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IKEA: why inspiring creativity is more important than ever

Demise of interiors magazines = opportunity for home retail brands

Iconoculture’s Nissa Hanna wrote an interesting post yesterday on the impact of the economic downturn on the home and interior design magazine market. Hanna suggests that rather than acting as a bellwether for the state of the wider industry, the demise of interior design titles actually offers home brands and retailers a big opportunity.

Now that the slumping home-magazine market has left a hole where consumers (and bloggers) have traditionally turned for ideas, home brands and retailers are presented with an opportunity to step in and play a larger role in inspiring DIY decorators — especially those in the lower-to-middle-income brackets. Nissa Hanna, Iconoculture

If you were to believe the hype, you would think we were all so busy fretting about the global economic apocalypse that we wouldn’t have time for frivolous things like redecorating. However, Hanna’s point is a valuable one. The economic downturn may have supressed our willingness to spend with abandon, but it hasn’t completely erased our creative aspirations. It might be easy for brands to use the economic downturn as an excuse to get lazy and focus purely on cost, however, they do so at their peril.

IKEA: inspiring creativity

One brand that recognises this better than most is IKEA. While low prices might be a central part of its proposition, IKEA realises that when resources are scarce, inspiring creativity is more important than ever. In January, Springwise reported on an innovative initiative encouraging Dutch consumers to redecorate, without spending a penny:

Now, flat-pack behemoth IKEA is organizing a furniture swap at its Amsterdam store: a husselmarkt. The swap, which will take place on February 9th, will let up to 250 people bring in furniture—which doesn’t have to be made by IKEA—and swap it for items brought in by others. IKEA will also add 12.000 euros worth of furniture to the mix.

The event is part of a marketing campaign that encourages customers to think like designers, which includes experimenting by rearranging furniture they already have (roughly translated, husselen means to shuffle, or move around). To help people redesign their living spaces, IKEA offers a tool on that lets users draw a room as it’s currently arranged, and then move around pieces on-screen. Any furniture that no longer fits their rearranged room can be brought to the husselmarkt. Springwise

Although it might seem counter-intuitive for a retailer to encourage consumers to swap rather than buy, an event like this is about more than just generating publicity. The Husselmarkt shows consumers that IKEA is responsive to their concerns about the economic climate, while also reinforcing IKEA’s commitment to making interior design fun and accessible to the masses. In addition, as Springwise points out, once you get value-conscious consumers to think about redecorating, the chances are that they’ll end up picking up a few finishing touches from IKEA.

Furthermore, while furniture retailers such as Freedom might be content with uploading a PDF of the current catalogue, IKEA has used the web to further reinforce this idea of consumer as designer. IKEA’s home planning tools allow you to visualise how its furniture would look in your home, as well as providing you with an itemised shopping list at the end of the process.

Migrane-inducing patterns: Japanese commuters finally have a valid excuse for missing the last train home
Migrane-inducing patterns: Japanese commuters finally have a valid excuse for missing the last train home

IKEA has a history of using creativity to bring its products physically closer to consumers. Memorable examples include its makeover of a Kobe commuter train and its recent recreation of the Oval Office in Washington’s Union Station under the opportunistic banner ‘Embrace Change 09′.

What would happen if America elected a Swede
What would happen if America elected a Swede

While brands have a role to play in inspiring DIY decorators, it’s worth mentioning that furnishing your whole house from IKEA is probably the least creative option of all. I am not advocating that brands like IKEA seek to replace other sources of inspirtion altogether. The thought of living in an IKEA White House, or train carriage, is pretty unsettling, however, these installations do succeed in making people think about their environment in a different way.

Capitalising on the stay-at-home trend

IKEA is clearly not immune from the economic downturn, particularly as consumers continue to defer large furniture purchases and think twice about moving house. However, the success of takeaway chains such as Domino’s offers some hope in suggesting that the home is playing an increasingly important role in people’s social lives.  Although it might not compensate for deteriorating sales of large ticket items, this stay-at-home trend does offer home retailers a fresh opportunity to connect with consumers.

This was the rationale behind IKEA Australia’s ‘Small Change, Big Difference’ campaign by Host, which was designed to show consumers that getting creative does not depend on spending megabucks. The furniture brand used live public installations that changed daily to show the public how swapping a few items can provide a distinctive new look.


Judging from the current crop of TV ads on Australian telly, most furniture retailers seem happy to continue bombarding customers with increasingly desperate price-led messaging and offers of interest-free credit. However, this is simply not enough in the current climate: after all, a low price is not in itself a reason to buy something.

Times may be tough for home retailers, however, it is more important than ever that marketing inspires as well as informs.

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It’s interesting to see some of the innovative marketing approaches companies are using during lean times. I completely agree with “desperate price-led messaging” bit, since that path will quickly lead to the commoditization of their current product roster, which is uninspiring for any company.

Is IKEA also doing this in other markets?

Ben de Castella

Yes, while campaigns vary by country, IKEA has used guerilla and experiential marketing techniques all over the place to bring consumers face to face with its products.

Unfortunately IKEA doesn’t seem quite so welcoming when it comes to others hijacking its space, as you can see from the following post about a group who held a housewarming party in the Burbank IKEA a couple of weeks ago: