Swing Shift

An African American man in cuffed dark denim jeans, a matching jacket and funky red sneakers is sitting in a swing. He is in his 60s, but he has so much childlike enthusiasm that he will appear to fly up and over the top of the orange swing set.

A crew member has obtained some Dramamine in case the motion of the swing proves too much. (“It’s all in the details,” he jokes.) A trainer directs an Airedale terrier named Scout, who is supposed to look up as the man loops over the top. The actor, Jim Mapp, hams it up for the camera, following instructions to pump his long legs and sail higher and higher into the sky. His eyes are filled with delight. The team from Carmichael Lynch erupts into cheers. It’s mid-August, and a six-day shoot that will produce six 30-second spots for Ikea is almost at an end.

This ad, being shot in Angels Gate Park in San Pedro, Calif., just south of Los Angeles, seems to have little to do with Scandinavian-designed home furnishings. But Bob Industries director Lisa Rubisch says the tie-in comes from the “wonderfully kooky individuals that are brought together because they all shop Ikea.

“It’s much more about capturing a spirit,” she says. “Ikea is a little bit quirky.”

This marks a change in direction for the Plymouth Meeting, Pa., client, which moved its $40-50 million account to Carmichael in Minneapolis in January. Previous efforts by Deutsch in New York included ads showing how Ikea can make any room better—including a subway car and a bowling alley. Carmichael’s first ads focused instead on how the company’s organizational furniture can make life itself better. Those ads introduced the tagline “Live better,” which is retained in this campaign.

Breaking in mid-October in eight U.S. markets, the campaign takes a “much more emotional, metaphorical approach, [which] is much more in line with how Ikea approaches its business,” says Carmichael account director Karen Brown Knapp. Using an aesthetic of “stylized realism,” the ads focus on “scenarios of people looking at the world in a different way and making a change.”

A key message is that home furnishing has no set rules—that customers can mix and match to create their own unique style, says Ikea advertising manager Gina Raiser. “We’re moving away from problem/solution, looking into the customer’s mind to see what their needs and wants are and trying to address those needs and wants,” she says.

The other spots will feature scenarios including a chance meeting at an intersection of some young guys and an older couple in a car; and a patron at a Chinese restaurant who is dissatisfied with his fortune cookie’s message but improves it by playing with the paper and putting different letters together.

In keeping with the idea that Ikea provides “affordable design for the masses,” the campaign depicts characters that are both young and young at heart, and of varying races and genders, says Carmichael copywriter Tom Camp.

Rubisch was selected to direct because of her understanding of characters, says associate creative director/art director Libby Brockhoff. Rubisch’s background includes directing on-air promos for MTV, including an MTV Movie Awards campaign with Samuel L. Jackson. She has also helmed spots for clients such as Nike and the Travel Channel.

The spots aim for “comedy with a wink,” Rubisch says. Her goal was to “uncover little bits of people’s personalities that they most try to hide, whether it’s vulnerability or mischievousness. … What might be considered flawed is actually beautiful.”

Rubisch, who seems younger and more fanciful than one would expect from someone with nine years of experience, says she drew upon her childhood to direct the spots and talked about the storyboards “as if they were a boy I had a crush on.” While she is focused when the cameras are roll ing, she’s not above joking with the crew and director of photography Joaquin Baca-Asay, or even standing in for a young extra who is not yet on the clock.

Another spot, “Suntan,” features two twenty something women, and prior to the shoot, Rubisch learned everything about them, Brockhoff says. “She knew what kind of candy they eat, what kind of cars they drive. She gets that involved. That’s what makes it work—we’re relating to the girls onscreen, which is hard to do in a 30-second spot.”

The spot is being shot at the Tejon Ranch, a popular place for shoots, 60 miles north of Los Angeles. The women drive a blue Barracuda over a winding road that hugs the ranch’s yellow hillside. As they realize that each is getting only one arm tanned, they stop the car by a dead tree on the side of the road, switch sides and continue their drive.

Throughout the day, the two young actresses steer the Barracuda around the 270,000-acre ranch, arms out the window. The final sequence of the day will take place at the dead tree, but as the sun begins to sink behind the hills, it appears the tree can’t be found. It’s hard to believe that a camera crew and vans containing agency, client and production company officials, all crawling at 10-15 miles per hour, missed it the first time around, but that’s exactly what happened.

Up to this point, everything has gone smoothly. Now, remarks one team member, it’s beginning to feel like a real shoot. As the girls are notified via walkie-talkie of the mis hap, the caravan backtracks three miles and finds the desired tree. “This is crunch time,” says Camp. “We need this shot—it’s one of three or four meat-and-potatoes shots.”

After several failed attempts—at first, one of the women can’t get out of the car because the door’s locked—the shot is captured. As agency and client officials pile into vans to head back to base camp, the camera crew remains in the gathering darkness, hoping to get a few close-ups of the women’s sunburned arms.

“‘Suntan’ was the most difficult, but it was also the most fun,” Rubisch says. “It was an ambitious shoot to get. We just squeaked by.”