CLOSE-UP: GLOBAL BRIEF; Ikea ad raises the race issue

Ikea’s use of a mixed-race couple has shocked many in the US, Karen Yates says

Ikea’s use of a mixed-race couple has shocked many in the US, Karen

Yates says

First it was homosexuality, then divorce. Now Ikea and its US agency,

Deutsch, have been at it again, undermining one of advertising’s most

enduring cliches, the ideal family.

This time, however, the archetypal square-jawed father, his blonde,

beautiful wife and their delightful 2.2 children are under fire, not

from the insidious pull of sexuality, but an altogether more obvious

source - colour.

For the first time, the Swedish-owned furniture retailer is featuring a

mixed-race couple - an Afro-American woman and her white partner - in

its new US ad campaign. The pair are innocuous enough, with the dialogue

sticking to the fact that they need a new chair and are trying to have

children. What has propelled the spot on to the front pages of the trade

press in the US is the very fact that one is white, the other black, and

they are planning to have babies. In the US, mixed-race advertising is

clearly a big deal.

It’s not new for Ikea to be controversial, of course. Several years ago,

it deliberately set out to reflect a truer picture of modern US society

in its ads. It is a policy that has often pushed the company into the

limelight because its ads showed the different types of families from

which its customers are drawn.

Two years ago, for example, Ikea caused a stir by featuring a young gay

couple, who were moving in together, buying a table. More recently, the

‘family’ featured in its ads browsing around Ikea stores consisted of a

newly divorced mother and her young daughter.

Now Ikea is showing us belatedly that mixed-race marriages are

commonplace in today’s society. It is not alone. A handful of other

companies - and agencies - are showing the same campaigning spirit. Take

New Zealand, for example, where a campaign for Fernleaf butter has, for

a number of years, featured a separated couple and their young daughter.

In Britain, too, Mr and Mrs White with 2.2 children are coming under

fire. What about McDonald’s foray last year into the issue of broken

marriages and whether they can be patched up over a hamburger and fries?

Or, more recently, Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury’s ads for Homepride

curry sauces, which have provoked praise and ire in almost equal measure

by using people with strong regional accents who just happen to be of

Indian origin.

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