The furniture giant’s baby name catalog is a marketing triumph. But what about the names?
Ingrid is a chandelier. Billy is a chair. Krister is a desk. That’s how names work at IKEA. The Swedish housewares company lends its ready-to-assemble products extra personality by giving them names—baby names, Swedish words or place names—rather than impersonal descriptors or item numbers. Now the company’s Norwegian branch has taken its name game to a new level.
Meet the Navnekatalogen, an online “baby name catalog” based entirely on IKEA furnishings. Illustrated with product photos, the catalog takes you on a tour of modern housewares history. The IKEA Ingrid chandelier, from 1952, is bedecked with crystals, pleated shades and fabric trim. The Billy chair, from 1970, is a bold, curvy pod of a swivel lounger. The Krister desk, from 2000, is a techno-minimalist construction of metal tubing.
The style of the images evolved along with the furnishings, from vintage black-and-white newsprint to glossy color. As you browse through the generations of style, your impression of IKEA as a warehouse purveyor of the interchangeable and disposable can’t help but evolve too. The products start to come across as more personal and individual, making the catalog a marketing slam dunk.
But there’s more. We non-Norwegian speakers may miss the real heart of the enterprise: the descriptions. The catalog gives each of the names a mini-personality profile based on the characteristics of the product. Billy the groovy swivel chair is described as “youthful, fun and agile.” Rakel, a wall-mounted shelf with a magazine rack, is “book smart and hangs out.” Over 800 different names get this clever treatment. Bravo, IKEA Norway.
As a publicity gimmick, the navnekatalogen is a triumph. As a baby name guide, of course, it’s tongue-in-cheek. Yet I get the impression that the creators would genuinely love for customers to choose baby names from their furniture-inspired catalog.
Will it work? Can a chair help sell a baby name as effectively as a name helps sell a chair? See for yourself how they go together. The products and descriptions below go with the names Amadeus, Diana, Frida, Jeppe, Oliwer and Veta. Can you guess which name matches which product?
- Open-weave wicker chair (“charming but has some holes”)
- Glass-fronted cabinet (“keeps nothing secret”)
- Tall-backed armchair (“always has your back”)
- Full-length mirror (“sees the big picture”)
- Bookcase (“can bear up under heavy loads and is full of knowledge”)
- Ironing board (“likes to be stroked on the back”)
For the record, the answers are 1. Oliwer, 2. Amadeus, 3. Diana, 4. Frida, 5. Veta, 6. Jeppe. I don’t see any pattern linking the names to their products. In fact, even though I’ve read each of the listings, then translated them, then written about them, I can’t remember which is which.
Companies can link baby names to products if they want to. Plenty of baby name trends have arisen from strategically named brands like Lexus, and human names like Alexa drive products as well.
That’s not what IKEA is after with its names, or with its name catalog. Not only do the name-product pairings seem random, but so does the collection of names as a whole. Classic Swedish names intermingle with a hodgepodge of choices like Fanny, Napoleon, Fatima, Pax, Carlos and Hank.
Perhaps that’s the key. The impact of the navnekatalogen isn’t about any individual name, or any individual photo of a bookcase or ironing board, but the organic jumble of it all. The random whimsy of an ironing board named Jeppe can’t help but make you smile. It humanizes a company known for cavernous stores and interchangeable parts. Maybe IKEA is on to something with its name choices after all.