The impending arrival of Ikea has sparked a predictable media frenzy, driven by the enthusiasm of eager readers who can't help but click on every article bearing the four-letter moniker of the Swedish company.

However, strip away the hype, cute references to meatballs and endless stream of pop culture references, and this over-exuberant enthusiasm starts to look thoroughly irrational – and that's because it is.

In spite of all the launch hype, Ikea is nothing new in New Zealand.


Products from the company have long been available on Trade Me and several stores have operated as resellers of the products from the range.

This is perhaps best captured by Newmarket-based parallel importer Swedish Furniture, which has long advertised the Ikea logo on its storefront, inviting consumers to buy the products from the company's range.

Ikea is already sold in New Zealand. Photo/File.
Ikea is already sold in New Zealand. Photo/File.

There is every possibility that the new Ikea stores will offer a few additional items, but this is hardly sufficient to spark a media frenzy that so effectively captures the public's attention. Is all this hype really worth a chair or two?

The answer must be an emphatic "no, of course not". There are enough chairs strewn across furniture stores and curbs in New Zealand.

But it isn't the Poäng chairs, the Kallax bookshelves or even the Färgrik mugs that captivate the passerby. It's the promise of what Ikea represents – and this has been carefully crafted over 75 years.

This might sound nebulous, but it's best explained through the work of Nobel prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, who spent much of his career dismantling the idea of humans are these supreme rational decision makers.

Through a series of experiments over several decades, Kahneman was able to show that humans are often irrational, driven by personal bias and influenced by forces that are completely irrelevant to the matter at hand.

To put this in perspective, in one of Kahneman's more famous experiments, experienced German judges were inclined to give a shoplifter a longer sentence if they had just rolled a pair of dice loaded to give a high number.


Other studies have also found that the same food tastes better when you eat it with heavy cutlery and that Coke tastes better in a glass bottle.

And this brings us back to Ikea. Another study, which showed that people place a disproportionately high value on products they partially created, has been called the "Ikea Effect" largely because so many products sold by the company require assembly.

But this isn't the only cognitive trick that goes into the making of this irresistibly powerful brand.

The entire layout of the store has been designed specifically to provoke that aspirational idea that your home could also look like this.

Ikea is a capitalist work of art. You too can have that minimalist sense of Scandinavian style as long as you buy more stuff.

This is part of the reason why Ikea has held such a strong grip on its Swedish roots despite the fact that it has evolved into a multi-national behemoth, which outsources most of its manufacturing to Asian countries.

Clever branding always works this way. It pulls you in with an emotional story about a brand that makes your life better, and then relies on your mind to convince you that you need that table, chair or mug. Whatever calculated decision-making that comes at this point has already been influenced by forces far stronger than the roll of a dice or the weight of cutlery.

If anything, it's a timely reminder that we should not be so fast to judge the mad few who queue overnight to get their hands on the latest iPhone. There's a little bit of that madness in all of us. And it was purposely put there by people who know what you want before you do.