#154 IKEA erases women
Adapting to different cultural environments is tricky business. In 2012, various Swedish media outlets ran an article titled “IKEA raderade kvinnorna” (engl. “IKEA erases women”). What had happened? One of the central elements in IKEA’s marketing strategy is its voluminous catalog that covers everything from comfy sofas to simple kitchen gadgets. In its attempt to penetrate the Saudi Arabian market, IKEA had made what it thought was a simple adaptation. While one particular page from the Swedish edition of the catalog showed a happy family – father, mother, and two children – in their pajamas in a bathroom, the corresponding page in the catalog from Saudi Arabia showed the same image without the mother. In its attempt to be respectful to the local cultural environment that forbids to show a female in her pajamas with her hair not covered, IKEA had simply photoshopped the mother of the family from the photo. Little did they expect outrage from consumers globally who criticized that the otherwise liberal company was contributing to the oppression of women in one of the most conservative nations in the world. Global news outlets from Al Jazeera to BBC and Time magazine quickly picked up the story, which spread like wildfire internationally. This incident clearly shows how difficult it is for global companies to navigate between cultures that are fundamentally different.
April 14, 2020 @ 1:21 am
This is quite an interesting debacle for IKEA. From a marketing standpoint, I understand the ease of photoshopping out the mother to be culturally sensitive. However, there are plenty of women and models who are practicing Muslims who wear hijabs or fuller coverings, IKEA could have used for the mother. IKEA also made the mistake of using the original photo in production as well as the photoshopped version. The intent was true of heart, however the end product flopped. IKEA is also known for its defined efforts to successfully enter a foreign market (see SE Asia & Australia), so it’s no wonder this “oops” spread like wildfire across the world. IKEA should have taken the opportunity to empower women in the conservative culture of Saudi Arabia, instead of completely erasing the mother from the photo. IKEA has learned an important lesson for marketing to the Middle East in regard to including the whole family while giving the ability to empower women through marketing. They have also learned the valuable lesson of not using short cuts in marketing and using two different versions of the same photo for world-wide marketing.
April 19, 2020 @ 1:26 pm
I think this case is a good example of “well-meant, badly done”. Ikea faced the problem that it wanted to enter a completely new market which couldn’t differ more from the Swedish culture. From the company’s perspective I can clearly see why they thought removing women seemed like a good idea. They have pleased the Arabic culture by not showing women in an “inappropriate” way. Furthermore, it saved them money and time because they did not have to develop a new marketing campaign.
Nevertheless, in my opinion it showed that Ikea did not recognize that actions taken in Saudia Arabia will also have an impact globally. I think they have considered Ikea Saudi Arabia apart from their global brand and therefore they did not expect an upcoming outrage. However, upon the removal of women in Saudia Arabia they have harmed the reputation of the brand in a global manner. For customers in western countries it seemed that Ikea is supporting discrimination against women.
In my opinion they have clearly missed the opportunity they could have had with a proper implemented Saudia Arabia campaign. Ikea should have used this moment to empower women instead of erasing them.
April 19, 2020 @ 10:18 pm
Throughout this course we have discussed numerous times the importance of a company’s ability to adapt to different cultural environments and to truly understand the culture of the market they are attempting to penetrate through various degrees of market research. IKEA made this simple adaptation in order to show respect to the local cultural environment, however they failed to see how consumers globally would view the marketing revision, which turned into a PR nightmare. As the blog post mentions, this incident displays the struggle of navigating between cultures that are profoundly different, even for a massive global company such as IKEA. Regardless of an organization’s experience with internationalization, it is essential a business has a systematic approach and not only analyzes how the local market a company is entering will view the marketing tactic or strategy, but also how other consumers around the world will interpret the advertisement. In this case, I believe IKEA could have created a new catalog picture, rather than making the adaptation of photo-shopping to remove the woman from the photograph.
June 21, 2020 @ 6:27 pm
IKEA’s choice to photoshop and remove women from the advertisement demonstrates the importance of understanding and representing both the global and local markets. In this case, the local adaptation may have intended to reflect the cultural norms by understanding the same image would have been culturally inappropriate and instead represented removal of women entirely. The local and global brand includes women and when the brand did not reflect the inclusion of women in a culturally appropriate way and impacted both the global and local markets with differences in the market. IKEA learned the lesson on how challenging it is for global companies to navigate differing values and beliefs and other companies should take this as a lesson to truly understand the cultural importance and differences in global markets.
June 24, 2020 @ 6:52 pm
In my opinion this example shows particularly well how much attention companies pay to saying or showing the right thing in the right country but the attempt still sometimes fails.
For me Ikea is known for its flawless brand image and and for their good positioning in many different countries with different cultures.
Even with this photo in their catalogue, they have tried to adapt to the culture and meet the demands of the customers by retouching the woman. However, I think the reason why there was such a big outcry in the world is because they published the exact same picture with the woman in other countries. If they had only published the image without the woman and no other image in comparison, there would probably never have been such an uproar.
Of course, Ikea also could have found a more charming solution by adding a woman to the picture that meets the cultural requirements. But I am quite sure they learned from their mistake and next time they find a better solution.
June 28, 2020 @ 1:28 pm
This example shows very clearly that, especially as a globally international company, it is very important to carefully consider each individual marketing strategy in different cultures in order to avoid possible misunderstandings. Especially in today’s world, where equality between men and women is becoming more and more important, you cannot longer afford such a marketing campaign from Ikea. Of course, it is of utmost importance to consider the specifics of the countries and cultures you serve as an international company, but there are many other ways to highlight cultural differences. For example, for the catalogue in Saudi Arabia, Ikea could have covered the mother’s hair with a towel turban and adapted the clothes to the cultural requirements.
June 29, 2020 @ 5:46 pm
This adaptation demonstrates a good intention, but with a poor execution. First of all, it’s an exemplary manner that Ikea respects other traditions and tolerates cultural differences. Especially since the countries’ values are so different from each other in terms of Hofstede’s Dimensions of Culture. In comparison to Sweden, Saudi Arabia has a high masculinity and a low individuality. Therefore, it wouldn’t be appropriate to show a woman without Hidschab and Abaya. However, it’s also a bold statement to just erase the woman out of the picture, especially in times like these, where equality and the female emancipation are of great importance. Another factor that Ikea hasn’t considered is the high transparency. Nowadays everything is public, including advertisements and catalogues. For this reason, the Swedish company should have known that this faux pas would emerge. All in all, it would have been wiser to simply to leave the photo unchanged or use a completely different picture.
June 29, 2020 @ 9:13 pm
In my opinion this is a good example of preferring to avoid harm rather than doing good.
For a globally known furniture company, like IKEA is, I think it would have been a great opportunity to show its Swedish values in countries and that would need to know them, like Saudi Arabia. As Sweden is commonly associated with its liberal lifestyle and values, including gender equality, the decision to simply photoshop women out of the catalogue is highly doubtable and seems just like an “easy fix”. This move might seem very normal in Saudi Arabia, but it does not reflect IKEA’s and Sweden’s values.
I think IKEA’s attempt to respect Saudi Arabia’s culture is a good intent, but this cultural difference could have been used in better way with a positive message. I think IKEA could have shown its values specifically by including women in the Saudi Arabian catalogue, while still respecting their culture by including women with their hair covered and in “appropriate” clothing. This would have been a great opportunity to empower women, especially in a culture that is frequently criticized for the way it regards women.
June 29, 2020 @ 9:38 pm
In times of globalization, it is becoming increasingly important for international companies to adapt their marketing activities to the local conditions of their target markets. IKEA clearly shows that some companies obviously do not always succeed.
From my point of view, this action was unfortunately very inconsiderate and there would have been many better ways to adjust to cultural differences in terms of gender roles rather than just removing the woman and publishing both the original and the photoshopped picture. Probably the best option for the Saudi Arabian version would have been to only slightly increase the effort and choose a completely different setting or a model with covered hair to respect their culture.
IKEA’s apology, which was published due to the intense worldwide criticism, was very appropriate and well-meant, but in retrospect the necessary considerations should have been made before launching these catalogues, in order to avoid such a situation and negative word of mouth from the outset.
July 27, 2020 @ 1:18 am
This is a prime example on how challenging it can be cross boarders and cultures with a product or a company. Once optimal entry mode has been vetted by identifying internal and external needs, this is just the beginning. Corporate and product readiness combined with industry and market needs also need to have a marketing campaign to back them. Good marketing campaigns know their customer. In this case, Ikea DID know their Saudi Arabian customer, but they did not put that into the big picture of ALL their international customers. In this day and age when we are guilty by association, removing a woman from her family picture (although attempting to be modest and sensitive) equated to the continuation of oppressing women. Although adaptation was needed for this marketing campaign, it would have been better to choose a more specialized adaptation and spent more money than pennies it took to photoshop a mother out. Sometimes trying to save money with short cuts can be costly in the end.
November 5, 2020 @ 9:52 am
Ikea’s adaption of their marketing campaign was clever in that they recognized the need for alterations to their advertisement. They understood that they are in an different market and need to cater to the taste and preferences of the consumers of that country. In this case, Ikea understood that they needed to cater to the culture of Saudi Arabia. However in this adaption, I feel that they let down their own audience/consumers, and compromised the integrity of their own values by deleting the mother out of the photo. They chose to justify devaluing a woman’s role and value, to promote their product. This is a sore point, as women have not, and are still not treated equally, in many cultures including western cultures, for their work and contribution to society. Ikea chose to ignore what many thought they championed and represented by pretending the woman did not exist. I do think this is difficult situation, as options such as changing the race of the family, or altering their mode of dress to something more traditional, are also repressive and may produce negative results. I would think they should have spent some more time researching the culture putting together some focus groups to test the campaign.
June 15, 2021 @ 6:48 pm
The multinational furniture company IKEA tries to adapt its catalogue to suit different cultures around the world. Kitchens in the US for instance tend to be larger than in China. In the incident described above, IKEA tried to adapt to the Saudi Arabian culture and did not show the woman in her pyjamas with her hair not covered because due to the high Masculinity (Hofstede’s dimensions of culture) in Saudi Arabia this is not appropriate. They were just trying to adapt to the culture, but they didn’t think about the global impact. In other countries it seemed that Ikea supports discrimination against women as in other countries the female is shown in the catalogue.
To my mind, a company must not forget the big picture and not just think about how they can save costs with marketing tricks. It’s essential that a business understand both, the global as well as the local market. Just think about the slogan “think globally, act locally”. The catalogue and matching images should be made for the respective culture and not changed with Photoshop.
June 17, 2021 @ 11:42 am
This strategic movement is an excellent example, how difficult it is for a company to adapt to different cultures in a proper way. Generally, this adaption seems to be made with a good intention, but in the end turned out badly, because some fundamental aspects were not considered sufficiently. Although Ikea was aware of cultural differences regarding the role of women in Islamic countries, the company has made a huge mistake in implementing their idea with just erasing the mother from the original photo. Instead, they could have made a completely new photo scene, adapting to the living standards which are typical for Arabic countries. Regarding the woman shown in the original catalogue, Ikea could have used an Arabic model, who has her hair covered and is dressed appropriate regarding to the cultural requirements. This would also have been a strong statement against the high masculinity, which dominates in countries like Saudi Arabia.
June 19, 2021 @ 9:33 am
This is a good example of a marketing campaign that went wrong in my opinion. I do not think (or hope) that IKEA erased the women in the picture to lower women’s positions. I think that they wanted to adapt to the culture in Arab countries. Unfortunately, that backfired, and I have to say that it was not the best idea for IKEA. They have completely forgotten about their other markets and the reputation they will get there. I think that a lot of people who have heard about that incident think about it twice before they are going to buy something from an institution that is supporting the suppression of women.
June 28, 2021 @ 11:04 am
A well-intentioned example that is unfortunately no longer really up to date. Sweden is a very liberal country, often associated with openness and a high rate of equality. This view is not in any way to be doubted in the case of the Swedish company IKEA in Europe. In Saudi Arabia, Ikea has unfortunately disregarded these values. While an advertisement without a woman may be an accommodation to Saudi Arabian culture, an adaptation to the culture could have been presented in a different way. For example, Ikea could have made the advertisement with a woman who is dressed or covered according to the culture. This would have shown that one accepts the culture and adapts to it, but does not discriminate against women.
July 11, 2021 @ 10:17 am
I’m a little bit shocked about this advertisement but not surprised as we all know that in conservative nations like Saudi Arabia women don’t have as much rights as men. That’s why Ikea should have made a statement that also in such country’s women are important – Or in other words: Part of the family! –
On the one hand companies have to adapt their advertisement to the country, but on the other hand this was a step into the wrong direction. Because there have to be women in Saudi Arabia too, to complete a society. For the reason that nowadays also models who wear hijabs or fuller covers exist there are no excuses to not show women in such an advertisement. With the fact that they erased the existing woman from an original family photo Ikea in a way “supported” this conservative state of mind. So, I fully understand that this case was discussed internationally.
Nevertheless, when planning an advertisement religion, belief of a society and tradition of the country should be taken into account. However, there is a fine line what is appropriate and what is not.
July 12, 2021 @ 10:58 pm
This is a very interesting article that illustrates the importance of adaption to the customer or the local spots. Only then it is possible to reach the preferred customer segment as good as possible and to meet their requirements. The reason for this is that on the one hand they want to show that they are open to the world and on the other hand they appreciate foreign cultures and therefore willingly adapt to the local conditions. However, in terms of emancipation and equality, this marketing strategy could be too inconventual and therefore heat up some minds. The internet and the transparency it creates could be further unraveling. Here dominate not only opinions and views from Saudi Arieben but those after other conceptions coinage and religions live. Accordingly, the campaign could have a negative impact on Ikea’s activities. My suggestion would be instead of replacing women on the existing picture, completely redesign the entire image – only with new male composites.
December 4, 2021 @ 8:49 am
As a global company, IKEA should not make the mistake “IKEA raderade kvinnorna” (engl. “IKEA erases women”). The promotion teams make a simple adaptation to adapt the culture and market of Saudi Arabia. In its attempt to be respectful to the local cultural environment that forbids to show a female in her pajamas with her hair not covered, so IKEA had simply photoshopped the mother of the family from the photo. Indeed, it is important for the global company to adapt the different local cultures. And it is a good strategy to enter the Saudi Arabian market. However, IKEA should not simple photoshop the mother of the family. When IKEA wants to adapt the Saudi Arabian culture, it should consider their global markets. It did not focus on the ideas from other customers of the whole world. The different cultures could make confrontation and influent the market sales. Therefore, as a multinational company, IKEA should consider contradiction of different cultures to avoid the unnecessary trouble. This incident clearly shows how difficult it is for global companies to navigate between cultures that are fundamentally different. It could create a new photo that the mother wears Saudi Arabian clothes or make a new photo in other scenes (for example, a happy family sit on sofa and watch TV) instead of showing a happy family – father, mother, and two children – in their pajamas in a bathroom.
December 10, 2021 @ 12:46 am
While IKEA had the right idea in mind, it was perceived poorly among other consumers. It is important to note that IKEA did the right research based on where they were going to be running the advertisement, and did what was respectful of their culture. If this advertisement was only being run in Saudi Arabia, I believe that no one would have really noticed anything drastic about the ad. Due to the company saving money by using photoshop to remove the mother, instead of changing the campaign to include a woman in the proper accepted attire or in a different situation, IKEA also got a bad reputation. As mentioned in the article, IKEA is a very liberal Swedish company that does not support what is expected of women in Saudi Arabia, but respects the cultures that they have. It is important to remember that when a business goes international, even if the home country does not agree with some cultural customs that they have, they still have to be respectful in order to conduct business. And if a cultural practice is not deemed ethical int eh home country, then it might need to be reconsidered if doing business with that country is the right idea.
December 10, 2021 @ 8:01 am
Creating and implementing successful advertisements in various countries can become tricky as the content planners must pay attention to detail. Every country has its own set of diverse communication, religious, and core values that make up the uniqueness of their culture and embody heritage. What becomes tricky is the question of leaving advertisements in their more universal nature or altering them to cater more to and target the in-country audience. I can understand in this situation why IKEA tried to be respectful of Saudi Arabian culture by not including a mother within the advertisement because the original displayed a female with skin and hair uncovered. They were thinking of the following tradition and being respectful of Saudi Arabia’s customs. However, just because the advertisement was released in this country, does not mean that others won’t still see it. Of course, neighboring countries including Saudi Arabia are going to pay attention to the missing motherly figure that makes this scenario so complete. Females and gender concentration, hair covered or uncovered, is a very prominent and highly focused topic within our international environment today, therefore, choosing to hide a woman’s presence in positive advertisement like this is going to cause a public commotion. I understand the intent of trying to respect one’s culture as it is very difficult to carefully and correctly consider that varying marketing strategies are required depending on the location. Despite this, the equality of men and women are of the same level and this relationship is very important, more so over religion and tradition. The woman still has been included in this advertisement, but with her hair and skin covered. Of course, that would have cost more time and money, but it would have been worth it in comparison to reading negative stories about their own companies as well as receiving outrage from areas internationally. Knowing an audience, being fair, and identifying the effects that a print ad might have on the home country as well as neighboring ones is very important and a part of correctly targeting consumer markets.
December 15, 2021 @ 6:18 am
This is where intent vs impact plays a huge part in marketing for international businesses. While IKEA had good intentions to appeal to the culture within Saudia Arabia, the impact to other cultures caused conflict. Erasing women from these catalogs did not align with IKEA’s values associated with diversity and inclusion. With being an international company, the lead of marketing and commercial should have a plan to address these types of cultural differences. In the case where marketing to specific cultures with issues around gender and equality, maybe the best option is to remove the human aspect all together. I have no idea if that is the best solution but seeing how their good intention impacted other cultures in a negative way, maybe removing people from their product catalogs would keep them neutral. Today, I believe almost every marketing campaign in all industries are being challenged in some way and for good reasons. However, if a company prides themselves on sticking to their purpose, values, and vision surrounding diversity and inclusion, altering their photos to fit specific cultures does not align with those values.
April 1, 2022 @ 7:43 am
This was a very interesting blog to read and a great example of how adapting to different cultural environments is tricky for businesses. IKEA decided to remove a picture of a woman in one of its campaigns to adapt to Saudi Arabia’s culture to show respect to the local cultural environment. However, IKEA failed to realize how its customers in other parts of the world would see this marketing campaign. Even though IKEA did its research to fully understand Saudi Arabia’s culture, just by altering a small component, it disappointed the whole world. IKEA made the mistake of using the same marketing picture and the photoshopped picture when they could have just used two separate pictures. Although IKEA’s intentions were good and their reasoning for removing the mother is understandable, they could have included women who were dressed up appropriately instead of fully removing the women. In this case, IKEA decided to take a shortcut instead of spending money on a whole different campaign, which eventually cost them more and created a bad reputation. IKEA learned the hard way how challenging it could be for international businesses to adapt to different cultures and beliefs, and I think this should be a learning lesson for companies to fully research the company in terms of culture and differences in the international market.
April 21, 2022 @ 9:52 pm
IKEA faced the problem that it wanted to enter a completely new market which couldn’t differ more from the Swedish culture. This adaptation demonstrates a good intention, but with a poor execution. I think this case is a good example of “well-meant, badly done”. IKEA’s choice to photoshop and remove women from the advertisement demonstrates the importance of understanding and representing both the global and local markets. From the company’s perspective, I can clearly see why they thought removing women seemed like a good idea. On the other side, I think IKEA should have used this moment to empower women instead of erasing them. In my opinion it showed that Ikea did not recognize that actions taken in Saudia Arabia will also have an impact globally. Nowadays everything is public, including advertisements and catalogues. In comparison to Sweden, Saudi Arabia has a high masculinity and a low individuality. Finally, I would say it would have been better to simply use another picture.
April 23, 2022 @ 3:21 pm
After reading this blog post on how IKEA tried adapting to the Saudi Arabian market by removing the woman from one of their marketing ads, I can agree that adapting to different cultural environments really is tricky business. I think that this was an interesting approach that IKEA took to try and respect the culture of this market, and they probably could have handled it differently as the blog post mentioned. Instead of completely removing the mother from the picture, IKEA could have portrayed the woman in a different way that is acceptable, or simply change the ad so that it catered to the local culture. IKEA already went through the work of removing the mother, and I feel like they could have created a whole new ad to satisfy this market instead of ‘lazily’ photoshopping an ad that was created for a different country. However, I do agree that it is difficult for global companies to navigate between different cultures that are different. This is why it is so important to make sure the company is fully aware of the local environment prior to entering a market so that they do not make mistakes like IKEA did in the Saudi Arabian market.
July 7, 2022 @ 8:08 am
For global companies like IKEA, it is essential to adapt marketing campaigns for the countries in which they want to expand. As IKEA mainly promotes products that families use in their most private environment, the significant cultural and sensitive differences need to be taken into consideration. IKEA knew that a bathroom or bedroom advertisement could not be standardised globally. However, in my opinion, it was the wrong way to use the same image used for Western countries for Saudi Arabia, by removing the woman. IKEA should have been aware that this comparison would become public. If these two photos are now placed side by side, it seems reasonable to assume that IKEA endorses the oppression of women. A far more sensitive solution would have been to publish a catalogue that is sensitive to the cultural characteristics of the region and reflects the common lifestyle for each country.
July 8, 2022 @ 9:16 am
I think this example of adjustment of advertising in different countries and cultures, shows how difficult it is for companies. Personally, I think IKEA is a brand which has a great public image and therefore a great marketing strategy. For this particular example you can see that they wanted to show and consider the cultural differences, which per se is not a bad thing, but unfortunately, I think they should have handled this differently. Even though it is true, that in Saudi Arabia women have not the same rights as men, I don’t think that IKEA should be “supporting” that by erasing women out of the picture. Because I think by doing so, they are acknowledging and actually supporting this kind of environment. Having a corporate image and considering cultural aspects is important, but not by addressing basic rights and gender topics in a negative way.
March 11, 2023 @ 4:52 pm
Togetherness, caring for people and planet, cost-consciousness, simplicity, renew and improve, different with a meaning, give and take responsibility, and leadership are IKEA’s eight key values. The discussed image blunder tells a different story, since the corporation only upheld two of their eight core values: simplicity and cost-consciousness, to put it in an exaggerated nutshell. To “adhere” to a different cultural belief system, they picked the simplest and cheapest solution, ignoring further implications. It is no surprise that IKEA quickly expressed regret following the public outrage by stating: “We should have reacted and realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalogue is in conflict with the IKEA Group values.” Clearly, multinational businesses must ensure that all their activities align with their brand identity and core values, but also—and most importantly—with human rights. The failure of IKEA’s advertising campaign is even more shocking given that the company participates in the UN Global Compact, a program that encourages businesses all around the world to adopt sustainable and ethical business practices. Respecting and tolerating cultural diversity is crucial, even an ethical obligation, but cultural differences cannot be used as a justification for global corporations to lessen their commitment to upholding human rights.