Ikea Strategy Ditches the Dream Home for the Daily Grind


Ikea’s new campaign is intended to show “real people in real living situations that anyone could relate to,” says Leslie Stone, director of strategic services at Ogilvy & Mather, Ikea’s agency partner.

THE settings for the vignettes are workaday and unassuming: a living room where a man surrounded by file boxes and paperwork nods off on the sofa, a compact bedroom where two brothers’ very different personalities are on display, an apartment where a father tiptoes from a crib in the single bedroom to a loft bed in the living room.

For furniture ads, Ikea’s new offerings say remarkably little about furniture. Instead, they say much more about the way the American dream has evolved to fit a postrecession economic reality.

The company’s new “We Help You Make It” campaign eschews the aspirational gloss of master suites and two-story foyers in favor of embracing Americans — and their furniture needs — where they are today.

Ikea’s website promises, “No matter who you are, what you do, or how much you make, you can still make the dream yours.” It’s an inclusive message that, in this fraught political climate, could be a campaign slogan just as easily as a pitch for floor lamps and futons.

“Society itself is quite ripe for this message because it is something people are thinking about,” said Christine Whitehawk, Ikea’s external communications manager for the United States, adding that the examples shown in the ads reflect the way many Americans live today.

“That’s the reality for many people,” she said. “It resonates with people when you do speak to their life situation.”

Leslie Stone, director of strategic services at Ogilvy & Mather, Ikea’s agency partner, said the goal was to show “real people in real living situations that anyone could relate to.”

“The scene with the family who have given the bedroom over to the baby and the mom and dad are sleeping in the living room — people loved that we were being so empathetic,” she said.

Aside from the TV ads, which will be broadcast on local channels and cable outlets like HGTV and the Food Network, the “We Help You Make It” campaign includes print ads in magazines like Architectural Digest, People en Español and Real Simple. Ikea is also sponsoring the first Home & Design special issue of InStyle magazine.

Ikea, which is based in Sweden, is using its website, online ads and social media channels to promote the campaign as well. “Facebook and Instagram are two of the platforms that work really well for us,” Ms. Whitehawk said.

Ikea plans to use Twitter to share data from research it commissioned from the Economist Intelligence Unit to find out about Americans’ aspirations and concerns in terms of the economy, education and financial benchmarks like homeownership.

In the study, “Discovering the New American Dream,” researchers found bright spots as well as concerns. Most of the respondents agreed with the statement “People can come from any walk of life and make it in America,” but even more of the 2,050 Americans questioned said money was a barrier to achieving what they considered to be the American dream, and about half said it would be harder for future generations to become homeowners and earn a good living.

“We started finding information that was suggesting to us that, postrecession, people’s opinions on what it means to make it had changed,” Ms. Whitehawk said, referring to a “new normal” in which possessions take a back seat to experiences.

The ads reflect this, said Kevin Lane Keller, a professor of marketing at the Dartmouth College Tuck School of Business.

“This is the reality. They’re not trying to romanticize any of this stuff,” he said. “They’re sort of taking this more democratic view, this more down-to-earth view, talking about where people are,” rather than possibly alienating potential customers by depicting an affluent lifestyle that many people feel is unattainable.

“The idea really isn’t selling you a dream of what your life should look like, but the dream you’re living,” Ms. Stone of Ogilvy & Mather said. “Price and accessibility kind of go hand in hand. We looked at this as a story of democratizing the American dream, and the fact that Ikea is so affordable was something we had never put into context.”

Part of that means emphasizing a panoply of ages, ethnicities and family living situations: A middle-aged woman makes a face when she opens up a compost bin in her kitchen; a bride flings herself onto a sectional sofa and digs into a carton of ice cream; a mixed-race same-sex couple cuddle up on the couch to watch TV.

“I think the diversity thing is clearly an angle they’re bringing out,” Mr. Keller said. “That’s modern life. People have lots of different things they care about, but basically everybody needs chairs and sofas.”

Miguel Sahagun, assistant professor of marketing at High Point University, said highlighting diversity and family bonding over consumerism was an especially smart way for Ikea to target younger people. “The messages they’re using, they perfectly align with the way millennials, and some Generation X people, think about furniture and goods,” he said. “It’s about the experience.”

Because of this, advertisements that play down the actual products can be surprisingly effective, he said.

“That’s the appropriate way to go if you’re targeting that generation,” he said. “Don’t focus on the technical aspects of the product.”

This article first appeared in www.nytimes.com

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