L-R: Mathias Sandvik; Hallvard Vaaland; Marcus Hassel; Torkel Skjolden
The creative team behind “The Name Catalogue” by IKEA happily admit that they’re among the youngest at renowned Norwegian agency TRY (which is pronounced “tree”, by the way). “We don’t have kids yet – but we knew from family and friends who are parents that choosing baby names can be a challenge,” says copywriter Torkel Skjolden.
Still, producing a catalogue full of names of IKEA furniture and proposing it as a source of inspiration to new parents seems like a bit of a leap. In fact, everyone loved the notion – especially the media. But let’s go back to the campaign’s…erm…birth.
Imagine the creative quartet (Torkel along with art director Marcus Hassel, copywriter Hallvard Vaaland and art director Mathias Sandvik) batting around ideas after a long working day.
“It all started during Covid, when the media here in Norway were talking about a baby boom,” Torkel says. “We felt it was positive news – so we wanted to create something positive from that insight,” Torkel says. “On the other hand, at that time our client IKEA had some supply issues – so for once they couldn’t talk about new products, because they didn’t have any. We thought this idea might give them something to tell their customers about.”
“We actually stopped counting the hours we worked"
Having worked with the Swedish brand for some time, they knew it had a rich heritage – and that it used “human” names for some of its furniture. “It was like a jigsaw puzzle where all the pieces seemed to fit perfectly.”
IKEA loved the idea, but had no idea how many potential baby names it had used since the beginning (the company was founded in 1943 and produced its first catalogue in 1950). “They said that if we could find more than 50 names, we should go for it.”
The team had to trawl through more than 70 years of catalogues manually, as the archive is digitised but not searchable. In the end they unearthed more than 800 names – and wrote all the descriptions for the resulting book themselves. “We didn’t use an AI or anything!” insists Torkel’s fellow copywriter, Hallvard, sounding faintly (but humorously) aggrieved by the question. He adds that the art directors also had to pitch in with the writing.
As you can imagine, this process took some time. “There were long nights,” remarks Hallvard. “We actually stopped counting the hours we worked, otherwise it would have cost the client too much.”
Art director Marcus confirms: “An idea like this takes a lot of labour, but we believed in it, and so did the client and our bosses, so we were driven to complete it. We had to give a bit more – and in the end it was worth it.”
The bucket list moment
Despite their faith in the idea, they weren’t anticipating the “overwhelmingly good” response to it. IKEA’s PR team distributed a press release about the project and it very quickly sparked interest.
When the story was picked up by a magazine in Denmark, says Marcus, the team thought: “Denmark! It’s gone global!” After that the news made it to Germany, creating even more jubilation. “Especially since the catalogue is in Norwegian, so it wasn’t rigged for global exposure.”
Even a journalist in New Zealand mentioned the catalogue. “But the real bucket list moment was The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” says Torkel. “I was in a store when Marcus called me about it. I just said, ‘What?!’”
Mathias adds: “What’s interesting is that the Norwegian press aren’t very keen on covering advertising, so we didn’t get much media coverage here in Norway at the beginning. But then they started writing about the Norwegian ad that had been on The Late Show.”
A radio show even devoted an entire slot to a piece about baby names – inspired by the catalogue.
One of the smartest tactics of the launch campaign was to sneak the catalogue into the waiting rooms of medical facilities. Was that easy to manage? “Not at all,” says Mathias. “The idea felt perfect because there are always old magazines in waiting rooms, so we thought the IKEA Name Catalogue would be perfect for upcoming parents to look through for a change. But the public facilities all told us that they didn’t allow commercial brands into their spaces.”
Contacting private facilities proved difficult too, so in the end there was only one thing for it – the team visited them on foot asking kind receptionists if they could slip the magazine into waiting rooms. “Luckily quite a few of them liked the idea and thought it was funny, so they agreed.”
Part of the furniture
It’s impossible to determine exactly how many babies have since been named after IKEA items. They’re by no means odd or unpronounceable – Henry, Lena and Vanessa are on the list – and at least one couple have admitted naming their son “Tim” after a 1960 trolley table.
“We’ve certainly seen from the comments sections on social media that parents have found it helpful,” says Torkel (whose name is also in the book, by the way). “Many of them have thanked IKEA for the inspiration, so we hope that we’ve helped to name many babies.”
People have also had a lot of fun looking for their own names in the catalogue. In fact, its impact might be far reaching. Twenty years into the future, one of the creative team might mention in passing that they worked on the campaign – and the younger person they’re addressing might reply: “Is that so? Thanks to you, I was named after a wardrobe.”