Sweden debuts 1-800-CALL-A-SWEDE

The Swedish Tourism Association has launched a number that will allow people worldwide to speak with random volunteers in Sweden about any topic, (almost) any time. 

In honor of the 250th anniversary of Sweden’s abolishment of censorship, the country’s Swedish Tourist Association debuted its newest marketing strategy: 1-800-CALL-A-SWEDE

That isn’t the real number, of course. Interested people worldwide can, however, call 46-771-793-336 to speak to a random Swedish volunteer about anything and everything.

The “Swedish number” debuted on April 6, exactly 250 years after Sweden became the first country in the world to abolish censorship permanently.

Since the phone number was unveiled last week, the Swedish Tourist Association says it has received 36,200 incoming calls. People from around the world have spent approximately 78 days and 11 hours of time on the phone with Swedish volunteers from all walks of life.

A video on the Swedish Tourist Association’s website features a truck driver, a pharmacist, and a waiter, all ready to talk to international callers about any subject under the sun. By Thursday, about three thousand people living in Sweden had downloaded an app that would allow them to volunteer for the calling program.

The latest numbers posted by the official website indicate that most of the calls, about 26 percent, originate in the United States. Nine percent originate in both Turkey and the United Kingdom, while the next highest volume of callers are from the Netherlands and Australia respectively.

Although the Swedish Tourist Association says that individuals are welcome to call at any time, it notes that Sweden is at +2 GMT, and volunteers might be asleep when individuals attempt to call.

Other connectivity problems could be caused by a high volume of callers attempting to talk to Sweden, or, if it is the last day of April, Swedes out celebrating Walpurgis Night, a national holiday.

When The Christian Science Monitor attempted to call Sweden, our reporter was told that the country was likely asleep, and sent to a Swedish person’s voice mail.

The New York Times and NPR had more luck.

New York Times writer Daniel Victor talked to a marketer from Stockholm, Margareta Marza.

“It’s amazing how you are in New York and I am here,” Ms. Marza told Mr. Victor. “It makes the world seem smaller.”

Sweden also has a Twitter account, which is run by different Swedes every week.

Other countries have tried other creative strategies to increase tourism.

In 2009, Denmark’s national tourism association, VisitDenmark, created a video that quickly went viral. It depicted a young Danish woman named Karen and her infant son, who Karen told viewers was conceived during a one-off encounter with a stranger.

Karen supposedly created the video in order to locate her son’s father, who she claimed she barely remembered.

Although the video was a marketing strategy by VisitDenmark, viewers initially thought it was real, and were compelled by “Karen’s” story. When it was revealed that “Karen” was a Danish actress, viewers felt betrayed.

Despite the outcry, Dorte Kiilerich of Visit Denmark said that the video was the "most effective thing we have ever done to market Denmark.” Killerich said that the video's portrayal of Denmark as a liberated place that was friendly towards women made for a great marketing story. 

Sweden itself created a somewhat off color marketing video in 2013 for Eurovision, though it was banned by the BBC.

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