Ikea taps agency vet Linus Karlsson as chief creative officer
Ikea has built its brand on innovation, whether it comes to products or marketing. But now, the company is boosting its creative firepower even more with the appointment of agency veteran Linus Karlsson as chief creative officer, Ikea of Sweden AB, a newly created role.
In the new post, which he begins on April 1, Karlsson’s remit will span across Ikea’s product development (which the company refers to as “Range”) as well as its global marketing and communications around that. He’s also charged with leading and inspiring the various collaboration partners in Ikea’s network. Marketing and advertising responsibilities for Ikea retail, which operates as a franchise system, will continue with each market’s respective agencies.
In recent years, we’ve seen agency creative leaders go client-side to open or invigorate their in-house agencies. That’s not the case with Karlsson. Creativity, he says, is already baked into every aspect of Ikea, and “my job is to be an accelerator, an enabler who makes sure that all the ideas and knowledge of everyone working at the company are nurtured. There’s nothing worse to me than a missed or unshared idea, when someone isn’t given the opportunity to share a thought. That makes me sad. But also, spending time and money on something without an idea is very upsetting to me.”
“Creativity sits in the DNA of IKEA, but we constantly need to boost it and feed our imagination to assure that we capture people ́s needs and dreams in our future range, in new and diverse ways of communicating and in how we share our offer with the many people,” said Erika Intiso, marketing and communication manager at Ikea of Sweden AB, in a statement. “The chief creative officer will play a key role in this.”
“We want to strengthen how we cater for creativity in our daily work with design, product development, marketing and communication— how we take care of creative ideas and turn them into a reality of Ikea products and solutions that can meet the needs of many people,” added Fredrika Inger, Ikea AB range and product development manager.
Karlsson sees an opportunity in mining that space between product development and messaging. “I do understand product design and marketing are two different processes, but when you break it down, they’re different aspects of the same thing and I think there’s lots of interesting territory to explore in that,” he says.
Karlsson says his first encounter with Ikea, as with many Swedes, was when he was just a kid. He was born just half a mile from the brand’s first flagship store in Sweden in Kungens Kurva. Back then, he was fascinated by the building and its unusual architecture. It was circular, and running down the center was a slide on which furniture boxes would make their way to customers for pick-up. “I always dreamed of riding that slide but it was off-limits,” he says. “As a child, it was an adventure. It was so fun and I loved it.”
Professionally, Karlsson's relationship with the brand began in 2012 at McCann, where he led a digital rethink of the Ikea catalog. He went on to work with the brand while at Ming and, more recently, as a consultant on various projects.
Now, as an official member of team Ikea, he says, “It feels like I’m coming home, creatively. Even at an early age, I realized it was a company that did something different. They always went their own way and did it very positively—and for people with not so much money. I realize now how much Ikea’s influenced my own career and how I’ve always tried to do things differently.”
Karlsson built his career on thinking differently. He first broke out on the creative scene in his native Sweden at startup hotshop Paradiset, where he and partner Paul Malmstrom conceived work for Diesel Jeans. The duo then continued to make waves in the U.S. at Fallon, Minneapolis, creating landmark campaigns for MTV and Miller Lite, before setting off to New York to open Mother’s first U.S, office, which went on to create out-of-the-box work for Target (like a fashion “spectacular” that took over an entire hotel, and billboards that were later upcycled into bags) and even opened its own hot dog stand. Karlsson moved on to various top creative posts at McCann, and open yet another creative company, MING Utility and Entertainment. He was then drawn back into big agency life in 2017, when CPB tapped him as global CCO, only to leave the agency less than a year later, after co-founder Alex Bogusky returned in the post of chief creative engineer.
Karlsson will be based out of his home in Tarrytown, New York. Once the world goes back to normal, post-pandemic, he expects to spend a significant time in Sweden, though he intends to travel less than was required of prior gigs. “I used to be on an airplane every three days,” he says. “It will be very different moving forward, where life at home will play an even more important role.”