Ikea's Latest Eye Twinkle: The Story Behind The Catalog Podcast

Ikea has long prided itself on being a brand that's got both empathy and a sense of humor. In the last year, it's shown it also gets the challenges of pandemic life as few others do, offering blueprints for pillow forts, kid-friendly Swedish lessons and quick fixes for Zoom room problems.

But its latest move -- turning the now-canceled print catalog into a nearly four-hour podcast -- is worth a closer look. Della Mathew, executive creative director at Ogilvy New York, tells Marketing Daily how the project came about.

Marketing Daily: People have always loved the Ikea catalog, so the idea of canceling it -- especially during the pandemic -- was surprising. How did that lead to the podcast?

Della Mathew: A few years ago, Ikea started talking about reducing catalog use for sustainability reasons and ways to shift how that money was spent.



We had created the Inspiration Experience as a result, pop-up events that let people experience the brand in different ways, several years ago. When Ikea decided to stop the catalog completely, we asked ourselves how people consume content right now.

And with the pandemic, they are burning through their podcasts. So we thought this would be a tongue-in-cheek, personalized way to see Ikea. You can close your eyes and imagine the room [voiceover talent Jasmin Richardson] describes.

Marketing Daily: Not long ago, Ikea did a podcast designed to put people to sleep. As I recall, it was just people reading Swedish product names.

Mathew: Yes, that was meant to relax people, like a bedtime story. This is different. It has a lot more energy.

We encouraged Richardson to be herself. She makes jokes and puts a lot of humor into it. Even in the legal part, at the end -- she makes punctuation entertaining.

Marketing Daily: How are you advertising the podcast?

Mathew: Just by using digital channels and social media, we've gotten so much press. Our earned media impressions at this point are in the hundreds of millions, and it just launched a week ago. So we're pleased with that.

Marketing Daily: But it is a joke, right? Or are you thinking people might actually listen to the whole thing?

Mathew: We designed it by chapters, so people can jump around and just listen to parts. The goal is to continue to connect Ikea to culture to keep it relevant and accessible. We've also done some augmented-reality things using Snapchat. We'll keep trying new ways.

Marketing Daily: How do you describe the brand's personality?

Mathew: It's essentially a design brand. And it's fun, creative, optimistic. It calls itself "leaders of life at home," but we think of it as a wise, funny friend. It's got great solutions, but isn't going to talk down to you or tell you how to live your life.

The people at Ikea talk a lot about what they call "the twinkle in the eye," which is their way of turning something on its side. Things are a little unexpected. The point is to be different, but to do so with a purpose.

Marketing Daily: The parent company has done a great deal of purpose marketing linked to inclusivity. How does that tie into the U.S. brand?

Mathew: Sometimes we use marketing from the parent company, and sometimes we don't. Last year, for example, we worked with the global campaign for Pride and plussed it up for U.S. marketing differently. But inclusivity is simply part of the brand ethos. It is very much a brand for many people, and it is very democratic.

Marketing Daily: Retailers have struggled mightily in the last year, with fewer people physically shopping in stores. How do you keep a primarily brick-and-mortar brand relevant in that environment?

Mathew: It's a struggle. Ikea is a brand with such a strong personality. The challenge is keeping the company relevant by finding new ways to push out that same message of inspiration.

Right now, everybody's at home, and everybody is fatigued. It's up to brands right now to fill some of that void. Brands need to come up with content that's not just for entertainment but also for purpose.

One of my favorite examples is the Crown Act, with Dove fighting for some amazing new legislation [that would prohibit race-based hair discrimination.]

There are powerful ways brands can insert themselves, filling holes in our society.

But it's also important to keep adding lightness and positivity.  I have two kids, and so they're home from school -- and it's a lot. So just a little positivity in content is helpful.

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