IKEA and the limits of social media

Jack Blog

September 27th, 2012 By Jack Morton


There’s been a lot of coverage of IKEA’s decision to pull a photo from its marketing in Russia because of fears about stirring up a controversy. Irony alert: that fear of controversy led to more controversy.

So what’s the big deal? For me, it’s how IKEA—otherwise one of the most digitally-savvy brands out there—showed its social media limits.

IKEA Russia has an ongoing marketing campaign in which customers at MEGA shopping malls can pose in front of IKEA catalogue covers. Other customers then vote for their favorites. Problem was, the people’s choice turned out to be a photo showing four kids wearing colorful face masks evoking the members of the girl group Pussy Riot that were jailed for an anti-Putin performance earlier this year. 

IKEA pulled the image because they say—totally rationally, lots of corporations would say this—that they want to avoid the appearance of a political bent of one kind or another; they’re just a furniture company that must remain politically “independent”.

All makes sense—except if you’re a brand that has invited the public to create content around your brand. If you’ve done that, if you’ve created a marketing campaign premised on the belief that consumers will want to photograph themselves with your brand, that to me signals an invitation that you’ll give consumers a platform to express their views. Even if you’re politically independent, you have to assume that your consumers won’t be.