Ikea again furnishes ad breakthrough

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Advertiser: Ikea
Agency: Deutsch, New York
Ad Review rating: 4 stars

It's a paradox worthy of the people who formalized the marketing of informality, but Ikea has done it once again: a casual watershed. An inconspicuous display of daring.

An unassuming advertising breakthrough.

For a departure so dramatic, as a matter of fact, it couldn't be more matter-of-fact. If your back is to the screen, you'd never notice any ground being broken at all. The spot, from Deutsch, New York, is just footage of a young couple, shopping amid the handsome home furnishings at Ikea, intercut with interview shots taken in their lovely, extremely well-appointed living room.

She: "We came to Ikea to find a big, comfortable chair for Peter."
He: "Yeah, I prefer to call it a `daddy chair.' I want to be a daddy, so I need the daddy chair."
She: "We know we can always find something that's unique, something that we both can fall in love with."
He: "We're trying hard to make a baby.
She: "Trying is ... hard."
He: "Trying is, uh, fun."

She (as we see the husband spinning around in his new red, pivot-based wing chair, and goofily playing with a rag doll): "I think he'll be a good dad. I think he's got the qualities for it."

He (shouting to their hypothetical eventual teen-ager): "Mow the lawn! [Then a closeup.] This is gonna be a great place for a family, because we're making it that way. She's ovulating tomorrow at about 4 o'clock. I'll be taking the afternoon off."

Then the tagline: "It's a big country. Someone's got to furnish it. Ikea."

What's remarkable about this ad isn't that it whimsically deals with the subject of procreation. What's remarkable is that she is black, and he is white.

Yes, this is 1996 and--God help us all--that is news.

But you'd never know by the copy, which refuses to acknowledge race at all. Like the Ikea spot featuring a gay couple a year ago, this ad is not even incidentally about the thing that makes it most noteworthy.

It is about a couple sweetly shopping for a "daddy chair" on speculation, because there's no pregnancy yet, much less an actual child. It is about the joyful optimism of prospective parenthood, with just a whiff of ominousness in the heartbreaking possibility that they won't be able to conceive. It is about things uncolored by color.

The wonderful writing, the wit, the warmth and appeal of the actors yield a vignette both comic and poignant, relevant in ways that have zero to do with the racial composition of the family and everything to do with family itself.

This agency's best work is for Ikea, capturing perfectly the life-styles, attitudes and aspirations of mainly younger adults with more style than money. And the advertising's transcendent charm has furnished a priceless brand image: lots of cool stuff, plus humor and empathy. If you could marry a furniture store, Ikea would be Mr. Right.

In clumsier hands these taboo-busters could have devolved into stunts, Benetton-like assaults on--and exploitation of--people's sensibilities. The particular risk in this spot was conjuring up images of the sex act, which no doubt still will have some pointed white hoods and tiny little bow ties spinning around on racists of both major complexions.

Oh, let them rage. It's a big country. Somebody's got to ruin it.

Copyright April 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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