The term “leftover Ladies” in China refers to the women whose age is over 25 yet still do not get married or have a stable boyfriend to be married. In China, approximately 36% amount of the female population can be considered as leftover ladies. There are some common features of leftover ladies: educated, well-paid, living a high-quality life, but putting too high a standard on choosing mates. This specific group of the population tends to be sensitive on the judges of their single status from others.
Nevertheless, the Swedish company IKEA seems to neglect this social group in Chinese culture while they are doing their recent marketing campaign in China. In the middle of October, IKEA released the latest commercial with the storyline about a leftover lady’s family dinner. In the 15 second commercial, the mom, dad, and the female lead are having a plain dinner in a normal house. When the lady asks her mom to add some dishes to her bowl, her mom says “Do not call me ‘mom’ if you cannot find a boyfriend.” Just after the conversation, there is a guy knocking the door. The guy is actually the boyfriend. Within five seconds, the parents refurbish the house with IKEA furniture, bring up well-decorated dishes, and exchange their clothes to the formal dresses. The commercial aimed to use the contrast to illustrate how well the IKEA furniture can change your house to another level. However, in the story, the trigger of the change of house is the status from leftover lady to a lady with a boyfriend. What is more, the aggressive line “Do not call me ‘mom’ if you cannot find a boyfriend” seriously offend all the single women. This commercial was broadcasted in most of the major Chinese television channels during the golden time of the day as well as news media sites. After a week, IKEA had received many complain letters about the discriminated content in the commercial. At the same many, massive amount of users of the social media sites posted their disagreements with the theme of the commercial. Major news outlets quickly followed up with the issue and made relevant reports.
On October 24th, IKEA seemed to realize the severity of the issue. The PR team of IKEA released an apologetic statement. In the statement, IKEA firstly “thanks for the public attention and censor on the IKEA’s commercial” and “sincerely apologize for giving the wrong perception.” According to the statement, the commercial aimed to “show how IKEA could help customers easily and affordably convert a typical living room into a place for a celebration.” The purpose of the commercial was just to encourage customers “to celebrate moments in everyday life.” IKEA encouraged people to “to live many different lifestyles.” For the content regarding the leftover ladies, IKEA claimed, “gender equality is a fundamental part of the IKEA culture and values,” which is shared with everybody. All in all, on the solution part, IKEA claimed, “We have already taken action” and would “improve communication moving forward.” So what exactly were the action and improvement that had been taken? Practically speaking, there was no visibly solid improvement at all, but the commercial involved had disappeared from all the media channels.
On October 27th, the PR director of IKEA in China, Deli Xu, was interview by a few reporters from various media outlets. Deli claimed that the involved commercial was the one that specifically designed for the Chinese market, and was not released in any other countries. The commercial was the result from the corporation of the creative advertising department, marketing department, and other decision-makers on the managerial level. With the supervision of so many people, there was still a deviation of the idea from public value. Therefore, Deli summarized, “I cannot answer why the marketing department made this commercial because I do not think the result should be evaluated.”
From a PR perspective, IKEA did a terrible job on solving the media crisis. First of all, on the matter of timeframe, nothing has been done within the first 24 hours. As a result, the negative emotion from public caused by the crisis was kept growing. Second, the apologetic statement was full of cliché and lack of solid steps of actions as well as improvements that IKEA was taking. At last, despite the apologetic attitude expressed in the statement, the PR spokesperson of IKEA was over arrogant and negligent on her words during the interview. She overly emphasized the hard work that had been done by different departments of IKEA, but it was pointless to praise the company while dealing with the crisis and that would even worsen the situation. In other words, through the handling process of the crisis, IKEA had shown that the company did not truly understand what was wrong with the commercial and how should the company improve itself and prevent similar issues from happening.
In my opinion, apparently, the cooperation between different operational sectors of the company did not work well. The defensive statement from IKEA’s PR director further proved the inability and inefficiency of the operation. In order to prevent the crisis from happening, a much stronger PR department and marketing department should be built. The employees should have more professional knowledge of the local culture and expertise on creative media campaigns. Much more research and investigation on the customers’ interests and tastes should be performed before making any media campaign plan. If somehow there was still an unexpected crisis happened, the PR team of IKEA should be taken action as soon as there were negative comments on the commercial. Qualified PR professionals should monitor the social media site for the company twenty-four seven. Then, IKEA was supposed to offer much more solid details on the actions taken and improvement plan in order to prevent the similar issues from happening, rather than merely stating the apologetic cliché. Finally, during the follow-up interview, the spokesperson should be well prepared, and humbly explain the situation and accept the corporate’s fault.