Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: IKEA and the False Name Check

Magazine article Marketing

Mark Ritson on Branding: IKEA and the False Name Check

Article excerpt

There was a bit of branding mischief taking place late last week.

Most of the major papers reported a storm brewing over IKEA's brand names. For years the furniture retailer has used Scandinavian towns to name its products. But a recent study by two Danish academics revealed a bias in its naming approach. All its low-end products, such as toilet seats are named after Danish towns. In contrast, higher-end products such as sofas are named after Swedish or Norwegian towns.

Professor Klaus Kjoller from Copenhagen University, who was reported to be one of the co-authors of a study into the naming abuses, accused IKEA of 'Swedish imperialism', claiming that 'doormats and runners, as well as inexpensive wall-to-wall carpeting are third-class, if not seventh-class, items when it comes to home furnishings'.

IKEA was quick to reject the accusations. 'It was a pure coincidence, and it happened many decades ago,' said IKEA spokeswoman Charlotte Lindgren. 'The employee who chose Danish names for floor coverings retired long ago.'

It made for a great story but, alas, it is bogus. In February, a journalist from Nyhedsavisen, a free Danish tabloid paper, called up Professor Kjoller asking if he had noticed the anti-Danish bias in the latest IKEA catalogue. Kjoller, who had not seen the catalogue, let alone completed an empirical study of it, played along with the journalist because he assumed, correctly, that the article was being written with a Danish tongue firmly planted in cheek. Since then, however, Kjoller has been deluged with media enquires and found himself repeatedly explaining that the whole thing was just a bit of fun.

It is too late for that, of course. The IKEA naming scandal will now be added to the long list of false brand-naming stories.

The most common erroneous brand naming case concerns the Chevy Nova According to business legend, GM launched the Nova around the world very successfully, except in Spanish-speaking countries where the car fared miserably. GM eventually realised that the name Nova meant 'no go' in Spanish and quickly renamed the sub-brand.

Unfortunately, none of it is true. The Nova sold very well in Spanish-speaking countries because the name of the car is stressed on the first syllable, rendering it very different from the 'no go' phrase which stresses the second syllable. …

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