You know your brand has made it when it inspires a horror novel and then a TV series based on tha novel. That’s the tale of Horrorstör, New York author Grady Hendrix‘s tongue-in-cheek novel set in a thinly-veiled IKEA store called ORSK. Released last September, the novel has been optioned as a FOX series by Josh Schwartz and Gail Berman with Charlie Kaufman as executive producer. brandchannel Editor-in-Chief Shirley Brady spoke to Hendrix to find out more about the haunted IKEA-esque branding behind the project.
brandchannel: Grady, what was the inspiration for Horrorstör? A horrific IKEA store visit on a weekend?
Grady Hendrix: I used to work for a non-profit that studies parapsychology so I knew a lot about hauntings and I’d been wanting to write an updated haunted house book for a while because there are so many fascinating aspects of hauntings that never make it into fiction.
My editor at Quirk had rejected a previous novel of mine, but he liked my writing and we got to talking and I was telling him the theory that houses are haunted because that’s where all the people are. He started talking about how everyone is at big box retail these days and it would be fun to do a haunted store book, and then we both said, “IKEA!” I mean, where else occupies the kind of mental space in our culture that IKEA does? What other store says “home” in quite the same way?
BC: Did you have to clear anything with IKEA or did it fall under fair use/parody laws in the US?
Hendrix: No, and in fact we had no idea what they thought about Horrorstör until I bumped into someone from IKEA corporate at a book event. She asked me to sign a book and then gave me her IKEA business card and I basically gave birth to squirrels inside my pants. She said, “We’re aware of your book.” Then, as she was walking away she said, “I think it’s very funny.” But that’s the most they’ve said on the subject.
BC: The book is designed like an IKEA catalogue, while the book’s trailer and microsite continue the theme. What went into the design of ORSK’s logo and branding?
Hendrix: I didn’t have much to do with the trailer, that was all Quirk. They’re the only publishers who kill it with their marketing materials that way. But coming up with the Orsk branding was a blast. I’ve worked for marketing companies before and written this kind of catalogue copy and branding copy, and I’ve always suspected that it’s slightly evil.
So it was a lot of fun to twist it into the service of out-and-out actual evil. Bad marketing copy and occult texts have a lot in common: they both consist of using a lot of words to say absolutely nothing, and they derive their power from the intention behind the text, not the text itself.
BC: What did researching the book make you appreciate about the IKEA brand? You certainly had fun with the store’s Swedish naming convention and products.
Hendrix: Everyone knows what IKEA represents, but there are only about 36 of them in America. The psychic space they occupy is so much bigger than their actual physical footprint. Doing the research for this book made me appreciate not just how much people love working for IKEA (I must have interviewed 11 employees and none of them had anything bad to say about the store) but also how well-designed the stores are. Not only in an aesthetic sense, but the fact that they are precision-engineered machines designed to get people to buy things.
Everything, from the layout of the walking paths, to the placement of the doors, to the shelving scheme, to the escalator locations, is carefully calibrated to induce Gruen Transfer and activate your work-reward centers. You get disoriented, your resistance gets weak, you go for long periods without being able to buy anything, and so when a chance to spend money finally appears in the distance you run at it, waving handfuls of cash, to reward yourself for having made it so far!
BC: How might the TV series evolve the book’s plot, and will it maintain the same store branding? And is a sequel in the works?
Hendrix: I am, quite literally, the least important person in the room when it comes to the TV series. I think they’re taking a different direction, but all I know is from the press release—which does say that Amy (the protagonist) is a recovered addict, so I feel bad. She was such a nice girl in the book but now she’s gone to LA and acquired a drinking problem. (Feel better, Amy!) And there’s no sequel planned, but I do have a new book coming out from Quirk in the Spring. I can’t say much about it except to tell you that it’s a possession novel set in South Carolina in 1988.