Barbara Lippert’s Critique

These two holiday-season spots for Ikea were directed by Wes Anderson, the colorful boy-genius director of the Royal Tenenbaums and Rushmore, and if anyone has an affinity for coaxing great performances from actors playing mildly creepy outsider types on bikes, it is he. So my big question after seeing the new work is: Where’s the weird Swedish guy?

The odd but straight-talking, sometimes-bicycle-riding Swede appeared at the end of two fall spots, the first work for Ikea from Crispin Porter + Bogusky. With heavily accented dictates such as, “You are crazy,” he quickly became an inspired branding device, as breakthrough for Ikea as the new “Shop unböring” tagline. So the fact that our all-knowing friend has disappeared after just two appearances seems strange.

Not only is he gone, but so is the humorous and provocative strategy of making furniture disposable, like fashion—”Tacky items can easily be replaced with better at Ikea,” the mad Swede told us. But never mind, it’s goodbye, Mr. Svenska, hello dysfunction junction.

This time around we are the voy eurs, dropped right inside upsetting domestic dramas that are eventually saved by a revelation. The ugly fights take place in beautifully put-together rooms—they’re great looking but also serious-investment kind of kitchens and living rooms (even if it is cheaper at Ikea). The result is the opposite of the earlier work: The rooms seem a lot more stable and enduring than their owners’ lives. But while these spots are not very merry, they sure show the merch.

In the first, set in a perfectly appointed kitchen, complete with stainless-steel appliances and wood cabinets, the man thunders, “Why do you always bring her up? It was nothing. Nothing happened.” The woman gets shrill. “How do I know?” she asks, semi-hysterical. “While I’m stuck in here like some prisoner, you’re out prowling …” They move in front of some great-looking shelves. “You’re so insecure!” he yells.

An guy who looks like a soccer coach or a baseball umpire comes in, and the reveal shows that the fight took place in a showroom in the middle of the store, in public. The coach is an Ikea employee. Shoppers stroll by with their cool yellow bags. “So what do you guys think?” the clerk asks. “It feels good,” the man says, putting his arm around his wife and lifting his eyebrows. “We’ll take it.”

Maybe the joke is that the setup of the floor models makes you feel so at home that you just go right at it. And vicious fights signal “Holidays!” Maybe these two are purposely playing a scene, practicing for a John Hancock commercial. Or maybe it’s meant to look like reality TV—but these are clearly actors in a store not actually open. And speaking of fake, I’ve never seen an Ikea employee ask to help a customer.

In the other spot, the dialogue is more clichéd. “Tell me what’s wrong,” the mom says to her peeved teenage daughter, sitting sullenly on a nice white club chair. “I’m pregnant” she says. Dad is listening nearby and pounces: “I knew it! It’s that creepy boyfriend of yours, isn’t it? I told you this would happen …” The kid says, “Dad, stop it.” The mom: “So it’s my fault now?” Dad responds, “Where do you think she gets it from? You smoked pot in college!”

Once again the scene contrasts with their environment, an all-Ikea den that’s soothing and design-conscious beautiful. Our coach again intrudes with, “So what do you think?” and the dad says, “I like it. Feels good. We’ll take it.”

Each spot ends with a sleek graphic device, moving wallpaper of individual products and jumping umlauts.

The earlier spots were much fresher. The people and situations were funny, surprising and delightful; the people were the stars, while their discarded tchochkes were ugly. Here the ugly stuff comes from the people and the furniture is beautiful—and truly the star. Perhaps the most ironic part is that the earlier series was supposed to rid us of our emotional attachments, but I say we need the weirdo Swede now more than ever for some un-Christmas cheer.