically a love letter to the Björn Borg brand of underwear and socks. And I’ve never even met anyone from that company.

  • Björn’s marketing is courageous and creative.
  • Björn’s marketing inspires me to be better at my job.
  • Björn’s marketing disrupted my perception of what marketing is.

That’s why Björn Borg are the true Masters of Marketing.

PS: If you ever see me in a pub, ask me to see my pants. I guarantee that it will be 1) colourful, and 2) awkward… for you, not me, I’ll show them to anyone. I’m that brand loyal.

Vote for your own favourite Brand of the Year at The Masters of Marketing awards, brought to you by Econsultancy and Marketing Week. Please hurry, the deadline is 23 September 2015.