Ikea courts buyers with offbeat ideas

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ikea's quirky, irreverent approach to marketing and strong emphasis on the nontraditional is inspiring unusual local creative efforts around the world with a little low-key guidance from the company's Swedish headquarters.

Ikea China, for instance, just transformed the interior of elevators in 20 lower-income apartment buildings in Beijing to show residents how Ikea can revamp their small apartments into modern, pleasant places without spending too much money.

Inside the lifts, Ikea provided small cabinets, teapots, coffee cups and stools for the elevator operators, who also distributed catalogs. The elevator walls are adorned with floor-to-ceiling posters showing Ikea-decorated flats for the initiative, created by WPP Group's Mediaedge:cia, Beijing, working with Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, Beijing.

`strategic decision'

"We use nontraditional media so that we can be a big presence," said Bill Agee, Ikea's worldwide external marketing communications manager. "It's a strategic decision to go where the competition isn't."

In another Asian initiative, Ikea partnered with Viacom's Nickelodeon last year for "Nick Takes Over Your Room." For the promotion, Ikea redecorated the bedrooms of four kids in Singapore to look like TV studios, from which they hosted their own TV specials on the cable channel.

Ikea's growing creative fame has earned Nils Larsson, Ikea's external communications manager for Sweden, a judge's slot on the media jury at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival in June, the first time marketers will be judges at Cannes. Despite wildly different local executions, Ikea's product-driven work has a consistent tone in 34 countries in Europe, North America, the Middle East and Asia.

"Our vision is to create a better everyday vision for the many, but to try not to be like the many," Mr. Larsson said. "We try to be different. We have formulated this way of thinking in our internal manuals. It is a way of making an umbrella that secures a similar way of thinking globally."

Take Europe. In the Netherlands, where Wednesday is Ikea's slowest day, Amsterdam-based StrawberryFrog realized that the Dutch word for Wednesday, Woonsdag, also means "living day" and invented an entire Ikea festival around it. Ikea buys a fake cover on daily newspaper Metro on Wednesdays with news about Woonsdag. Throughout 2004, print, radio, viral campaigns and a Web site (woonsdag.nl) extol the new national day, celebrated at Ikea on Wednesdays with discount vouchers, point-of-sale materials, Woonsdag bags and T-shirts, and a Woonsdag song. On the first Woonsdag, traffic jammed the roads around Ikea and discounted items sold out in an hour.

all about lighting

In one of Ikea's recent guerrilla campaigns, Ikea Germany took over Berlin's train station, disguising the walls with brightly-colored fabrics and hanging lampshades from the ceiling to prove that new lighting and colors improve the environment. In Germany, Ikea works with local shop Weigert Pirouz Wolf, Hamburg.

Ikea's TV and print ads are in the same spirit. In its home country, an 11-year-old Iranian immigrant called Nick is the unlikely frontman of Ikea's marketing campaign. For two years, the chubby little guy with charm and attitude has built a solid brand message while effectively promoting special offers. A spot for its kitchen furnishings that aired in January and February increased sales 24%.

In the latest spot, local shop Forsman & Bodenfors, Gothenberg, Sweden, promotes textiles as Nick prowls around town, furtively covering urban eyesores such as a bus seat, a trash can and a pedestrian underpass with fabrics. As well as pushing up sales, Nick has become a celebrity, appearing on talk shows and even releasing his own CD.

In the U.K., Ikea's work is becoming more stylish and aspirational with the theme "Live Unlimited." In the latest TV and cinema spot by Karmarama, London, a couple is unaware that their living room and furniture are speedily morphing around them. The furniture changes and walls slide in and out, showcasing 3,000 separate products in 30 seconds.

Another Ikea tagline, "Redecorate your life" has become a popular phrase in Spain over the last five years, symbolizing that Ikea can help as people make profound changes in their lives. In one campaign, real people made life-changing announcements on TV; a secretary told her boss she quit, a young man told his parents he was gay. This year's campaign runs backward. The spot starts with an apartment redecorated to perfection, then runs backward until the home is in its original disgusting condition, when viewers see how the transformation began, with the gift of a single Ikea pitcher.

Despite persistent rumors, denied by Ikea, of a global media review, Mr. Larsson said that a more international approach to marketing is a long way off.

"If we could find one message on a global basis it could be effective, but so far there are different needs in different countries," he said. "We have been in Sweden for 60 years and China for only four or five, for example."

Mr. Agee agreed. "Our feeling is that retail is local. It is important to take advantage of local humor, and the things on people's minds."

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