“Online video doesn’t have to be expensive, and I think it’s best when it isn’t,” says Ikea media manager Alia Kemet. “When you can have a more grass-roots feel and allow the creative team to dictate its direction, that’s what makes it successful.”
Kemet is talking about “Easy to Assemble,” the online comedy series produced by and starring actress Illeana Douglas, which has been delighting Ikea’s surprisingly enthusiastic and loyal customer base for three seasons and counting. Inexpensively produced and widely discussed online, it’s delivered a big ROI for a company whose goal was mainly to build brand equity by not taking itself too seriously.
In the series, Douglas, playing herself, abandons her acting career to take a job at Ikea and learns her way around the store and Ikea’s unique corporate culture in the company of a diverse group of guest stars, including Justine Bateman, Ed Begley, Jr., Fred Willard, and Jeff Goldblum.
The idea for “Easy to Assemble” came not from a high-powered Ikea marketing team but rather from Douglas’s attempt to keep herself busy. In 2005, Douglas produced a short film in which she worked in a supermarket. She sold the concept for a TV pilot that was shot but not picked up, so she edited, launched it as a Web series, and brought the concept to Ikea.
As it turned out, Ikea was a perfect match for Douglas’s quirky humor and image, and it certainly helped that she was already an avid Ikea shopper and fan. “We weren’t really looking for anything in particular,” says Ikea’s Kemet. “We had never done anything like this before, but thought it might be a very good and different way to connect with our fan base.”
Kemet stresses that Ikea wanted — and needed — to cede most creative control to Douglas. “We were attracted by her passion for the brand and the fact that she was an artist and writer and would own the creative side. We’re not in the business of making short films. We saw something we liked and decided to support it. We did brief Illeana on our overall messaging and goals, but ultimately we gave her the autonomy to build the series her way, and that’s why it’s successful.”
Ten episodes (varying in length from five to ten minutes) were created for season one in 2008/9, and seasons two and three have brought the total number of episodes to 42.
Getting the Word Out
Grabbing the attention of easily distracted online viewers is always a challenge (comScore found that U.S. Internet users watched nearly 40 billion videos, 12.2 percent of which were video ads, in January 2012), and Ikea addressed it by partnering with My Damn Channel for distribution and using several promotional strategies. “Of course we have own PR efforts, and we use all of our own available assets, such as our Facebook page, for promotion,” says Kemet. “But the series has mainly succeeded through word of mouth. We have a pretty strong group of Ikea fans who support the show and evangelize about it. It’s an exciting thing.” For season three, Ikea also spent on an online search campaign, as well as banner ads at My Damn Channel.
What Defines Success?
So is “Easy to Assemble” ultimately a marketing success for Ikea? Kemet says yes. “It’s not a tool to grow our customer base in a significant way. It’s definitely niche, a piece of our overall marketing campaign designed to provide something for our loyal customer base and to celebrate our culture, our stores, even our Swedishness.”
But even those intangibles are trackable. “We do sentiment analysis, measuring and analyzing conversations in online spaces to see what people are saying about Ikea, and we note that they talk not just about products but also about the culture and brand. And they talk about ‘Easy to Assemble’ as well. In fact, it’s that kind of result that’s served as a catalyst to keep the program going,” says Kemet. Ikea may also be aware that consumers find online video 38 percent more memorable than ads on traditional TV, according to comScore’s “2012 U.S. Digital Future in Focus.”
Ikea’s lesson: “You can’t expect one video to do everything for all people in all places. You must have a targeted goal.” Kemet notes that people come to online video either to be entertained or informed, and “Easy to Assemble” falls firmly in the former category. Ikea has also created and will continue to create other types of online videos to drive customer traffic and provide instructional information. It’s certainly not Douglas’s job to demonstrate the proper assembly of a Billy bookcase or a Poang chair.
In fact, Ikea has just launched its first set of assembly videos on its YouTube channel. They’re designed to bring written instructions to life by walking the viewer step-by-step through the assembly process. Wielding an Allen wrench to put together the sliding doors of the popular Pax Lyngdal wardrobe needn’t be quite so intimidating any more.
The other big lesson: online video consumer marketing, even of this caliber, doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive. Season one of “Easy to Assemble” cost Ikea well under $100,000. “Obviously the less you spend up front the better your ROI will be,” says Kemet. “’Easy to Assemble’ may influence a purchase, but it mainly exists to communicate the fact that Ikea is a good place to visit or work, a fun Sunday out, an environment that’s open and transparent and approachable. The series does that really well.”
Of course, not every marketer will be willing to cede as much creative control as Ikea has with “Easy to Assemble,” but in this case the gamble has succeeded. Ikea proves that if online video is to grab an audience, the brand manager should be willing to say, “Let’s have some fun with it.”