Has Ikea taken corporate branding to a new level with Web shows?

18Sep09

Have branded webisodes become the new indie film studios? That was the question asked by Andrew Hampp in Advertising Age. But another question for marketers, especially international ones, might be how far can brands go in making their message become the medium? And does being able to laugh at yourself open new doors?

Digital media is constantly reinventing itself and creating new genres of advertising and marketing cross-overs. One of the latest is the “sponsored” web-film series, such as the hugely popular show from IKEA by indi-film star Illeana Douglas starring actors including Justine Batemen, Ed Begley Jr., Kevin Pollak and Jeff Goldblum. The program, called “Easy to Assemble,” which debuted last fall, was created as a web series written by and starring Douglas.

In the show, Ms. Douglas plays a fictional version of  herself as an actress who takes a job in Ikea only to find she has competition from other Hollywood-has-been actors.

In less than a year, the program quickly reached 1 million viewers, which shows that the market for web series, even sponsored ones, is genuine. The show’s second season will make its debut on web video site My Damn Channel on Oct. 8.

According to Advertising Age, it was Ikea’s media agency Mediaedge:cia, who saw the potential in Douglas’s sitcom script (which was originally called “Illeanarama” ). The agency approached the actress about switching the original supermarket setting for an Ikea store and created it as a web-show.

Ms. Douglas, a self-identified “Ikean,” told Ad Age, “Of the other brands I sat with, the only one I wanted to work with was Ikea. I love their Swedish sensibility and the quirkiness of the brand really could fit me. I also liked their European influence vs. some of the America companies I talked to, because I don’t feel like they were really going to understand or trust what I could do with their brand.”

But one reason the show may be so popular is because of Ikea’s willingness to let the show laugh at the cultural differences that make Ikea (and Swedes)  interesting to Americans. Ikea’s marketing chief, Magnus Gustaffson, gives the shows stars the freedom to make jokes at the chain’s expense. Especially things like product names that translate funny into English. (Like “crap” for “quilt.”)

Watch an Episode “Easy to Assemble 07: How Swede It Is:”

So what do you think? Are there other products that could translate well into sponsored TV shows, films, theatre? Is this just the beginning of a new form of “sponsorship?”

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