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What your business can learn from IKEA, Hellmann’s and IBM

Last Month, Statistics Canada released its latest Digital Technology and Internet Use report. Not surprisingly, the numbers were staggering: $122-billion worth of goods and services were sold by Canadian enterprises online in 2012. This figure represents a doubling of online sales over the past five years.

Clearly online transactions are taking up a bigger and bigger piece of the economic pie, but does this mean online marketing is enjoying a similar trajectory?

As brand marketers, we are tasked with creating campaigns that successfully deliver on message, while enriching people's lives. But that means we also have to harness the power of the Internet to target and engage the right people.

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According to ComScore, the average Internet user is exposed to over 1,700 banner ads a month, and engages with less than 0.1 per cent of them. The digital space has become cluttered and the vast majority of users ignore the marketing noise. Can you think of the last time you intentionally clicked on an ad? Exactly.

Savvy brands are moving beyond the 'cast a wide ne't approach and instead embracing what is being called utility marketing. This trend refers to campaigns that offer a legitimate value-add to customers and communities, based on the belief that brand investment is best built through genuinely useful interactions. It's a "quality over quantity" approach for next generation marketers.

Here are three powerful examples of utility marketing in action:


One of the best examples of utility marketing comes from retailing giant IKEA. Every year in Montreal, on the last weekend in June – when many rental agreements expire – 13 per cent of the city's population moves. This region-specific tradition has become known in Quebec as "Moving Day" or "Fête du déménagement."

Instead of trying to drive traffic to stores on a slow shopping weekend, IKEA saw an opportunity to offer real value to residents by helping out with their move. Stacks of IKEA-branded cardboard moving boxes were freely distributed throughout the city, creating a buzz that reverberated online and in print.

Hellmann's Mayonnaise

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In Brazil, people enjoy Hellmann's Mayonnaise, but have traditionally only used the product for sandwiches; that is, until Hellmann's thought outside of the jar and employed a little utility marketing.

By installing context-aware tablets on the shopping carts of the largest grocery chain in São Paulo, Hellmann's offered shoppers a chance to see the product as more than just a condiment; recipes and meal ideas were shared freely, and sales rose by almost 70 per cent in the first month.


There are ads, and then there ads with a purpose. Working with creative agency Ogilvy & Mather, IBM kicked off its 'Smarter Cities' campaign by installing billboard ads throughout London and Paris that literally offer a service.

By either curving at the top to block the rain, curving at the bottom to provide a seat, or stretching up stairs to provide a ramp, these billboards are getting peoples' attention by assisting them, rather than simply marketing to them. It's an example of a creative campaign that offers a genuine value to the cities where it's running, and as a result, is enjoying positive brand exposure.

As brands come to realize that true audience engagement requires less interr upting and more inter acting , we should expect to benefit from more locally-relevant and genuinely helpful utility marketing campaigns.

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Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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About the Author
Social and Earned Media Columnist

A combination of entrepreneurial spirit and timing led Mia Pearson to co-found North Strategic, a communications agency built on the belief that social needs to be integrated into everything you do. A serial entrepreneur, Ms. More


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