Marketing with Meatballs
On the top shelf of my closet is a small plastic box full of mismatched pegs, screws, washers, and Allen wrenches. These tools aren’t just lonely construction implements. They are also remnants of a pattern I follow every time I move homes:
Long hours pushing a heavy metal cart through aisles of lamps, sofas, and bookshelves. Hovnas, Landskrona, Hemnes… A brief break to recharge with meatballs and soft serve ice cream. Then, longer hours putting together my new furniture with nothing but vague instructions, calloused fingers, and sheer determination.
That journey, a draining but somehow therapeutic rite of passage, is the traditional IKEA experience. It’s shared by the 800 million annual visitors who drive an operating annual profit of over $3 billion.
However, as I discovered on a recent walk through SoHo, IKEA isn’t satisfied stopping there. They are investing significant resources to re-frame the way customers engage with their brand, through non-retail experiences.
In early August, a handwritten chalkboard sign beckoned on Broadway with blue and yellow balloons: IKEA EXPERIENCE (Last Entry 7 PM). Inside, a surprisingly long line of people were greeted by employees and waivers. They were clearly not there to buy IKEA furniture. This store didn’t sell anything.
Instead, it was peddling a live catalog: a stroll through curated and themed rooms of furniture from the 2019 collection, like “Haven in the City” and “Full House.” To celebrate IKEA’s 75th anniversary, the showroom offered a quiz about the company’s history, with prizes for the winners. And, of course, their team had to include the best part of the shopping experience: meatballs. Even those meatballs were taken a notch up, served at a “Meatball Bar” (choose your own toppings!).
To what end? According to the event’s Facebook page, nothing but “celebrating,” “exploring,” and “[making] yourself at home.”
Of course, IKEA’s marketing team would tell you a different story. That’s because they understand that these experiences do more than provide an afternoon of distraction. They increase brand loyalty and get “potential customers” to engage with products, inching them down the funnel toward the status of “actual customers.”
The next time I move, I won’t hesitate to visit IKEA—despite the box of screws in my closet begging me not to repeat the ordeal. I will return nevertheless, compelled by fond memories of tasty meatballs and excited by the comfortable sofa I already tried out.