Read any good catalogues lately?
Even in our digitized world of search, scrolling, websites, and social media pages, there can be something downright satisfying and tactile about handling a physical piece of art – a record album, a book, or even the IKEA catalog.
Yes, despite the fact that everything is now backed up on server farms in Scandinavia or on the cloud, IKEA has continued to print its physical catalogues for decades. In fact, the catalog turned 70 years-old last year.
That was when IKEA decided it was time to kill it. And now, IKEA has turned their famous catalog into a podcast.
With this handy list of blog topic ideas, your radio station's staff will never have writer's block again.
OK, a very different podcast.
There's now an audio version of the complete catalog, thanks to some forward-thinking of the IKEA creative team and their agency.
It's The IKEA Audio Catalog and it's a 3-hour tour (actually 3:41) of the printed version, narrated by a pleasant female VO person.
Now, podcast experts will tell you that at that duration, The IKEA Audio Catalog is a bit on the long side. But the podcast is actually divided into 13 chapters, each running about 10-20 minutes long.
Talk about “snackable content” – Chapter 12 is called “How To Cook Up A Snackable Kitchen.” I would hope the entire menu of Swedish meatballs would be sumptuously described.
And like so many other podcasts, you can listen while you're engaged in some other activity. You could cut the lawn and spread mulch while listening to Chapter 7 : “How To Get Set For Great Sleep.”
Or you could drop the kids off at school, while tuning in Chapter 3: “Nesting In Progress.”
Obviously, there's something here for just about everyone.
I recently bumped into a “debate” on LinkedIn about whether the world is truly experiencing an audio renaissance. The IKEA Audio Catalog would support that premise. And podcasts play an important role in this phenomenon.
Still, not everyone is tuned into Joe Rogan, Michelle Obama, or even podcasts about ottomans and end tables. More than six in ten of our Techsurvey 2021 radio fans still tell us they “never” or rarely (less than monthly) listen to podcasts. True enough, but we see plenty of “lift” from those who do – and as importantly, the very deep pockets from those willing to sponsor them.
And who knows – The IKEA Audio Catalog could end up being that “gateway drug” that introduces lots of new consumers to the podcast medium. IKEA had a robust 2020, as homebound consumers got creative during COVID, upgrading their living and working spaces. There are plenty of people interested in learning about IKEA's innovative inventory.
Still, as branded podcasts go, this one's an anomaly, But you never know if, in fact, IKEA has started a trend, perhaps even a new genre of podcasts.
A goal for this podcast is to make the catalog more accessible to those with a visual impairment or people who would rather hear someone reading about floor lamps, rather than reading about household furnishings themselves. Think talking books.
Social media manager and content accessibility advocate, Alexa Heinrich (pictured left), recently explained to Adweek:
“Giving customers an audio option for anything is a brilliant move, especially when it’s something as extensive as the iconic IKEA catalog. This will allow blind and visually impaired users to more easily navigate through the catalog rather than having to rely on an assistive device to read the content for them.”
The podcast is available on YouTube, Spotify, and AudioBooks – even more avenues for IKEA to market its offerings.
But whether you think “The Ikea Audio Catalog” is a gimmick or just an odd way to launch a podcast, look at the bigger picture. IKEA is a traditional brand that's been around for 95 years. As is almost always the case for companies that have been in business for nearly a century, old habits and routines die hard.
That's why The IKEA Audio Catalog is an important first step in the brand's late transformation to digital.
Now, if you want to access its contents, you'll go online or listen to the podcast. (For me, the podcast is even more compelling – I finally get to hear those Swedish names pronounced correctly.)
And maybe The IKEA Audio Catalog is a way to help its customers start transitioning to 100% digital delivery.
To that end, CNN Business' Jordan Valinsky says this podcast project is part of a larger content and distribution strategy by the iconic Swedish retailer, IKEA has also beefed up its mobile app. Up until last year, it was not possible to actually shop the store's inventory via the app. Not anymore. IKEA has invested in their mobile program. And it has paid off.
As mentioned, IKEA has thrived during the pandemic. But it was their online business that exploded while so many were cooped up at home.
A news story in The Washington Post by Heather Kelly notes that new audio innovations have achieved impressive levels of popularity and buzz during COVID. There's Audible, of course, and also audio conversations on Clubhouse, or tension relief on Calm.
And those audio applications are part of a larger phenomenon called ASMR – autonomous sensory meridian response. It can best be summed up by that tingly sensation we get near the back of our neck when we experience stimulating media – including audio. For some people, it's an oddly pleasurable and even relaxing feeling.
So, reading an IKEA catalog? You never know.
Perhaps this podcast is something of a curiosity – an odd, unconventional use of the podcast medium. But IKEA is no stranger to taking unusual paths to success. They thrive on it. As the female narrator tells us in the very first segment, The IKEA Audio Catalog is a “tour for your ears.”
And you could make the case that with its catalog, IKEA always had “great content.” This is just smart use of a hot distribution outlet.
So you can experience it for yourself, I'm including Chapter 1 for your listening pleasure: “Swim, Surf, Sleep Repeat.” You'll get the idea in the first five minutes.
But what about “that voice?” Who would actually sit behind a mic and read an entire catalog – and do it in a fun, compelling, accessible way?
The more I listened to The IKEA Audio Catalog, the more I wondered why the read grabbed my attention. On the one hand, it was playful and the cadence was ear-catching. That's an accomplishment for the reading of a mundane catalog, loaded with strange-sounding Swiss brands. But I started wondering whether it was a human VO person or an example of damn good AI.
I sent the above segment to Joel Denver, who in turn passed it along to expert Kelly Doherty. They each agreed it's a living, breathing person – but no one they've ever heard before.
So who is she, and why do her reads sound so unique?
Then I got lucky. In that same Adweek story by David Griner about the making of The IKEA Audio Catalog, there's a listing of the content crew that produced these podcasts. The agency is Ogilvy New York, and the VO talent is listed as Jasmin Richardson (pictured right).
No, you don't know her. She's not one of these familiar sounding-voices you often hear hawking products or even voicing industrial content.
Some Google searching later, and I found her.
Jasmin is a Broadway star, currently appearing in The Book of Mormon. She responded to my email from the Ukraine where she was kind enough to answer my questions – on audio, of course.
Here's a brief clip of Jasmin describing what it was like to voice a podcast of the entire IKEA catalog:
While Jasmin hasn't done a whole lot of VO work, she truly enjoyed the IKEA experience as you heard. And by the sound of it, with so much audio being produced and consumed, she's got the ability, the skill, and the creativity to excel in voice artistry.
When you do reads for the Aläng table lamp and the Bekant desk, getting call letters right will be a snap.
And if she can make the IKEA catalog sound interesting…
A podcast project like The IKEA Audio Catalog makes you wonder about logical extensions of this “all things audio” strategy. Maybe the next step for IKEA is to provide audio “how-to's” for the mechanically useless members of our society – yes, people like me are often stuck with putting together all kinds of furnishings. Imagine being helped and encouraged by a soothing voice walking you through the assembly process.
(“No, not the small red screw. Use the green screw and make sure it is tightly secure before aligning the wheels…”)
We'll soon know if catalog reading becomes a bona fide podcasting trend when Podcast Movement creates a session about innovative applications for industrial and corporate podcasts. Or when Dave Beasing's Sound That Brands team comes out with their Victoria's Secret catalog podcast.
Now, that would be an interesting read.
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