My opinion: IKEA/Ketchum PR program lavished with praise wasn't a winner.
Platform Online Magazine recently asked me to comment about an IKEA pubic relations campaign developed by one of my almas mater, Ketchum Public Relations, described by PR Week here, here and here. The campaign won a major national award and I'm not sure it should have. Here's how I responded to the magazine's questions:
First of all, what is your favorite aspect of this campaign and why?
The videos produced by Malkoff’s team and the website environment they created were beautifully produced.
What do you think made this campaign stand out to the judges?
I think the judges were so enamored of the creative part of the campaign that they gave a pass to the fact that the goals of the campaign were not expressed as measurable objectives (at least as reported in the several media reports I reviewed) and that the results reported were not tied to the goals: “Communicate its new brand message, increase brand awareness and traffic among potential customers: Web-savvy guys and girls, age 18 to 35, and IKEA loyalists, typically moms 23 to 37 years old.” I didn’t see evidence that these loosely stated goals were achieved by a small sales increase in one store, a small increase in website traffic or any number of YouTube views or media impressions.
IKEA gave Mark total control of film production and the company didn't pre-screen any of his videos. Do you think this was a good decision, or was it a risky decision with a lucky outcome?
I think it was a considered choice, not a risky one. I assume that IKEA and Ketchum did their homework on Malkoff’s approach and had solid evidence in his body of previous work that his style would work well with the brand’s own quirky, edgy advertising style. Why do you think this campaign was successful?
I’m not sure that it was successful. It was certainly clever, inexpensive and probably a boatload of fun for the agency/client team. But as a piece of marketing communication work, I don’t see the evidence that it produced what it set out to produce.
Had you heard about the campaign before it received this award?
I had not heard about the campaign even after it won the award. I’m sure this is a function of my professional interests, reading and surfing habits and not a statement about the campaign. The total budget for the campaign was $13,500; according to fortune, IKEA North America had a total revenue of about $18,300,000 in 2005. Given that information, do you think the brand should have invested more in this campaign to broaden the reach?
No. The cost of the campaign compared with the revenue of the company is irrelevant. I believe that it would have been wise to invest in setting measurable objectives for the campaign and then measuring against those objectives to determine if the concept had a big enough payoff to roll-out into other markets.
What would you have added to the campaign or changed about it, if anything?
I think I’ve pretty well covered that.
Do you think Mark's videos and blog posts did a good job of communicating IKEA’s target messages (“IKEA has everything you need to live and make a home” and “Home is the most important place in the world")? I viewed about a half-dozen of his videos and did not read any blog posts. From what I saw, I think the first concept (“everything you need”) was well supported though not actually said; the second concept (“home is the most important place”) was actually undercut by the concept since Malkoff was not at home. He pointedly left home to do this stunt. After moving out of IKEA, Mark later spent an entire month living on AirTran planes. If Mark's stay at IKEA had been extended beyond his one week, do you think the extra time would have helped the campaign in any way? No. Do you think this was the best way to reach the target audience (Web-savvy guys and girls, age 18 to 35, and IKEA loyalists, typically moms 23 to 37 years old)?
It certainly makes intuitive sense that focusing on web media such as YouTube would be likely to reach the first targeted demographic. I just don’t know enough about the habits of mothers 23 – 37 to know or guess whether the campaign was likely to reach them. Do you think the videos did a good job of subtly highlighting IKEA's product offerings?
Yes. The way that IKEA displays its products in its stores is nothing short of genius merchandising. So just showing it does the trick. I have had many pieces of IKEA furnishing over the years, I know that they’re generally made of inexpensive materials, are murderously difficult to assemble and not very durable. Yet whenever I find myself in an IKEA store, I still marvel at the room and full apartment layouts. Do you think other brands would have the same success with a similar type of campaign? Could a competing furniture store have implemented the same campaign as successfully?
Other brands, sure; another furniture store, I don’t think so. I can’t think of a national furniture chain that employs the IKEA merchandise display concept; in my experience they tend to be organized by types of furniture, not in full room settings. I don’t think the concept would work well in that environment. What do you think other brands/PR pros/aspiring PR pros should learn from this campaign (positive or negative)?
Don’t become so enamored of a clever concept that you fail to set measurable objectives that are tied to your business objectives. When you set measurable objectives, measure against them and don’t try to pull the wool over your own or your clients’ eyes by pointing to “results” that have nothing to do with — or are not convincingly tied to — your objectives. In the words of Ketchum’s original research guru, Dr. Walter K. Lindenmann, it’s outcomes not outputs that count.