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Sweden wants to reclaim the names behind Ikea’s toilet brushes and trash cans

See how the Swedish Tourism Board nailed a delicate mission: taking a good-natured swipe at the country’s best-known brand in a bid to intrigue tourists.

Sweden wants to reclaim the names behind Ikea’s toilet brushes and trash cans
[Photos: Ikea, Alexander Shapovalov/iStock]

Ikea may be Sweden’s greatest export, associating the Scandinavian kingdom with ingenious and affordable home design. But it has also created serious SEO problems for the country.

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Anyone who’s shopped at Ikea knows that the brand’s gimmick is to name products with quintessentially Swedish, hard-to-pronounce names like Ektorp and Kallax. Often, these words are borrowed from the names of towns and cities around the country. In practice, given the retailer’s enormous reach online, this means that when someone searches for the term Bolmen on Google, they see Ikea’s toilet brush rather than a stunning lake in Småland.

The Swedish Tourism Board has had enough. In a new campaign called “Discover the Originals,” it asserts that Ikea has created a lot of misunderstanding, causing people around the world to associate these names with its products, rather than with places in Sweden. The campaign invites visitors to Sweden to explore the exciting destinations that inspired the names. It’s a clever, tongue-in-cheek approach to getting people around the world curious about lesser-known places in Sweden.

In addition to the video, the Tourism Board launched a new slogan for Lake Bolmen: “More than an Ikea brush.” Last week, local officials held a ceremony where they unveiled a new sign to an audience, including a group who take cold dips in the lake in the winter. The board is also highlighting 21 exciting tourist destinations named for Ikea products. It includes Norberg, the site of a silver mine, castles, and ski slopes (which people know as an Ikea folding table), and Mästerby, the site of a medieval battlefield (which Ikea shoppers know as a step stool).

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To create this campaign, the Tourism Board brought on the Swedish advertising agency Forsman & Bodenfors. To Marcus Hägglöf and Johanna Hofman-Bang, who worked on the campaign, Ikea’s dominance as a brand is a blessing and a curse. They both live minutes away from Ektorp, which is located in Stockholm County, but it occurred to them that even they think of sofas when they hear the word. “Even in Sweden, these names are often more attached to products than places,” Hägglöf says. “I can’t imagine any Swede naming their child Billy, because the name is now so associated with Ikea bookshelves.”

Online, the situation is even more dire. “When you Google Ektorp and Järvfjället, all you find is sofas and gaming chairs,” Hägglöf says. “Ikea is so powerful that they have pushed these places off the internet.”

But Hofman-Bang points out that widespread awareness about Ikea in popular culture could also be an asset to the Tourism Board. “If it weren’t for Ikea, these places we’ve highlighted wouldn’t be interesting in the first place,” she says. “In a way, we’re hijacking these names back from Ikea. What can you do when you’re talking about less-well-known places internationally? Ikea is our way in.”

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For Forsman & Bodenfors, it was crucial to nail the tone of the campaign. The Swedish Tourism Board is invested in keeping a good relationship with Ikea, since it is one of the country’s best-known exports. But at the same time, it wanted to throw some shade at the brand—just enough to make the point that the real-life places are more exciting than the products. To make sure they weren’t crossing the line, Forsman & Bodenfors invited some Ikea executives to take a sneak peek at the video. They thought it was good fun. “We wanted it to be edgy,” Hägglöf says. “But with warmth.”

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a senior staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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