Matthew Miller
Nov 15, 2017

Ikea furniture solves problems, but only for men

OPINION: Four short TVCs celebrate a Malaysia store opening. But why are they so focused on dudes being bothered by women?

The ads above, by BBH Singapore for Ikea, are promoting a new Ikea store that's opening tomorrow in Malaysia.

In them, Ikea furniture:

  • Helps a dad to protect his daughter from a suitor's covert foot caresses.
  • Saves a father-to-be from having to get out of bed to get his pregnant partner a snack during the night.
  • Allows a young guy to lull his mother-in-law to sleep so he can watch football.
  • Helps a dude sleep better by providing a place other than the bed for 'her cats'.

Besides the wholly unrealistic premise of that last one (a cat will always choose to perch on a sleeping human's chest, or face, if one is available), do you notice anything odd?

I couldn't help but observe that all of the videos are aimed squarely at men and their "problems". And that furthermore their "problems", according to the ads, are all caused by the women in their lives. And that furthermore, none of the women is actually doing anything at all unreasonable.

The temerity of that wife, being pregnant and hungry, and asking the man who helped her get that way to drag his behind out of bed to get her a snack! How can that dude's mother-in-law want to watch a program she enjoys? She should be letting her son-in-law put on the match—even though he's apparently too timid to just ask her if that would be all right. How dare that young woman and her date have a normal desire to express affection for each other? It must be stopped! By puchasing a glass table! And where did all these blasted cats come from?! 

In case you doubt my assertion that the ads are blaming the women, I would like to draw your attention to the construction of the video titles, for example: "HER CRAVINGS - Now there's a choice".

You may say the scenes are trying to be amusing, and they're not really done in a nasty way. But they are lazy in their use of tropes that would have felt outdated decades ago. A press release says the director is known for his "subtle observational humour", but we're getting an extremely one-sided and retrograde worldview. Actually, I'll go further. Because the women are consistently painted as problematic for the men, even though they're just doing normal things, the ads are misogynistic. And playing it for laughs doesn't change that.

Yeah yeah, it's only advertising, I hear some people saying. Well, I don't think it's too much to ask for advertising to get beyond such restrictive, antiquated, sexist views. I certainly expect more from a brand like Ikea, which fashions itself progressive. And I expect more from BBH, which is usually better than this.

Moreover, the approach doesn't even seem to make commercial sense—unless research has shown that men in Malaysia make all the decisions about furniture purchases. I doubt that's the case. In fact, it's likely women actually drive the process. So why are they being relegated to the role of nuisance here? Why aren't they the focal point? The hero?

After contacting BBH for comment, the agency replied that "the broader campaign [which includes digital, print, outdoor and radio] has many examples of non-gender-specific creative. These TV scripts just happened to be shortlisted as the funniest ones."  

So, sexism remains "funny". Sigh. I guess it's good to know there's some non-sexist material out there. But I don't think it excuses anything. Why not a campaign without even a trace of misogyny? 

Matthew Miller is online editor at Campaign Asia-Pacific.

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