Assembling An IKEA Chair

31 October 2015

How About The “How”? A Simple Request For Product Marketers

By Freddy J. Nager, Founder Of Atomic Tango + Man Who Has Cursed At Furniture; featured photo by Dionysage

Two words that might strike fear into your heart:


Or how about the four-letter word that will make you utter other four-letter words:


If you’re like me, you’ve been there, suffered that: you buy a piece of furniture, a fancy new gadget, even some software that’s supposed to simplify and improve your life. Yet as soon as you open the packaging, turn it on, or try to install it, you realize you’ve been tricked and trapped into hours and hours of cruel-and-unusual torment just trying to build the thing or simply make it work.

Make It Work

With any luck, your product comes with instructions. But as luck would have it, they’re IKEA-style instructions. Meaning they’re merely black-and-white illustrations of 3D objects that look alike, without any words to, you know, explain things.

IKEA instructions

Written explanations. What a concept.

Even if the instructions do include explanations, they’re likely concocted by an engineering intern who can barely write English (even though he’s a third-generation Bostonian) and who got cut off in traffic by a black BMW with the license plate SUX2BU which made him spill his Venti Frappuccino all over the crotch of his light-grey khakis and now he wants revenge on the entire consumerist race.

Or something like that.

But there’s a chance your product doesn’t include instructions. Whatever Shenzhen sweatshop slapped the pieces into a package for pennies of profit just couldn’t bother or afford to write up anything helpful. After all, they’ve built a quintillion of these things, and assembling them comes naturally to their uneducated workers, so what’s your problem, lazy American?

Just last night I tried to assemble an art easel, which came in a dozen unidentifiable pieces with, of course, no instructions. (It wasn’t from IKEA.) Since I’m a professional Internets dude, I Googled the instructions: no luck, of course, from either the retailer or the manufacturer. So I tried to build it based on pictures of similar easels found online. I’ve successfully done the same with other products, but last night’s Frankenstein creation looked like popsicle stick art made by adolescent spider monkeys with A.D.D. and the caffeine shakes — but nowhere near as sturdy. So I disassembled it, drank a beer, and added “return P.O.S.” on my already endless to-do list.

Then it occurred to me, the professional Internets dude: a solution so simple it wouldn’t require any instructions. Since video cameras are now so cheap and common they’re disposable, any manufacturer or marketer should just record their people assembling the product themselves. The videos don’t need CGI or Hollywood production values — they just need to show us HOW to do the job. After all, “how to” videos are incredibly popular on YouTube. So why aren’t manufacturers providing value to their customers with helpful videos instead of trying to go “viral” with tangentially related commercials starring cats?

Indeed, making a video would probably take less effort than drawing one of those black-and-white illustrations of 3D objects that look alike. You listening, IKEA? Place an instructional video for every one of your products on the same web page where you hype them. Simple. Here, I’ll put this in a language you’ll understand:

Instructions for IKEA

And if you need help, no problem — just do this:

Contact Atomic Tango

I’ll even give you a special deal. You just have to help me build some #$%#&#$%! furniture first.

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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