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.

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