Barbara Lippert’s Critique

Forget the furniture— although it looks great. What interests me about one of the spots in the new Ikea campaign, the first work from Carmichael Lynch, is that it astutely taps into two areas of contemporary psycho-social significance: sex and organizational envy.

First, sex. In advertising lately, the actual man/woman intimacy thing seems to be taking a back seat to outright hostility. Either the chick is getting whacked in the head (Doritos) or she’s slamming her nice Mr. Love Object in the head with a cereal box (Special K).

Given the outrageous ads in the ’80s and ’90s, full of pierced, tattooed and naked skin, we’ve become blasé. The horizontal mambo is perceived as banal; the only current ad it inspires is for Uncle Ben’s Noodle Bowls.

In it, a studly guy and supermodel type are shown getting so worked up in the kitchen over this microwaved glop, I can only imagine what they would do with a hot pocket.

Interestingly, it’s a spot for a seemingly wholesome product, a new kind of Dannon yogurt, that touches on the new, edgy sexual undertow in ads. It features a woman in a low-cut French maid’s outfit, with a really bad French accent, spoon-feeding the stuff to a middle-aged American in his dining room. Talk about X-rated.

While sitting on his lap, she seductively mentions the yogurt is “tart” and “creamy.” Then we cut to two young teens standing in the hallway, watching. “My parents are so weird,” one girl says. “You’re home early,” the French maid, or Mom, as she’s better known, spits back in her regular American accent. Maybe naughty and kinky as cute and mainstream is what it takes today to rev our engines.

This is clearly the case in the Ikea spot, which, like the Dannon ad, is beautifully shot and acted and totally surprising.

Open on an intelligently rumpled-looking thirtysomething couple, staring out their window into another apartment. It’s a seductive scene the neighbors are playing out: great sofa and chair and, dominating the room on one wall, a sleek, modern, floor-to-ceiling shelving unit that holds books, tapes and TV but still looks sophisticated and cool. “I wish I could be that organized,” the woman says. Her hubby feeds himself cereal, chomps loudly, and responds, “People like that never have any fun. They’re uptight.”

Cut to the living room across the way, where a man in his undershirt and boxers comes running past the Swedish wall unit, chased by a woman in a dominatrix outfit. She cracks a whip. Cut back to the neighboring voyeurs. “They don’t seem that uptight,” the wife deadpans.

The casting is superb. And the timing and psychological insights are hilarious. She’s using a disorganized home as a general cover for everything else lacking in their life. He, meanwhile, substitutes his cereal for whatever else is missing.

But the literal idea of organization remains a powerful one. We are so overwhelmed by the demands of work, lack of leisure time and the tanking of the economy that it seems the most organized person wins. This approach will work well in the economic downslide: We want nicely designed, affordable stuff that doesn’t make us feel poor.

I’m not as crazy about the second spot, though it also makes its point. A woman sits in her perfectly Ikea-designed home as her son asks where a certain toy is. “Stuffed animal or action figure?” she asks. “Manual or battery-operated?” The son sub-classifies sufficiently for her to respond. “Your bedroom, northeast corner, second column, orange box.” I hate this woman.

Then again, I suffer from severe storage envy.