How IKEA missed out on an opportunity to go viral

Ross Simmonds

Did you hear about the monkey in IKEA that was spotted with a fur jacket on? Did you hear about IKEAs reaction to the monkey? If not, it’s not because you missed something awesome… it’s actually the complete opposite. They did.

IKEA missed out on a great opportunity to use reactive storytelling to further enhance their brand and stay top of mind. Instead, they took an approach that is traditional, boring and embraces the status quo. There was an opportunity to generate buzz, earned media but instead, Ikea continued with business as usual. This is what their networks looked like after it happened:

Do you see how cool that is? No?

Of course not. It’s boring.

Some businesses will tell you that it is hard to develop unique, compelling content for large organizations like this which is true to some extent, but I see this as more of an issue with idea identification and social media opportunity management.

The Opportunity to Listen

The easiest way to find content that will potentially go viral is to listen to the public. All it takes is a little social media monitoring through search, buzzfeed or a platform like Radian6 or Sysomos to identify a trend in your industry or related to your product. Social Media is filled with conversations happening from people as close as your neighbours to people on the other side of the globe. Brands have an opportunity to listen to these conversations and make decisions based on them that can lead to potential new business or compelling content that could go viral.

Organizations have been using social media to listen to conversations for years now. Whether it’s through a Social Media Command Center or an in-house team of marketers with their fingers on the pulse. There is a great opportunity for brands; large and small to find opportunities through social media.

Take Telus for example. After they came across the Monkey story at IKEA they thought about how they could integrate it with their business. In fact, they recognized an opportunity to show their own monkey and make a reference that would show the brand in a light, fun and in the know kind of way. Here’s what they shared on their Facebook page:

While the amount of engagement on the post was limited to their existing fans; this post promoted would have set the internet on fire. Another example of how a brand finds something interesting happening in the social space and connects it to their brand was Kit Kat after the Red Bull Stratos jump. They launched this video and were able to generate earned media and a huge spike in brand conversations.


Here are a handful of other brands who are utilizing reactive storytelling effectively.


I know many of the approaches to reactive storytelling I’ve talked about over the last few weeks might make some community managers and brand managers uncomfortable, but they work. I’ve been using Reactive Storytelling for several brands over the last few months and I typically see a 50% to 100% difference in these types of content in comparison to others. It’s a simple concept:

Guys, the new year is coming.

Recognize the emergence of memes and understand how you can use this cultural phenomena to your advantage. Whether it’s a meme directly related to your business or simple a consumer insight that could be leveraged to spark an increase in brand relevant conversation.

Make it your resolution to actually make the leap and do something beyond the status quo.


It appears that IKEA did leverage this story. Unfortunately, Telus and the internet went Bananas before they did and capitalized on it. The key to reactive storytelling is not to react for the sake of reacting. The key to reactive storytelling is to react in a way that is worth talking about and will turn some heads. That said, hats off to the IKEA team for doing something good…Next time, be great.

About Ross Simmonds

Ross Simmonds is a digital marketing strategist who has worked with everything from Fortune 500 companies to startups to drive results using digital marketing and technology.


  • Cynthia says:

    Ikea did pull through in the end by donating $10,000 to the animal sanctuary where Darwin is now living. The challenge is moving quickly enough. Telus moved quicker and gained momentum from the story. Ikea chose to do some good with the story but getting that donation passed and discussing how to share the message probably took several rounds of approval from the upper echelons of the company which increased their reaction time. As a community manager, I experience this time and time again when wanting to post something that requires levels of approval first. Applause should be given to Ikea for their response with acknowledgement that they could have moved more quickly and been a little more creative with their approach. Emphasis should be put on moving quickly in order to take advantage of momentum. An Ikea Monkey twitter account was up within hours. A Halifax artist ceased the opportunity to showcase his or her ability to paint to order and sold the painting immediately. Probably got a few orders in the process. Well done to whoever that was: A meme is born every minute. Approvals can take 48 hours or even more sometimes Even your own blog took a few days to write and go up. Don’t get me wrong, creds goes to you for using this case to demonstrate reactive storytelling. I’m just saying that sometimes life moves to quickly and people are too busy to simply react. You are right about reactive storytelling. When we are able to execute it and act fast, the results can be magical. Great post.

  • therealgreen says:

    The storytelling angle is a well taken point. But the angle your coming from is a little skewed in a negative direction.  

    Here are the facts:

    o The situation happened over the weekend.

    o This was also an “exotic” pet that animal control services deemed not only illegal but a public health risk. Their words, not mine.  

    o The owner felt the backlash of a no-return policy when she decided to venture in public with her pet.

    Given the circumstances, I feel an organic, crowd-sourced and free flowing form of storytelling works best to avoid any negative trickle effect when a company decides to jump on the SM storytelling bandwagon.  

    If Ikea decided to run with it, it could have been construed by onlookers as being forced. Maybe even contrived, and this is the damned if you do, damned if you don’t argument, because using the merit of your arguments, there were/are still people suggesting if was “staged” despite Ikea cautious approach.

    Maybe even insensitive given the circumstances of an exotic animal running around at one of their locations, deemed a public health risk, and illegal which also happened to be the grounds for the monkey being taken from its owner.

    One further, the backfiring on the delivery of a meme can sometimes be enough reason for even the savviest social media opportunists to tread cautiously.Given all these points on why the IKEA monkey even and “corporates” attempts at storytelling could have gone sideways, the speed with which content get’s consumed and shared online is already a hard act to follow when the handling of a situation requires kid gloves.

  • I’m not aiming to be negative, just identifying a missed marketing opportunity. 
    The facts are obvious but the timing of the situation shouldn’t impact the timing of the reaction. Conversations about brands happen 365 days a year 24 hours a day and it’s important that organizations embrace this and develop processes that allow for speedy responses. While you’re right that user generated storytelling is great; it doesn’t provide the brand with the same level of equity as something from their voice on their own turf. As an example, during the presidential election this year memes flooded the web about Obama but the ones that got shared the most and received earned media were those pieces that came directly from him. (See: This Chairs taken tweet)In regards to the backfiring of a meme, you have to keep in mind (1) the context and (2) opinion. This is something that happened at an IKEA which automatically makes it more relevant than the MLB tweet. This makes it easier for their team to ensure that the message is clever, compelling and done in good taste. It requires a bit of creativity but that’s the marketing teams job. Finally, in Deadspins opinion this was a fail but in the eyes of many of the MLB’s fans this was worth tweeting back with an “LOL” or “LMAO”.At the end of the day, if you please everyone, you’re more likely to impress no one.

    Thanks for the comment.

  • Thanks for the comment. I’ve updated the post referencing the donation!

    As for the 48 hours piece; in a world where people talk about a brand 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. Organization need to establish processes that accelerate approvals and embrace spontaneity. My post took time because I was waiting to see if they came out with something awesome.

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