In 1994, this Iconic Ad by Ikea showcasing Dining Room furniture was among the very few brands which featured a gay couple
It was the latter days of the AIDS crisis in 1994. There was a lack of appreciation for LGBTQ socially and in culture. It was 3 years before Ellen DeGeneres came out. The US Military had a ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” thinking. The depictions of Queer were mostly negative. In a sense being gay was synonymous with death. All in All, it was not a good time to come out gay.
Ikea had been in the US since the mid-80s and was now looking to take its advertising in a different route. Earlier advertising was focussed on the negatives of furniture buying. Now when they wanted a new creative strategy, they wanted a take on real people and how to change lives in a meaningful way.
There were many ideas in a campaign which was called Life Stages. The idea was to talk about different stages of life and what peoples needs are.
Deutsch NY was Ikea’s advertising agency. They believed that they needed to access most sections of society, from all walks of life.
Patrick O’Neill (who was gay) and Dallas Itzen were the creative duos on the account. They had ideas on topics like a recently divorced mom, adoption, among others. Both Patrick and Dallas spent a lot of time observing people at the store to get their creatives.
Advertising was not about making any grand special statement but about showcasing Ikea products and various attributes of the brand and its products.
Among the various creative ideas was a film showcasing dining room furniture. The couple featured had different tastes the film told about how Ikea solved the problem. It so happened that the couple happened to be gay.
The others in the Deutsch team were equally excited about the idea. They wanted to acknowledge everyone and not the typical mom- dad – kids advertising. Actually, in some ways, the idea of the recently divorced mom was more unusual and struck a chord.
Anyway, the ideas were presented to IKEA and they did not bat an eyelid.
To make it even more ‘slice of life it was decided to interview the casts for the films, understand their lifestyle and incorporate some of their experiences into the final script – a unique way of writing scripts. This brought in relatability and authenticity to the concepts.
For the dining room/ gay couple film, the couple were improv actors and only one of them was gay (who had not come out as yet).
As lighthearted as the dining room film was, it was heavy in terms of societal representation.
The ordinariness of the characters also highlighted one aspect, that though IKEA was one of the first to use gay couples, they did not want to sensationalize the ‘gayness.’ It had to be about the brand and the products.
Some stations refused to air these commercials before 10 pm. Ikea was hailed as a pioneering company for making advertising like this; phone lines were clogged with angry calls, conservatives urged for the company to be boycotted, and a bomb threat forced an evacuation of one Ikea store in New York’s Hicksville.