Ikea: the making of a TV star

It's not enough that Ikea has revolutionized the retail industry through its showroom approach and quirky ad creative. Now that others have caught on to those tricks, it's moving into content production via Space For Living, a new weekly television series set to debut on HGTV in April. And guess what? Unlike other innovative tactics honed by the Swedish retailer to wow shoppers, this one came from Ikea Canada.

It’s not enough that Ikea has revolutionized the retail industry through its showroom approach and quirky ad creative. Now that others have caught on to those tricks, it’s moving into content production via Space For Living, a new weekly television series set to debut on HGTV in April. And guess what? Unlike other innovative tactics honed by the Swedish retailer to wow shoppers, this one came from Ikea Canada.

In fact, Luc Lauwers, president of the Burlington, Ont.-based company, approached independent TV producer France Fontana Hart with the idea about five years ago. But at that point, says Hart, it wasn’t a priority. Then in April 2003 she was finally brought on to shepherd the project through a new production company Ikea formed called Space For Living Television.

Hart says the program feeds into the retailer’s wider ‘Ikea fits’ strategy. ‘It is trying to show people that when you buy a piece of furniture from Ikea, it goes with what you already have.’

But Space For Living is not an infomercial for Ikea, she stresses. ‘The show is completely clean. There’s not a mention of Ikea anywhere, not a bag, a yellow, a blue, nothing. There’s Ikea furniture in it, Ikea product, but we don’t say: ‘That’s a Billy bookcase.”

That’s because Hart knew that if the program rammed Ikea down viewers’ throats, they wouldn’t watch. And she made that point clear to the retailer early on. ‘I told them they needed to create a strong, entertaining TV program…or take a different tack completely.’

As a result, Space For Living combines travel, home décor, art, design, and lifestyle into a half-hour show. Ikea’s presence will be a billboard at the beginning and end of each show. Viewers will really only see Ikea’s involvement on the show’s Web site (which is still under construction) where they will get information about the episodes and the design elements used, as well as specific Ikea product.

A total of 13 episodes have been created for the first season, and it’s expected that it will be back for a second. Currently the program will only be seen in Canada.

Each episode is divided into four segments. The ‘Space’ segment tours homes around the world showing how real people live. ‘Transform’ is the makeover portion and ‘Solution’ offers ideas for design problems. The ‘Foreign Exchange’ segment showcases design from other countries and, in some cases Ikea furniture.

Hart says one of the goals of the show’s globetrotting nature is to give Canadian consumers new design ideas. For instance, a lot of Europeans live in small spaces – and that lifestyle also resonates with cosmopolitan types here. The hope is Canadians will learn the many different ways ‘Ikea fits.’