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During the course of Easy to Assemble, the web series set in Burbank’s IKEA store, when Ileana Douglas explains that she is taking a break from acting to bring some “sparkle” to the store while working there, it is hard to tell just how much of the story is a joke. And that’s part of the point.

Douglas approached IKEA with the idea, and the Swedish furniture company gave her great leeway to produce short episodes of her fictional experiences at the store. Douglas eats meatballs, tries to build the furniture, and takes short naps in the displays. She also battles with rival coworkers such as Justine Bateman, who brings Ricki Lake to her store to do a talk show.

Sound absurd? Of course it is, which is why viewers find it so funny and continue to share the episodes with friends. Although the characters wear IKEA shirts, explain that they work for IKEA, and perform virtually all of their scenes within the stores (except when Douglas gets lost in Sweden, of course), at no point do the episodes communicate a traditional advertising message. The series is available on the IKEA website, yet far more people access it through YouTube and other company-unrelated access points.

Furthermore, IKEA takes a hands-off approach to the content. It told Douglas that the series should reflect the core elements of its image: fun, sophisticated, and cheerful. But as Douglas noted, “The only note they gave me … is that they sell frozen yogurt, not ice cream.”

This combination has worked well for IKEA. A recognizable star, and her recognizable friends, ensures that the videos get communicated across multiple channels by enthusiasts, whether of the brand or of the video. Either way, more people are seeing IKEA, and also seeing it as someplace fun that encourages a group of silly actors to spend hours looking for a fictional band named Sparhusen.
Source: Beecher Tuttle, “Ikea’s Hit Web Show: An Entertaining Ad,” The Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2012.