Morning In America, Swedish Style


It’s morning in America, and Ikea has found a way to make a soothing, almost political commercial about lowering its prices.

At a time of depressing tensions and tumult in the world and the U.S., this commercial is, like the Swedish furniture itself, simple, stripped-down -- and better than expected in capturing the American economic mood of the moment.

Open on a shot of the sky through telephone wires, which telegraphs that this town is a grittier place than those more modern American suburbs filled with McMansions.

While Reagan’s all-time great presidential spot used nostalgia and optimism (brilliantly!) to obscure truths about the deficit and unemployment, this Ikea spot manages to convey a contradictory contemporary phenomenon -- when overall employment is up, financials are solid, but people feel poorer every day when they buy groceries and other basics.



With the spot opening on some almost twangy country music, a narrator dude with a down-homey American accent says: “Listen, we know things don’t quite add up right now. …”

With that “listen” part, American Ikea man also suggests a less-angry Tom Selleck when the mustachioed actor says: “Look, this isn’t my first rodeo," and ”Let me tell you something” when he assures you that a reverse mortgage won’t take away your home.

The narrator continues as we see a child looking out the rear window of a car, having a back seat on history, seemingly surveying it all. And then, we get cuts of various Americans going about their business  -- only they are not as overwhelmingly white or in church as in the Reagan spot.

“Inflation is down. Rent is up," says the voiceover, and that’s true. “Well, when the cost of living is high, we’ve found new ways to go low. We’ve lowered the price on hundreds of your favorite Ikea products.”

The mélange of faces and places is dead-on, save for one surprising shot of a nursing mother on a stool at what looks like a kitchen brunch party. Is this to show subliminally that life goes on? Or that there are always ways to save on food? Maybe Ikea just wants to be natural.

As we get to the product portion of the program, the voiceover says: “Designing something beautiful is easy. Designing something beautiful with great quality for a low price, that’s a different story.” That’s also true.

Then we get a montage of some Ikea basics and standards, cutely styled, all sporting price cuts.

The final item is the venerable Billy bookcase, the 40-year-old Ikea warhorse, acceptable in any room, no matter the budget -- and now priced at $69, down from $89.

This sort of straight reality differs markedly from some of my favorite Ikea spots of the past, injected with mordant Swedish humor, as with the award-winning one about the lamp.

This spot showed a poignant goose-necked lamp kicked to the curb by its owner, where it stood night and day in the pouring rain. Eventually, a thoroughly soaked guy with a Swedish accent shows up and flatly says: “Many of you feel bad for this lamp. That’s because you’re crazy. This lamp has no feelings, and the new one is better.”

But I agree that right now, the budgetary approach is more effective than dark comedy.

Actually, the low-high language comes from Michelle Obama’s famous “When they go low, we go high,” but I think it’s less Democratically political and more about lower, democratic pricing.

And speaking of upsetting global politics, it seems counterintuitive for a retailer to lower prices at a time when Red Sea shipping disruptions, led by Houthi militants, have driven up prices and weakened the supply chain. 

But this week at Davos, Ikea CEO Jesper Brodin told Reuters that the company is committed to “investing in lower prices for our customers.”

That’s a smart place for the Swedish retailer to land.

Of course, in recent years, perhaps due to COVID, Ikea prices have shot up, so the price cuts don’t even cover that inflation. And then you get the thing home, where either must pay someone or ruin your marriage in trying to assemble it.

But as the narrator tells us at the very end: “That’s a promise, not a promo.”

I’d say it’s both. 

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