Ikea’s always found clever ways to bring its yearly print catalog to the fore. It’s invaded Instagram with print-inspired design, transformed background models into delusional fame seekers and even been pitched as a gadget you can “download from your mailbox.”
But the 2018 edition is breaking all those sleepy molds. Meet Yanjaa Wintersoul, the first-ever human catalog.
Wintersoul is just 23, but she’s already a two-time world memory champion. Over a single week, agency BBH in Singapore put her to the ultimate test: memorizing all of the more than 400 items in the 328-page book—more detail than she’s ever previously memorized.
It’s hard to put a finger on how impressive that is. We can barely remember breakfast, let alone the proper name of our bookcase (Hemnes. Thanks, Yanjaa!).
In the video below, Ikea employees quiz the memory champ with mind-boggling vagaries. What’s on the rug on Page 138? (A rug with grey stars, a little boy’s shoes, a brontosaurus and three crayons—yellow, green, red.)
Who looks like they could use an eye doctor? (The lady on Page 176, straining to read a thick book without her glasses, which are tucked into her armchair—unless you’re talking about the people who hung up the minuscule eye exam poster on Page 33, obscured in a collage of other framed images.)
Wintersoul told Adweek how cultivating a championship memory works. Take the Bekant conference table on Page 59. “Bekant means acquaintance in Swedish, so I think of an acquaintance of mine laying there on the table,” she said. “For someone who is a native English speaker, it’s maybe better to think of the German author Kant and how you want to be like Kant and work for long hours on that table.”
Try that at your next dinner party.
On how she got to be a memory champ, Wintersoul said, “I was trying to get my bachelors in two years instead of four, so I was spending a lot of time at the library figuring out a way to finish all that course work faster. By accident, I found a book about competing in memory, and I thought if this random dude can do it, so can I. I entered my first competition a couple of days later and ended up in first place for the event.”
After a year competing, Wintersoul said, she captured “the world record for names and faces [187 in 15 minutes] and was on the gold medalist team at the world memory championships.” she added.
If Wintersoul’s epic parlor trick seems too cool to believe, don’t worry—you’ll be able to see for yourself. On Sept. 6, at 5 p.m. Singapore time (5 a.m. EDT), users will be able to both watch and test her live on Ikea Singapore’s Facebook page.
And starting today, the brand kicks off 360-degree promotions, including a social film that explains how Ikea found and auditioned Wintersoul.
“I’m forgetting the details, but I vaguely remember this idea being born in a workshop somewhere,” said Nikhil Panjwani, creative director at BBH in Singapore. “We had an initial round of short lists from around the world thanks to our dear friend Google. We wrote to each and every one of them. Yanjaa was one of the first few to [answer, so] we sent her pages from the 2017 Ikea catalog to memorize and gave her just 48 hours before we tested her skills over a Skype call.”
“It felt right; I’ve always loved Ikea,” Wintersoul said. “We even studied Ikea’s corporate culture at business school. It’s always interesting to do a big challenge like this, one that you’re not quite sure you’ll be able to make. It’s more complex because it’s more human than memorizing binary digits at a competition.”
Wintersoul wasn’t the only one under pressure to perform. BBH needed to find one perfect person among billions in just two weeks.
“The whole agency was scouting online for this incredible person,” Panjwani recalled. “And one of the team members eventually stumbled on Yanjaa’s clip from Sweden’s Got Talent [where she had been a finalist].”
After a few more Skype sessions, the team was sure she was their star.
“She was charming, irreverent, quite like Ikea itself,” Panjwani said. “Having grown up in Sweden meant she could pronounce all the products and even understand the meaning behind the names. It was just meant to be.”
Wintersoul will be the face of the 2018 catalog launch in Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, and it’s already had an unexpected effect on her life.
“I used to think I saw Ikea furniture everywhere; as a Swede, it’s unavoidable that you notice it,” she said. “But now I truly see it in the oddest places—a designer in Mongolia, who sews her most exclusive garments upon a Marius stool, a temple in Hong Kong that displays their incense on a Lack side table.”
The build-it-yourself furniture gods are most certainly smiling.