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What ikea got wrong: Why we'd bring back this powerful print marketing tool

There are SO MANY things we love about IKEA, but the brand broke our hearts (and millions of others!) when it discontinued its iconic print marketing catalogue after 70 joyous page-flicking years.

Having produced bible-volume print runs of the cult catalogue during those seven decades, it came as a complete shock when they announced they were retiring this powerful print marketing tool.

At its height, the brand printed 220 million annual catalogues in 69 different versions and 32 languages for more than 50 markets.

But amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the brand called time on this beloved coffee-table staple, with the final print run in Autumn 2020. IKEA said the difficult decision had been influenced by several factors, including distribution challenges, environmental impact, and changing consumer behaviour.

However, given the catalogue’s strong following and global adoration, combined with people’s renewed love for nostalgic print products, not to mention impressive stats for print-marketing engagement rates, we think they made a mistake in shelving it.

Our IKEA Love Affair

From their incredible brand-building strategies and relatable storytelling to their iconic furniture designs and reasonable price points, IKEA has become synonymous with affordable furniture across the globe because it’s a brand that (mostly!) gets it oh so right.

By taking time to fully understand homes and how people use them, IKEA understands its audience in ways some brands can only dream of. They’ve also nailed the inclusivity element with ‘the IKEA effect’ psychology, demonstrating that we attach higher value to something we’ve helped create. So, that flat-pack wardrobe that took us eight hours, four arguments and two nervous breakdowns to build was actually well worth the time (and tears!) because we were part of the process. We built it!

Then there are its strong sustainability commitments, ranging from reducing packaging and removing single-use plastics to driving down its delivery Co2 emissions. IKEA also applies circular principles to new designs so they can be repurposed, repaired, reused, resold and recycled, generating as little waste as possible while giving its prized products longer lifespans. Its in-store restaurants, meanwhile, have recently introduced healthier and more sustainable food choices.

See, there's so much to love! But, for the reasons we expand on below, putting its print catalogue to bed is the equivalent of taking its iconic meatballs off the menu (don’t worry - they’re safe…for now, at least!).

A Print-Axing Faux Pas

IKEA admits that its much-loved catalogue was so much more than photos of products on paper.

Just like its famed room sets within its stores, the pages of its catalogue drew people in and gave them more than was to be expected. It wasn’t generic, soulless or one-dimensional but personal, relatable, educational and, of course, inspiring. To the consumer, it was the holy grail of a home furnishing guide, brimming with tips they could action and trends they could own.

To IKEA, it was an impactful print marketing tool that gave them the authority to set the home interior scene. They knew what the bestsellers would be because they positioned them front (page) and centre in their very own publication that made its way into HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of homes worldwide.

Best of all…it was welcomed with wide-open arms, with countless letterboxes in its home country of Sweden bearing signs that stated: “No advertising or junk mail, please, just the IKEA catalogue”.

The Page-Turning Magic of Print Catalogues

So, beyond devastating home interior fans around the globe, here’s why we think IKEA made a mistake in discontinuing its print marketing catalogue.

Print Marketing Is Sustainable

Though print often gets a bad - and undeserved - rap when it comes to eco-friendly options, the pulp, print, and paper industry is actually one of the lowest industrial emitting sectors, accounting for 1% of global gas emissions. Furthermore, paper is one of the few genuinely sustainable natural products available, as it comes from a renewable resource that can be replenished and regrown.

Granted, not all elements of print production are natural or carbon-footprint-free, but they’re far kinder to Mother Nature than many think…and they’re getting greener all the time. For example, eco-friendly (vegetable) inks have been increasingly adopted, and greener modes of production, transportation, and delivery have been introduced. Furthermore, once a paper product’s use ends, it can be recycled, giving its natural roots a whole new lease of life.

IKEA was already hot on making its catalogue more sustainable, using entirely 100% FSC-certified paper by 2014, and by 2020, the brand had reduced its carbon footprint per catalogue by an impressive 50% compared to 2016. On the surface, it might seem that taking its customer communications online is a more eco-friendly option, but - as our good friend Two Sides highlights here - the ICT industry is far from squeaky clean, accounting for 4-6% of electricity use, which is more than 2% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

You can discover more surprisingly sustainable elements of the print industry here.

Engages An Audience

IKEA’s annual catalogue was loved by its brand fans around the globe, and printing the publication just once a year created a real buzz of excitement around its release.

For interior lovers, having a copy in their homes gave a sense of belonging - they were part of a cool, creative, and in-the-know tribe. They couldn’t wait to get their hands on it and would happily spend time getting lost within its pages.

However, it's not just the IKEA catalogue that can have this effect on an audience. A recent Royal Mail report written with Retail Week, looking into this ‘old-school’ print marketing tool, reveals that catalogues still deliver a powerful and engaging customer experience in today’s digitally dominated world.

The report highlighted that sixty per cent of consumers said they enjoy sitting down with catalogues and looking through them in their own time, while 48% said reading a catalogue is a way to escape.

Most importantly, from a commercial retail perspective, research by Marketreach in the report found that 76% of consumers said catalogues or product brochures give them ideas for things to buy, and 55% said they had bought something they’d seen in a catalogue within the past year.

Furthermore, catalogues were positioned as a complementary marketing tool to digital, with print catalogues driving a significant proportion of online sales and mobile-friendly QR codes increasingly appearing in print to help consumers navigate online purchases.

Stirs-Up Nostalgia

Just like many of IKEA’s iconic pieces of furniture stir up instant nostalgic joy (Billy bookcase and Poäng chair, we’re looking at you!), so too do old-school catalogues.

Think back to the simple pleasure of flicking through a catalogue when you were growing up, whether IKEA, Argos, Freemans or the like. Its trusted print pages (and distinct scent!) would draw you in and provide hours of mindless browsing.

In our digital overload era, audiences increasingly crave the joy of those simpler, screen-free times by welcoming print products into their homes.

Lands In Hands…And Keeps On Giving

Unlike fleeting digital communications, print marketing products don't hang around in cyberspace, hoping to get noticed. Instead, they turn up at consumers’ doors, giving brands an instant in. And, as we’ve already noted, Swedish IKEA fans were actively requesting a copy of its catalogue be put through their letterboxes.

Nor are catalogues one-hit-wonders. Their physical, sensory nature means they’re kept in homes for long periods and revisited multiple times, providing a mega sales opportunity.

The Royal Mail report found that homewares catalogues were particularly well received, with 80% being looked at immediately or kept for later browsing.

The Power Of Print Marketing

So, there we have it, our case for why IKEA made a mistake in shelving its iconic publication.

But while they might have called time on this powerful medium too soon, your brand could reap the numerous rewards that print catalogues can bring to the marketing strategy party. And, with an experienced print partner like us on your side, the production and distribution process couldn’t be simpler.

Keen to find out more? Then chat with our dedicated Print Marketing experts by contacting 0114 272 8888 or emailing And, in the meantime, let’s all pray the meatballs aren’t next in line for the Aptitlig…that’s IKEA’s butcher’s block!