Sexism or savvy selling: Lithuania's bikini blitz

  • 2002-10-03
  • Tassos Coulaloglou
An American impresario is taking Lithuanian beauty and turning it into a marketing tool, as Tassos Coulaloglou reports.

For some entrepreneurs, it's the challenge of creating something new. For others, it's the pleasure found in being one's own boss. But for a slight few, its turning bikini clad-babes into a profitable venture.

Brian Rodgers along with his financial partner M. Carling have created the first and only European bikini team, and they've done it in Lithuania. The business model is nothing revolutionary in the advertising and marketing world. In fact, one look around Vilnius or any other city, and you know that sex sells. In this case, it's using beautiful women in bikinis to draw attention to anything that can sell or be marketed.

The idea was born out of the Swedish bikini team, a Hollywood invention. Rodgers, a native of California, thought he could bring that same sexy, playful image to Lithuania, which he has been visiting on and off for the past six years. He spent time in Berlin studying film but explains that most of his influences come from his days in California.

"After living in Los Angeles for many years, you can't help but be influenced by the entertainment industry. I also have friends in show business, so I think I have an insight on how to succeed in entertainment," says Rodgers.

Brains and beauty

The bikini team was started in Vilnius, in late 2001 as a way to "bring the idea and fun of Californian beach culture to Lithuania," said Rodgers, adding that, "it started out of fun but while discussing it, it turned into a viable business plan."

The selection process took over two months to get the required number of girls and the criterion wasn't just looking good in a bikini. Dancing ability was also an important factor, as well as a "good attitude, personality, and a sense of public relations," according to Rodgers.

The girls must also sign contracts that bar them from participating in the adult industries, such as pornography and striptease, as well as being drug free. They are also being given extensive dancing lessons by a team of choreographers.

However, not everybody is impressed. Marija Ausrine Povilioniene, the former head of the women's studies department at Vilnius University and currently a humanities professor, thinks the concept of the bikini team exploits women.

"Women are only estimated by their bodies - I like it when men admire a woman's mind," she said. "In the age of electronics you would think there would be more inventive ways to market."

While most of the girls are university students, Povilioniene believes that they are probably doing it out of economic necessity, since meager university stipends are not enough to live on.

"Someone gets a profit out of selling women's bodies," she said. "But its understandable sometimes (for the girls) when you understand that the economy in Lithuania is not so good. It's obviously better than prostitution."

Some in the advertising business are also underwhelmed by the idea. There are already agencies supplying models for promotions in shops and similar functions, said Linas Petrukaitis, account director for the advertising firm Leo Burnett in Vilnius. He stated that the high profile of the bikini team might even be counterproductive to selling a product.

"From a marketing point of view its always good to have direct marketing right to the customer but at the same time you really don't care who the girls are, they are just a medium to sell the product. You don't want another corporate name associated with the product you are selling," said Petrukaitis.

He was also skeptical about the claims that the girls dancing skills are a great asset.

"If I'm opening my club all I care about is that people know about my club, and they don't care about the bikini girls or what they are doing. Its not like the Spice Girls, I don't think they can become that popular," he said. "All I care about is having people care about my product or about the event. If it's a dance club then it's good that they are dancers and I might hire them because that would be a perfect placement of them but if its something else then why do I care that they are dancers."

Career moves

Nevertheless, Rodgers is pressing ahead, getting the team ready and developing contacts in the advertising world. So far, the bikini team of Vilnius has promoted products at the Litexpo trade fair, as well as performing at the 10th anniversary of VRS, an advertising agency in Lithuania.

And the girls themselves seem to think it is a great idea. Aurelija Damasiute, a third year English major at Vilnius University, was told by her dancing instructor about the formation of the bikini team. Out of curiosity she decided to find out what it was all about.

"My first impression was that it was a friendly group of people and a great atmosphere. As I became more involved I realized it would be a great opportunity to have some fun with a great group of girls. I was already dancing so I thought that it would be a good opportunity to broaden my horizons," she said.

Damasiute is also an assistant to Rodgers, helping with translation and doing some of the groundwork in public relations. She is proficient in six languages and thinks that the bikini team may help her in a future career in management. She resents the accusation that it somehow makes her dumb.

"I'm a student and studying is my first priority. The people that know me, know that I'm clever and the fact that I'm in school shows that I'm not just some stupid blonde," said Damasiute.

Another member, Ilona Budrevic, is a three-time Miss Lithuania competitor and a photo model since the age of 16. She is in her second year as an accounting major at Vilnius College.

"I see this as a way to further my career in the entertainment industry and to take advantage of the opportunity while I'm young," she said.