Saturday, March 08, 2008

Nothing Is Random At Ikea

Via OrgTheory:

Two Danish academics, Klaus Kjöller of the University of Copenhagen and Tröls Mylenberg of the University of Southern Denmark, conducted a thorough analysis of the names used in the IKEA catalog. They concluded that the Swedish names are reserved for the “better” products, and that even Norwegian names manage to make it into the bed department. But the “lesser” products bear Danish names like “Roskilde” and “Köge.”…Upholstered furniture, bookcases and multimedia consoles, for example, are named after small Swedish cities, while Norwegian towns serve as the namesakes of beds, dressers and hallway furniture. Names of Finnish origin grace the company’s chairs and dining tables. As it turns out, nothing is random at IKEA.

"Doormats and runners, as well as inexpensive wall-to-wall carpeting are third-class, if not seventh-class, items when it comes to home furnishings," Kjöller is quoted as saying in Nyhedsavisen, a Danish free paper. The stuff that goes on the floor, Kjöller said, is about as low as it gets. He accused the home furnishings company of "Swedish imperialism."

Of course, the news also prompted detractors to spring into action, who promptly called for a boycott against IKEA products. But the idea was dead in the water when Danes realized that there is no real alternative to the giant home furnishings stores in their country. Nevertheless, not all Danes are as laid-back about the issue.

For his part, Kjöller says the issue should not be played down. He argues that IKEA's denigrating naming convention symbolically portrays Denmark as the doormat of neighboring Sweden, a country with a larger economy and population.

The Danes' sensitivity is easily explained, especially by taking a look at the region's history, which is marked by a strong rivalry between the two nations -- a rivalry from which the Danes have emerged the underdog more often than not. Wealthy Norway once belonged to the Danes -- that is, until the Swedes took it away andeventually granted it independence more than 100 years ago.

Officials at IKEA headquarters in Scania vehemently reject the criticism from neighboring Denmark. "It's nonsense to say that we did this on purpose. It was a pure coincidence, and it happened many decades ago,"said IKEA spokesperson Charlotte Lindgren. The employee who chose Danish names for floor coverings retired long ago.

"Besides," she adds, "these critics appear to greatly underestimate the importance of floor coverings. They are fundamental elements of furnishing. We draw worldwide attention to Danish place names with our products. That has to be a positive thing."

But this prospect still isn't enough for many critics across the Öresund Bridge. They want to exact revenge, and they want to hit the Swedes where it hurts. According to one proposal, the Carlsberg Brewery, for example, could give one of its light beers a Swedish name. The Swedes detest light beer. Generally considered bland and tasteless, it is the only alcoholic beverage that can be sold in Sweden in places other than government-run liquor stores, which happen to have very limited hours.

My body swells and my lungs fill with a large, resounding, "hmmmmmmmm." Most interesting.