Behind the Work: IKEA Wants Happier Britons

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IKEA is trying to solve major British problems like the decreasing levels of happiness among Britons and small living spaces with-- of all things-- a YouTube page. Created by London agency Cake and developer Ralph and co., the furniture giant's new U.K. YouTube page integrates Facebook Connect to let users create their own personalized bedrooms, complete with pictures of friends on the walls and aligned with their personal styles.

The effort is part of IKEA's "Bedrooms" project, which plays on the theme of "going to bed happy" by redesigning in-store roomsets and catalog setup. The project, which is spearheaded by Mother London, is driven by research on 2 million Britons that IKEA commissioned. "They found that British living spaces are much smaller than elsewhere, and also that people [in England] have been getting unhappier of late," said Steve Cater, account manager at Cake.

The solution was to let Britons personalize their small spaces while they continue to go to bed "happy." The message was: Your bedroom may be part laundry hamper and part closet, but there's no reason you can't start over with IKEA. Cake's team was inspired by other great social media campaigns like Intel's "Museum of Me," an app that brought to life your Facebook existence through a virtual "museum."

"We know that personalization is really important, to users and to IKEA," said Cater. "And then we also knew that video is really key."


50 Videos
Cake came to creative production company Ralph and co. with a brief outline of the idea. "We knew they wanted to use personalization and Facebook to launch the YouTube page," said Chris Hassell, creative director. For a while, the developers played around with the idea of creating a 3D model where you could actually walk around the room. "But we realized that if we did that, current technological limitations would mean that it wouldn't look that great, it would look like PlayStation One graphics."

What made things easier, Hassell said, was that IKEA already has 3D mobile graphics of all its products. It so happens that most of IKEA's venerable catalog is now created using CG graphics, so the products they were working with were already rendered. But the biggest challenge was with the feature that allowed users to hover over certain items in their bedrooms and swap them for different colors and makes. What users don't know is that Ralph and co. created different iterations of the videos -- when you swap an item, a new video starts playing. But it's seamless, so the change is not discernible. All in all, the developer shot about 50 different videos to cover all possible combinations.

Tackling the IKEA Machine
The second biggest technical challenge was the scale of the rendering machine that IKEA uses for its products. It's so detailed that the smallest things, like the wooden screws used to assemble items, are shown, said Hassell. "Often, we would leave at night after starting the rendering process, come back, and realize that it hadn't finished." And the entire project was done in just over two months.

There were also some issues regarding user data. While the "bedroom" is being created, 3D "walls" of information on your profile appear. These walls are basically pulling words and posts off your profile. Then, the pictures that are hung on frames of the bedroom walls take shape -- and sometimes, they're of people you may not even really know that well. Hassell said that if the application wanted to actually have pictures of your significant other up there, it would have to pull information from other users' profiles. "That way, if you're married, we're going to take your spouse's pictures, which means they have to allow access to their profiles."

IKEA's presence on YouTube this far has been "sporadic," said Cater of Cake. Some pages, like IKEA's U.S. page, are simply a collection of television spots. "This is the first time something this interactive has happened."

Team YouTube
Cake also worked closely with Google's YouTube team. The biggest challenges were staying in-step with Google's various policies regarding YouTube content. "It couldn't be too sales-y, you can't capture data," said Cater. At the same time, they were also dealing with the two other behemoths in the boardroom: Facebook and IKEA itself. "It could get quite emotional at times."

"We always strive to make life happier and it's important that we understand how customers are using new and existing technologies," said Carole Reddish, deputy U.K. and Ireland country manager for IKEA.

Social media is not uncharted territory for the Swedish company. Perhaps best-known of all of its social media campaigns is 2009's IKEA Facebook Showroom, developed by Forsman and Bodenfors. In it, the storeowner of a new IKEA outpost in Malmo got his own Facebook profile and uploaded pictures of the showroom. People who "tagged" the products with their names won the product.

Such work inspired the student team of Jeena van der Heul and John Vonk, grads of the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam now operating as agency VanderVonk. The duo created "The World's Most Liked Showroom," where users "like" items, creating a list of the most-liked products at IKEA that will later be sold at a discount.

To Bedroom, and Beyond!
For both Hassell and Cater, the next step is growing the scale of the YouTube project. Cater wants to move forward and consider building more rooms: kitchens, living rooms, closets. Hassell wants to spend more development time and make every product in the room "live" so you can click on anything, from curtain rods to bedposts, and be able to swap it out for another product to make it even more personal. "The engine's in place to do that, it's just getting the rendering time in."

As for IKEA, its place in people's minds could also not be changed too drastically. "We had to make sure we weren't getting across the message that this was a new version of the catalog," said Cater. "Because to many people, the catalog is the holy grail of IKEA. We can't mess with it."

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