Ikea Catalog Airbrushing Regrets

Recently, IKEA announced an apology for editing the images of women from IKEA catalogs shipped to Saudi Arabia. Though women’s rights in Saudi Arabia are often a topic of controversy, the country does allow women to be portrayed in marketing materials. The company received serious flack for this editing error.

In my opinion IKEA had good intentions. They attempted to take preemptive measures to ensure they wouldn’t use any content in their catalogs that might be offensive to Saudi customs, but their plan backfired. By trying so hard to censor images throughout their catalogs they completely took women out of the picture, literally, and this idea was not in line with IKEA Group values.

According to LA Times, a representative speaking on behalf of the IKEA Group said, “Support the fundamental human rights of all people” and “do not accept any kind of discrimination,” are concepts in line with the group’s values.

According to the WSJ, IKEA publishes over 200 million copies with 62 versions and in the past they have been known to “tailor images to suit fashion related tastes of local markets and make changes to the catalog to align with cultural standards.” This editing change was not in the best interest of IKEA or Saudi Arabian customs.

A few questions:

  • Did the employees editing or re-shooting the photos think the concept of cutting women out was an appropriate idea? Did anyone speak up?
  • Has IKEA ever cut women out of marketing materials shipped to Saudi Arabia before? Why now?
  • What types of communication occurred as this process happened? How many different departments were involved?

What are they doing to fix this?

  • Firstly, IKEA management understands why people are upset
  • IKEA made a public apology and takes full responsibility for this mishap. They have made sure that the public knows it wasn’t the  local franchisees fault.
  • They are working to see if they can make digital renovations to correct this mistake
  • They are reviewing their procedures since the incident was in conflict with the IKEA Group values

Main takeaways:

A few weeks ago, IKEA experienced a similar mishap regarding their website. Looking at these two incidents IKEA desperately needs to take the steps to reevaluate their procedures and operations to fill the missing gaps. It sounds like IKEA has been able to gracefully and appropriately handle this incident and are well on their way to implementing a reevaluation process.  With more communication and some type of cultural awareness editing process they can prevent these types of issues from happening.

The photo below from the WSJ shows the differences in an American IKEA catalog with a woman in the photo versus a catalog shipped to Saudi Arabia with the woman cropped out.

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