IKEA’s Success as a Quirky, Fun Brand
Written by Matt Clement
We all have that fun and quirky friend. You know, the friend who’s just the right amount of silly and caring and who always knows how to cheer you up. At least most of us would like to have that type of friend. If you don’t, no need to worry, because IKEA is a fun and quirky friend for everyone.
“Fun and quirky” probably isn’t the personality that comes to mind when you think of a brand specializing in affordably priced flat-pack furniture, is it? Yet, that’s undoubtedly the brand story IKEA built through years of smart branding – lighthearted, quirky, and surprisingly caring.
So, how does a Swedish furniture company founded in the 1940s not only remain relevant as a global brand but continually build a reputation as a fun brand? IKEA has had plenty of success with their brand storytelling, but their breakthrough moment began with their acclaimed ad Lamp.
The early 2000s – what a time. Still running off the fumes of the ’90s, brands were willing to be different, if not outright irreverent. This was the approach IKEA and agency Crispin Porter + Bogusky took in 2002 with Lamp.
The commercial, which was directed by Spike Jonze, won multiple industry awards, including the Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival (albeit, controversially). While subversive, funny, and with a touch of IKEA’s signature off-beat personality, the ad doesn’t quite feel like it has aged well. It was a much different time in 2002. Today, sustainability is a common value. IKEA, in keeping with the times, debuted a sequel, Lamp 2 in 2018.
What do these ads have in common? IKEA clearly isn’t afraid to make a statement or tread a different path. Of course, IKEA regularly steps outside of traditional advertising to share their brand story. IKEA utilizes every possible channel – social media, YouTube, art installations – you name it. We’ll look at a few of their most memorable and offbeat brand story efforts next.
It’s fair to say IKEA marches to the beat of their own drum. Sometimes, they even tiptoe to a softer tune. Such was the case when, working with Ogilvy New York, they produced a 25-minute ASMR video appropriately titled “Oddly IKEA.”
The video features soft and soothing sounds of IKEA sheets, comforters, and pillows among other common household items.
“We knew ASMR videos are very popular, especially with young people, college students, and Ikea co-workers,” IKEA told Adweek. “So we put two and two together. Our products are designed to help people every day. Our dorm room solutions help students relax after a long day. So we thought of content that does the same.”
If you’re unsure what ASMR is and are curious, you can watch a short one minute clip from “Oddly IKEA” below.
If relaxing to the sound of someone scratching duvet covers and pillows is a little too odd, that’s okay; IKEA has enough quirky for everyone. For example, the unique way they promoted their 2017 catalogue.
The Human Catalogue
In 2017, IKEA launched their “IKEA Human Catalogue” campaign featuring memory athlete Yanjaa Wintersoul. For the campaign, Yanjaa acted as a literal human IKEA catalogue, having memorized all 328 pages of the 2017 catalogue in a single week before its release.
The campaign featured Yanjaa embarking on a world tour, holding events at several of IKEA’s largest stores, making an appearance on the Steve Harvey Show, and hosting a Facebook Livestream. Participants of all these events were encouraged to test Yanjaa and her ability to recall specific images, items, and even entire pages from the catalogue. Remarkably, her memory was flawless. Watch the short clip below – you’re guaranteed to be impressed.
The campaign, again, won numerous industry awards, including the 2018 Webby Award for Best Social Media Campaign. But marketing and advertising accolades aside, how does this digital content inform IKEA’s brand story?
Unlike Lamp and its sequel, examples like Oddly IKEA and The Human Catalogue stand-out as simply good fun. IKEA invites a variety of communities into their brand, building an overarching story of a friendly brand that isn’t afraid to be a little different and, of course, odd.
Of course, IKEA is known for more than TV spots and online videos. They’re a brand that isn’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and offer fun one-off products or work to make a positive impact in their communities.
DIY Chocolate Bunnies
Chocolate bunnies are an Easter staple. Many a child wakes up Easter morning and hunts down carefully hidden Easter baskets or eggs and delightfully unwraps some variety of chocolate-molded rabbit before immediately chomping off its ears. Rarely, though, must these bunnies be assembled first. However, in the world of IKEA even Easter treats come flat packed with some assembly required (not tools, though, fortunately).
This incredibly on-brand offering was unveiled by IKEA for Easter 2019 and clearly highlights IKEA’s lighthearted side. The chocolate bunnies will be on sale, in-store only, until June.
Luckily for actual wildlife critters, IKEA does more for than create flat-packed chocolate versions of them. In London, they help build houses for them, too.
Upcycled Animal Apartments
To support the opening of their sustainability-focused Greenwich, London store, which opened in early 2019, IKEA worked with local artists to upcycle old furniture to create beautiful, often colorful, “apartments” for wild animals.
Aside from colorful birdhouses, which were created by Beep Studio from old Strala lamp stands, other artists include Je Ahn who created bat houses from Kvistbro metal tables and Hattie Newman who made a Brazilian-style bat village out of a Burvik side table.
Upcycling, a sustainable practice IKEA encourages (even in their earlier mentioned Lamp 2 ad), is an integral part of their Greenwich store, which hosts lessons on how to increase the longevity of furniture and offers emissions-free delivery to Londoners.
If you think upcycled animal houses are impressive, wait until you see what IKEA sent out onto the Thames River.
Bath Toys on The Thames
To, again, mark the opening of their Greenwich store, IKEA launched two 150lb, remote-controlled robotic boats capable of cleaning trash from the river; but, these aren’t normal remote-controlled robotic boats. No, these are giant Smakryp tub toys.
In a truly IKEA move, the company designed and built the two boats, each capable of hauling up to 44lbs of trash at a time, and encouraged Londoners, particularly children, to take the reins (or, actually, the wheel of the ship) and do their part cleaning up the river.
IKEA partnered with the local Creekside Education Trust to turn the event into a fun and educational opportunity for both children and their families. After the week-long event ends, IKEA intends to donate both oversized bath toys to Hubbub, a sustainability charity, and transform all of the collected trash into a sculpture display for their Greenwich store.
Jumbo bath toys are yet another – but far from the only – example of IKEA’s socially responsible values and quirky brand personality merging to create a unique, fun opportunity for the local communities they are part of.
A Fun and Quirky Friend
Fun, different, off-beat, friendly, odd, caring, quirky – all adjectives which can be used to describe IKEA. Few, if any, other major brands can claim to share a similar personality or story. While their brand storytelling endeavors have paid off in numerous ways, including plenty of industry awards and recognition, their storytelling has helped build a unique perception of a flat-pack furniture company.
Skillful storytelling has differentiated a brand that could otherwise have been lost among its competitors. Instead, IKEA stands out as an industry leader in large part for their sense of fun and quirky sense of humor – with just the right dash of emotion.
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