Who says there’s no such thing as bad publicity? Try telling that to the marketing executives of Ikea today. So successful was the hyping of Thursday’s new store opening in north London, that it turned into a disaster of spectacular proportions.
How they must have wished they had undersold the event after a huge crowd of bargain-hunters stormed the doors at midnight. The fallout was half a dozen people in hospital, 20 treated for heat exhaustion and who knows how many more too traumatised to buy self-assembly furniture at bargain-basement prices ever again?
Ikea wailed that Thursday’s fiasco was caused by “an unforeseen volume of customers”. But it was not unforeseen at all. Only five months ago three people were killed in another stampede at a new Ikea branch in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. For something like this to happen once would be appalling. But, to misquote Oscar Wilde, twice looks like more than carelessness. It looks like – and is – gross negligence. The arrogance of the brand not to think the chaos could be repeated suggests poor internal communications and a failure to pass on key learning. Perhaps they couldn’t understand the instructions.
Thankfully, there was no loss of life in Edmonton but there could easily have been, with 6,000 bargain-hunters trying to get past 45 security staff, some of whom allegedly ran away when things got out of hand. As for the shop, it closed down 42 minutes after its grand opening. It is hard to imagine how Ikea’s marketing and publicity team could have ignored the lesson of Riyadh in this way. Not only have they given the world of PR and promotion a bad name, but they have damaged their own brand.
Compare that with the week’s PR triumph by BlackBerry, when Alastair Campbell unwittingly gave them a huge publicity coup by using their device to send an abusive email. Nobody died. And it didn’t cost a penny.