Swedish Ikea turns to 'swadeshi' marketing for winning hearts in India

Of the 7,500 products at the Hyderabad store, 1,000 are priced below Rs 200
Around the globe, Ikea launches are known for frenzied crowds and on occasion, even riots and tear gas — as was the case when 6,000 people showed up for a store launch in Edmonton London in 2005 and caused a deadly stampede. At the launch of its first store in India earlier this month, at Hyderabad, the company had clearly learnt its crowd control lessons well. 

The numbers that thronged its gates, 40,000 on the launch day, were far greater than originally planned for. But the event, high on hoopla and razzmatazz, was casualty-free. The local police had to issue a traffic advisory for the area around the store and people had to wait hours to get in, but all this only whipped up public interest and social media chatter, instead of dampening people’s enthusiasm. 

At the store’s launch a band struck up the patriotic fervour with its rendition of ‘Saare jahan se achcha, Hindustan hamara’ (no place compares with the beauty of my country) and Ikea staff welcomed people with Indian and Swedish flags. Since the store’s opening, the company’s social media teams have been busy. While Twitter and Instagram have images of people at the store or videos by customers, posts on Facebook have been inventive. One tells people to look up the waiting time for entering the store, on the Ikea website, before stepping out of home, while promoting a brand of table clocks.  

Behind Ikea’s advertising splash and over-the-top promotions is a desire to be seen as a mass brand. Unlike in the Western countries where Ikea is associated with thrifty home décor and budget homes, in India, the brand could well find itself labelled with an elite tag, given its Swedish pedigree, points out a rival furniture maker. 
“We are for everyone,” says Ulf Smedberg, country marketing head of IKEA India. He draws a line between cheap and affordable, indicating that the brand will not compromise on design or quality, while keeping the Indian buyer’s desire for reasonable pricing in mind. “Products need to be relevant and within reach. Just because a product is nicely designed, it doesn’t mean we can ignore these fundamentals,” he adds.

Ikea’s competitors in this space are the brick-and-mortar stores such as Godrej Interio, Home Centre and such others and online players Urban Ladder and Pepperfry. Such has been the anticipation around Brand Ikea that its competitors too have joined the launch revelry. Urban Ladder had its employees welcoming the brand with ‘Namaste Ikea’ posts on social media. 

“There is a lot of excitement around its entry. They will definitely give impetus to the home décor and assortment business. However they will have to work hard on getting market share in India,” says Anil Sain Mathur, chief operating officer, Godrej Interio. Pepperfry’s Chief Product Officer Abhimanyu Lal says, “Any additional big player in the organised furniture market is only going to help expand it. We are sitting on a market worth almost $34 billion and there is a huge headroom currently.”

Ikea has an advantage when it comes to recall and trust, say brand experts. It has been tested and tried by the global Indian traveler and the brand is a craving that is finally being met, explains brand consultant, Harish Bijoor. “Also price fits the Indian budget. Ikea is not a luxury brand, offers common-sense pricing and represents comfort, fashion and durability married together,” he adds.
Smedberg explains that the company has been working towards a better understanding of Indian needs. For instance, he says, there is a sofa set that serves multiple functions and many of the products on sale are light and easy to move around. They are designed to maximise the use of space in small homes. Bijoor says, “For India, there has been customisation for sure. It has also taken care of local sensibilities.” He points to the chicken balls versus global meatballs on the menu as a classic example of the brand’s adaptation.

To be always affordable without compromising on quality is one of the core commitments of the brand, says Smedberg. “We have 7,500 products in the store. You find them exactly the same in the US or Sweden,” he says. 

Brand Ikea also wants to build its reputation as an employer brand. The values of caring, working together, bonding with co-workers are some things that the company says it seeks to promote.