IKEA Shuts Down Popular Fan Site IKEAHackers

by Mack Collier

A few years ago, the band Blink 182 was getting ready to release its new single.  It went to YouTube and found thousands of instances where fans of the band were illegally using its music in homemade videos.

The band cataloged over 100,000 instances of copyright infringement by its fans, then instead of sending lawyers after them, Blink 182 made the video for its new single from videos created by its fans.

Then the band thanked its fans.  For stealing its music.

This example is in contrast to how IKEA recently reacted when it discovered a popular fan site called IKEAHackers.  The site, which is where fans of the brand share their ‘hacks’ for making its products better, has been delivered a Cease and Desist letter from IKEA.  According to its lawyers, the brand objects to the fact that the fan running the site has inserted advertising on the site in an effort to offset the costs of maintaining it.  As the site’s owner explains:

Needless to say, I am crushed. I don’t have an issue with them protecting their trademark but I think they could have handled it better. I am a person, not a corporation. A blogger who obviously is on their side. Could they not have talked to me like normal people do without issuing a C&D?

IKEAhackers.net was set up in 2006 and truly not with the intent to exploit their mark. I was a just crazy fan. In retrospect, a naive one too. It is not an excuse but that was just how it was when I registered IKEAhackers. Over the last 8 years the site has grown so much that I could not juggle the demands of a full time job and managing IKEAhackers. It also costs quite a bit to run a site this large. Since IKEA® does not pay me a cent, I turned to advertising to support myself and this site.

To clarify, IKEA has every right to do what it feels is necessary to protect its brand and its images and likeness.  My guess is that’s the true motivation behind IKEA’s actions, and it feels if it spins that it doesn’t like the site due to the advertising on it that it might lessen the negative PR hit.

It’s also worth noting that this story will be hot for about 3-4 days, then most people will forget about it. Except for fans of the site, many of which were also IKEA fans.  Were.  

I mentioned the Blink 182 story at the start because it along with the IKEA story is a perfect example of the difference between how most rock stars view its fans and how most brands view its fans.  Both the brand and the band saw that its fans were acting in a way that could be viewed as damaging to its image and even copyright infringement.  But while Blink 182 saw fans illegally using its music as a possible opportunity, IKEA saw fans running the IKEAHackers site as a possible threat.  

That’s an incredibly important distinction.  And it brings up another equally important distinction between most brands and most bands.  Most brands have little to no connection with its fans, so as a result they don’t understand them and they don’t trust them.  While most bands are connected with its fans so they do understand them and do trust them.  Blink 182 understood that its fans weren’t trying to hurt the band with its videos on YouTube, they were trying to help the band.  IKEA apparently doesn’t see the IKEAHackers site as being helpful to its brand, instead it sees it as being hurtful.

How could IKEA have handled this situation as if it were an opportunity instead of a treat?  If the brand was really worried about advertisements on the site, then make a deal with the fan running it to have her remove all ads, and in exchange IKEA would sponsor the site for the amount she would have earned in ad revenue.

That turns a negative PR event into an incredibly positive one for IKEA.  It generates new fans for the brand, and everyone wins.

It also validates to IKEA’s fans why they were right to be fans of the brand.

The lesson: When you feel your fans are acting in a way that could hurt your brand, understand that your fans love you, and look for a way to work with them, instead of against them.  The only thing worse than ignoring your fans, is giving them a reason to stop loving you.

Penina June 17, 2014 at 9:18 am

This is disappointing to me. I thought IKEA had a more progressive outlook.

Carrie June 17, 2014 at 9:52 am

The Beastie Boys made headlines for their C&D against a small toy company using their music in a Super Bowl ad this year. The ad, while spectacular, was designed to make money for the company, and I found myself on the side of the band – because the private company never sought permission.

This situation feels different, though as soon as they monetized the site at all, even to only offset costs, it changed the perception of the site. While it’s disappointing it was handled in a traditional “legal” way with a C&D, keep in mind IKEA is a massive international company, and “that’s how things are done,” progressive culture or not.

As with the Super Bowl ad, I clearly see both sides, and it’s a times like this I’m glad I can take the easy road out and simply make comments on blog posts rather than make those decisions!

Penina June 17, 2014 at 10:03 am

I just sat back down after stewing over this while I made coffee. I found myself brainstorming ways to reach out to legal communities — law schools, etc. — and talk to them about how to protect a brand without alienating customers. I’m really hoping what happened with IKEA was a result of a disconnect, that the law department was simply doing what they do, and not a company-wide or “higher-ups” decision. Up until now, it’s been easy to hate on (or just feel disgusted by) lawyers when things like this happen. Maybe the legal profession just needs to catch up? Not with new, hair-splitting laws, but with the sense to recognize and creatively engage the evolving fan cultures?

Becky Blanton June 17, 2014 at 10:28 am

Really IKEA? Sad. I wish someone at IKEA, or the site’s owner, had thought to contact IKEA and ASK THEM to sponsor the site. Could have had a whole different feel and outcome.

Very disappointed in IKEA. I LOVED IKEAHACKS….it made me buy IKEA pieces I wouldn’t have ordinarily thought about.

Mack Collier June 17, 2014 at 10:57 am

I can understand why the monetization and even the site itself could concern IKEA. I just wish the brand had focused on finding a compromise with its fans versus just pulling the plug. Again, it’s the mentality that this site is a threat versus being an opportunity.

To Penina’s point, this feels like a decision that was made by lawyers following the letter of the law.

Penina June 17, 2014 at 11:00 am

(Yes, I am keeping this page open, and having trouble focusing on deadline work).

Mack, I have this image stuck in my head of you speaking at law conferences and to classrooms in law schools. Have you done that yet?

Mack Collier June 17, 2014 at 11:17 am

Thank you Penina, I haven’t yet. I am always looking for compromise and win-win solutions. I think IKEA sponsoring the site as a replacement to the advertisements would have be the correct move and its what I would have advised them to do.

IKEA had a chance to get a win-win out of this, instead it looks like they will get a win-loss.

Penina June 17, 2014 at 12:25 pm

It’s looking like a lose-lose to me: anguish for Jules of IKEAHacker and a whole lot of irate customers for IKEA.

Nathasha June 17, 2014 at 5:10 pm

I like the comparison of the two situations. Definitely helps to see how two similar situations handled differently could produce more fans or less fans for the brand.
I had no idea about either situation. But I’m sure that Blink has risen in popularity after their new video. I like that idea.

Peter Kanayo June 17, 2014 at 8:19 pm

Mack, great story, great read and great you.

For serving up a powerful illustration of how to turn a raving fan into a raving enemy.

If a competitor is wise they could use this scenario to build up their brand by snatching from under the nose the fans of ikea.

May be a situation where the company rubs mind with the owners and take over the site and just change the site name to theirs alongside rebrands the article to reflect their own brand.

Mack is it possible? Please just try an tweet me a response on twitter if you do reply so that I can come back to read the response. @compellinadvert

Mack Collier June 17, 2014 at 8:25 pm

Hey Peter that’s an interesting point. I’m not sure a competitor could seamlessly pick up IKEA’s fans because IKEA’s fans love (loved?) the brand for specific reasons. Reasons that likely aren’t applicable to the competitor.

Now what the competitor can do is study how this unfolded for IKEA based on how they have and continue to respond, and possible adjust their ongoing communications with its fans accordingly. It’s a learning opportunity for both IKEA and its competitors.

Peter Kanayo June 17, 2014 at 8:35 pm

Mack thanks for the quick reply. I Agree with you.

Now what I meant wasn’t the full range of #Ikea fans but those who one of the other may have interacted with ikeahackers.

So if the situation cannot be easily sorted ought, then it could be plus for a competitor.

Thanks once again for your response.

Mack Collier June 18, 2014 at 9:50 am

Peter an interesting clarification, perhaps you could be talking about a group of people that consider themselves to be fans of the SITE IKEAHackers moreso than fans of IKEA, first and foremost. That’s an interesting point to ponder…

Jay Gilmore June 18, 2014 at 10:08 am

International Trademark law is pretty clear on this issue, which is not at all as vague as copyright which the Beastie Boys and Blink 182 were protecting but due to artistic use and parody exceptions create massive grey areas.

A mark holder is obligated to protect the mark and prevent unauthorized use in order to retain mark protection. Failure to enforce can lead to revocation of a registration and associated protection.

I’ve had to send C&Ds to small businesses that wish to associate with the brand (of the company I work for). We tend to be personal about it and seek to help those well intentioned to find alternative solutions. The site owner could look to alter it’s name to something equally obvious such as “FlatPackHacks” (not claiming ownership on that idea).

The simple win here could have been for Ikea to help them find a new name. I doubt the lawyer or paralegal who drafted this C&D considered the issue as they surely send out many of these regularly. In this case the site was popular, especially amongst the Gawker/Buzzfeed/HuffPo readers.

There’s a tremendous value to a site that seeks to find clever ways to consume your products and I would hope someone in Ikea’s marketing team understands this.

Mack Collier June 18, 2014 at 10:21 am

Jay thanks for the clarification! I think the site really has its own fanbase as well, so it would be in IKEA’s best interests to see if there’s an acceptable compromise here between protecting its interests and also considering the wants and needs of the site owner and its community.

Jay Gilmore June 18, 2014 at 10:25 am

Ikea should absolutely seek to find a compromise that satisfies legal protection without amputating the fan’s well-intentioned efforts to promote lateral thinking around it’s products to the net positive for Ikea, for sure. That site is awesome and is the genesis for the Billy book case built-ins I am planning.

Maybe Ikea is being run by Lord Business from the Lego Movie? Follow the directions or else! They’ll start spraying Kragl on your Lack’s.

Kelly Hungerford June 18, 2014 at 10:18 am

Hi Mack,

This reminds me of the C&D letter super-fan Sara Rosso received from Ferrero last year about World Nutella Day. The demanded she STOP rallying fans worldwide around their favourite hazelnut spread and asked her to shut down her site… Crazy, right?

A month later (and a lot of terrible press later) Ferrero reached out to Sara and apologised, saying that they appreciated her as a fan, and the site could continue to live on moving forward.

From a pure Brand and legal perspective, as you mention above, they have the right. Thank goodness the non legal business side stepped in and helped legal realize what was at stake.

Sara’s story had a happy ending for Nutella lovers world wide. Perhaps Ikea will make a similar move!

Mack Collier June 18, 2014 at 10:20 am

Kelly you’re right, that move was a head-scratcher as well, good to see cooler heads prevailed!

spotmagicsolis July 21, 2014 at 12:10 pm

That’s what Attorneys are paid to do so, uno….that’s what they will do.

James June 23, 2014 at 9:01 am

Hi Mark,

The contribution of peter kanayo above is quite thoughtful and worthy of deep consideration.

I think that the action taken by IKEA is alright by legal standard ( its their brand, so no problem with that). However, I don’t think they have a sound marketing team that could have used the advantage to leverage the continued growth of their brand and products.

Instead of firing up the guy, they could have simply embrace the idea this fellow has nurtured for the past 8 years and create a win-win situation.

Thanks for sharing this development.

Crypto June 25, 2014 at 9:41 am

I think it was a good move on IKEA’s attempt to protect their trademark, however I believe they should have encouraged the user to use a different domain! Honestly, they could have used him and his whole blog concept as a whole new means of social-based advertising. It was a great opportunity missed and eventually turned into a small PR nightmare.

Linda Sherman July 6, 2014 at 2:54 pm

Good article Mack.

I think they still have a chance to recover from this by reaching out to the blogger as Nutella did. It was interesting to understand all of the details about why C&D’s are made in the comments.

Would disclaimers posted all of the site protect their trademark? It is a shame that he used that name. It is a lesson to all not to use the actual brand name in their domain.

I once worked closely with a Sweden based company. Attitudes there, no matter how international their company is, may not be the same as ours.

Mack, a woman close to me has had gall stones in the distant past and current gall bladder related discomfort. She is getting conflicting medical advice on whether to do elective surgery or wait for possible emergency surgery. What is your opinion?

Mack Collier July 6, 2014 at 3:21 pm

Hi Linda! As for your friend, I guess it depends on the level of discomfort she’s having and for how long it lasts. Mine didn’t last very long when the discomfort came, but when it did, it was basically debilitating for about an hour or so.

The surgery itself is fairly minor, they took me down to the waiting area to have the surgery and they were asking me if I had everything metal off, and then I asked them if they were about to do the surgery and the nurse told me they had already done it! Took about an hour, and there was very little pain afterward, but they gave me medicine to help with it. It will take me a couple of months to fully recover because it requires multiple incisions in your midsection, and that’s where your core muscles are.

I would think her family physician should have the best read on the risks it could pose to her moving forward.

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