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October 2nd, 2012
08:51 AM ET

Branding Strategist Peter Shankman on IKEA catalogue airbrushing women out of its Saudi Arabian version: 'What flies in America might not fly in Saudi Arabia'

Whoever thought the IKEA catalog could be like a Highlight’s activity? Well, compare pictures from the United States version of the catalogue with ones from the Saudi Arabian version and see if you can spot the difference. One of these things is not like the other. The women have been airbrushed out of version issued in Saudi Arabia! Branding Strategist Peter Shankman comes to “Early Start” this morning to shed light on the glaring difference.  

Shankman reasons that, “when you’re selling globally, you have to be aware of all of the different ways of life around the world. What flies in America might not fly in Saudi Arabia,” Shankman explains. “In America, whether we believe that to be normal or ok or not, is irrelevant to how they’re selling in Saudi Arabia. If you’re selling in a country that has specific rules and specific rights, you need to appeal to those rights.”

Whether the decision is correct or not depends on perspective, Shankman says. However, Shankman is “willing to bet that the decision to airbrush the women out of the catalogue wasn’t even theirs.” It was likely outsourced and IKEA might not have even seen it. “I’m willing to bet that it was a company within the Middle East that did that and that was their logic.” It became a bigger deal once it was publicized in the United States. Shankman’s advice to IKEA is to let this go now that it has issued an apology and take a more hands on approach on the next catalogue.