100 Days of Pop: Episode 25 Ikea

Last week, Our favorite Swedish home goods store debuted one of my favorite pieces of pop-marketing of the year with the “Ikea Real Life” campaign.  

On today’s Pop100, I talk with Ikea about their latest pop culture campaign and how it so quickly became the retailer's most shared campaign ever, resulting in 50% increases of online shopper traffic within the first week of its launch.

Last week, Ikea released these 3 ads that paid homage to these iconic living rooms in popular culture.

First- You have the very un-mistakingly colorful cartoon living room from the Simpsons.

Next- The always iconic  “How did a bunch of 20 somethings afford this size place in New York” apartment from 90s sitcom Friends

And lastly the creepy, I speak to dead people w/ Christmas tree lights from the Upside Down living room in Stranger Things Season one.

These painstakingly accurate pop culture living rooms were all recreated using products any one of us can purchase from Ikea.

Pretty cool right?  But You know what’s crazy? You weren’t even supposed to see them.

Yeah, this was a print and poster campaign created by the creative geniuses at Publicis Spain  for Ikea in the United Arab Emirates.

So how is it that I’m seeing a print ad bought only to be seen by people on the other side of the plane on my local Kansas City morning news? That there’s the power of Pop-Marketing folks.

The more I learned about Ikea’s campaign, the more excited I got to be able to highlight this case study for you. So, to learn more, I called my friends at Publicis Spain who Ikea partnered with to bring this campaign to life and Eduardo said,  You know, it may be easier just to talk to Ikea.

And before I could say Billy Bookcase, I was introduced directly to Carla who’s the General Manager of Marketing for Ikea in the UAE and the person at Ikea responsible for bringing this pop-marketing campaign to life.

Because to REALLY understand how pop-marketing works, you need to study both sides of the coin. Not only the audience's reaction but the why and how it was created by the brand, which is the side that we so rarely get a peek behind the curtains at.

The first thing I wanted to understand was why Popular Culture?  What insight lead them to this idea?

Carla said that it was pretty simple: In Dubai’s region, expats are a big part of the population, it’s a melting pot of different cultures and nationalities so they needed a global idea, something that would be almost universally understood between many cultures. And isn’t that kind of the essence of popular culture?

Then Carla stopped my in my tracks with this next quote-  She said-

“Pop culture is something everyone relates to. Advertising competes every day with what people love to watch, listen, read … there’s new content and entertainment coming out every minute. Advertising needs to stop interrupting people and start becoming as fun and cool as what the entertainment world offers. Brands don’t need only buyers. First, they need fans. We need to jump more into pop culture and be part of what people love. I believe this is what the “Ikea Real Life Series” campaign does.”

Tell it slow Carla-  I think you may have just written my opening quote for my book. And yes, it’s ok for me to be an Ikea fanboy, no fair and unbiased journalism here people. I just lift up the smart things that give us joy and try to explain why.

According to my new best friend Carla, they picked those 3 living rooms- Simpsons, Friends & Stranger Things from a list of 60. To choose, they scored each iconic room on 2 criteria,  how POPULAR the show is or SCALE and on then how ICONIC the living room was within the show, finally choosing the ones that scored the highest in both.

She also told us that the campaign, just like Ikea offers endless possibilities and that they plan to recreate more iconic rooms based on all of the community requests they got-  She wouldn’t give me any hints but you can imagine- Modern Family, Seinfeld, Fresh Prince, Cosby Sho….Ok, well maybe not but I can’t wait to see what’s next!

And that brings us to my favorite part of this campaign.

Notice that in ads, there's no reference to the Simpsons, no utterance of Friends or even a snootch of the words Stranger Things.  Go ahead and look, You aren’t going to find them because this isn’t wasn’t licensed partnership. There wasn’t a deal with the owners of these shows.

No money traded hands with Fox, Netflix or WarnerMedia because Ikea created these as an homage, a tip of the hat to these iconic living rooms, not a copy.

marketers and brands I speak with usually believe that integrating popular culture into their content is impossible for anyone outside of mega-brands and budgets. This of course due to the cost of licensing and traditional partnerships. But it's not the case and Ikea is proof of that.

This beautiful constraint also forced Ikea & Publicis Spain to focus on the craft of the ads. It took 2 months for the teams to pick just the right pieces from Ikea’s catalog of products. The focus on craft and design not only speaks to Ikea’s brand but gives a viewer no doubt of what they’re looking at without hitting them over the head. And when you think about it, you only saw the comparison pictures from all of the PR coverage, never in the ad themselves.

I love it because the audience must actively make their own connection and piece it together on their own. Follow me on this one but the ads are like small versions of Ikea furniture, only we’re putting together an idea instead of a coffee table.

The ad actually takes advantage of the Ikea Affect. a phrase coined by Harvard researchers in 2012 to explain why adults who successfully complete a task—such as constructing furniture out of those IKEA pieces—value the end product of that task more than they do equivalent products that they did not create themselves. People like stuff more when they have a hand in putting it together.

Ikea and their creative partners at Publicis Spain prove a few things to us marketers with “Ikea Real Life".

  1. Is we should stop spending all that mental energy arguing what medium is dead now because of the internet. This is a print ad. It’s not an experience, no augmented reality and there is no app. It’s just really well done, it’s relevant and super easy to share. That’s it- Don’t over think it, don’t make it hard, just find the right idea.

  2. Integrating popular culture into your brand marketing is totally accessible for any brand out there that are smart enough to be able to wield it, having a creative team that can work within a set of constraints. Pop-Marketing can be for anyone willing to color outside the lines a bit.

  3. Give your audience the benefit of the doubt, especially if you’re integrating popular culture. The IKEA affect doesn’t only work for furniture building but does something similar with ideas. It feels good to put the pieces together ourselves.

And to IKEA and especially to Carla,  Eduardo & Juliana A pop-marketing salute to all of you for your latest campaign and we can’t wait to see what’s next and you are always welcome over at this Pop-Marketer’s living room for Fika anytime.

That’s it for this episode of The Pop100, if you want to learn more about the world of popular culture and where it intersects with brand marketing, just visit pop-marketer.com and signup to my email where I give you a relevant case study or insights that will give you the upper hand in your next brainstorm or brief.

Thanks so much for your attention and see you next time True Believers!

Joe Cox