#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.

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