McCann-Erickson Gives New Ikea Catalog a 'Vitamin Pill'

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Ikea catalog fans are a pretty finicky bunch. The last time the furniture retailer made what some might consider a slight "tweak" to the 61-year-old tome (in 2009, after 50 years of use it changed its iconic Futura typeface, to the more computer-friendly "Verdana) consumers went ballistic. Now it makes an even more ambitious leap with McCann-Erickson's makeover of the 211 million circulation pub. In August, the retailer tapped the agency to revamp the famous printed showroom and yesterday debuted a video introducing "A New Kind of Catalogue." It highlights an accompanying digital offering that promises to make its pages "come alive"--via an app introducing a variety of extended content.

The retailer presented McCann with a very basic brief asking the agency to breathe new life into the catalog, "basically one page talking about the fact that the catalog needs a vitamin pill," said Ikea Head of Global Communications Lena Simonsson Berge. "It was quite open, but one prerequisite was that we wanted to keep the printed catalog as a base. Many other companies would have started this exercise by doing a deep study on how much more efficient this could be totally online, versus paper, but, typical Ikea, we like to do things a bit backwards. We believe in something, and we go from there and see what we could do about it."

Not that the catalog itself had huge problems. According to Ms. Berge, Ikea had conducted focus groups and over the last two years saw just a slight decrease in consumer interest for the catalog. "Of course, what has happened throughout these years is the media landscape has changed, people's media consumption behavior has changed," she said. "It takes so much more than it did in the 1950s and even ten years ago, when it was still quite easy to stand out from the junk mail and other advertising in your mailbox. But we don't want to wait until things go bad, so we wanted to give it an injection, enliven it. It's still a very powerful marketing tool, but we don't want to be just one of the others. We want to stand out."

Life Extension
According to McCann Vice Chairman/Global Deputy Chief Creative Officer Andreas Dahlqvist, a key goal was to extend the life of the catalog in consumers' homes. Its average lifespan is about two weeks, but with the digital offerings, content can be added and updated on a regular basis, making the catalog relevant year-round.

The print pages tease the additional materials with a smartphone icon that encourages shoppers to scan to see more. The app uses image recognition software from Metaio, and not QR codes, which makes it convenient to add further content to other pages in the future. With those, viewers may be alerted to new content via billboard callouts, for example, said McCann Associate Creative Director Koen Malfait.

The agency had originally conceived more than 100 extended content ideas, but the inaugural revamped catalog features about 43, produced in collaboration with Ikea in-house agency Icom, with backend provided by EC Software. The digital extensions are diverse, ranging from inspirational films like "I Love You, But" which shows how couples with divergent home styling tastes can compromise, via Ikea. There's also a feature that allows viewers to see the organizational solutions inside a cabinet--which, in the catalog, features closed doors. Other ideas, not yet realized, included staging live events like concerts or cooking shows within the catalog's various rooms--which customers could enjoy via the app.

In a way, some might say that this new setup turns the Ikea catalog into a potential media channel for the brand, but "it might be a little too much to say it will become a media channel," said Ms. Berge. "We do have our website, which is extremely important, but as far as I can see, the store itself will remain the most important channel for Ikea. But when it comes to marketing communication we want the catalog to be the spearhead for communication, and now because of the idea McCann came up with to bring digital tools to the catalog, that was a way to connect the catalog to the media ecosystem."

Three Pillar Makeover
The digital component is just one aspect of what is actually a three-pronged catalog overhaul, which focused on innovation (the app), storytelling and structure, said Mr. Dahlqvist.

To a casual browser, it might not seem as if much has changed about the catalog's printed version--in fact, the 2013 edition features the very chair that appeared on the first Ikea catalog that debuted in 1951--the "MK," now being brought back as "Strandmom." But it too, got a significant overhaul. Whereas previous versions were full of pages of Ikea rooms and products that may have made it hard for customers to locate specific things, now, it's divvied up to address a variety of browsing patterns.

The first section of the book "Life at Home" begins with the more familiar "inspiration spreads" you'd find in previous versions. The agency noticed that over the years, storytelling about the Ikea brand values--smart, simple solutions to help improve people's lives--had lost its way, and it was important to continue to communicate that with current and future customers. So within this section is more content that plays out editorially, some, with an emotional bent based on human insight, to others featuring concrete homemaking tips --like covering a tired old dresser with new fabric, to give it a second life. "It's coming back to, what do we know about people's lives at home that we can tell stories about," said Mr. Malfait, who, along with fellow ACD Zack McDonald spent half a year "living in the woods" at Ikea's hometown of Elmhult producing the catalog at Icom. A second, more straightforward section "Furniture and Home Furnishings" gives a structured way to view products in specific categories, for those shoppers "with a mission," said Mr. Dahlqvist.

Coming Up
Outside of the catalog, McCann is also working on an overhaul of the retailer's website, a second global assignment announced in November. "It's been more difficult to stand out when it comes to digital media, so part of the brief was a wish to become more 'Ikea' on the web," said Ms. Berke. "We started our website in kind of patchwork way in the '90s. We were lacking a high level of creative execution and continuity so that's very much what we want. When people talk about Ikea, they connect back to the store--this big blue box with yellow Ikea letters. I think the stores are more unique than the website; the store is the benchmark." Also, Ms. Berge says the site's user experience has to parallel brand values as well. "We want it to be more user friendly, smarter, and connect to the Ikea identity of being clear and simple, functional," she said.

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