Monday, July 21, 2014

Is It Okay If An Ad Means Different Things To Different People?



We studied a poem once in English class at school.

Can't recall which one it was now. Anyway, we all had to write down what we thought it meant, and it turned out that different kids saw the meaning very differently. I remember asking the teacher what the 'right answer' was, and him saying there was "no right or wrong," and it was an achievement that the poet had created something that was "open to multiple interpretations."

I was pretty sure at the time this was bollocks... but now I'm not so certain. 

Take last week's new IKEA ad, from the UK. One of the Creatives behind it, quoted in Creative Review, explains that it depicts "all the beds you sleep in at different times in your life."

Meanwhile, the website of the Agency - Mother - states that it's something to do with holidays: "The TV spot is based on the truth that there’s no bed like home; we spend all year thinking about a summer holiday but actually we’ll probably have no better sleep than in our beds at home — it’s the bed in which we spend the other 51 weeks of the year that really matters."

And personally, I thought it was about dreams. (Have also discussed this with Dan & Kev from work, they thought 'dreams' too).

We have it comprehensively beaten into us that an ad has to be clear, on-brief, and express a single-minded proposition.

But does it? I think the IKEA ad is pretty cool. Even though I didn't fully understand it, and even its creators can't agree on what it means.

Just goes to show how poetic the spot is, I guess.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the tag line is what makes this ad.

It's that good, that you can pretty much put anything relating to sleeping elsewhere before that final frame, and it would be just as effective.

Anonymous said...

What differeniates a great ad from art is a universal truth that is clearly communicated, understood, and agreed upon. We may take different journies to get there, but all great ads lead you to the same Rome. At the end of the day this ad still lands: Ikea understands the importance of enjoying a great sleep everynight of yur life.

Steph Barr said...

The thing that seperates great advertising from art is a univeral truth that is clearly communicated and consistently agreed upon. While we may take differet journies to get there, all great ads lead us to Rome. At the end of the day, this ad still consistently lands: Ikea understands the importance of a great sleep every night of your life.

Old CD Guy said...



Call me old fashioned - people often do - but I believe the message of an ad should be unambiguous.

That's why it's worthwhile making sure the brief is clear.

Finding an engaging, interesting and persuasive way to communicate a specific message is what we advertising tossers are paid handsomely to do. And surely that's the fun of what we do.

It's not poetry we create - it's a selling message, dressed in entertainment.

Other side of old CD guy's coin said...



Sometimes, though, there is no "message". What's the IKEA message? "We have beds"? And what should it be? "We have reasonably priced beds"? Fuck that.

I think the "message" can be ambiguous, but the feeling should never be. Indeed in the Ikea spot it isn't. Regardless of what the ad is "about" the feeling is ethereal and comforting - and that's what Ikea wants to convey.

Eaon said...


True.
Message comprehension is way over-rated anyway.
If you can just get people to notice the ad and know it was for Ikea, and then remember nice floaty beds and Ikea the next time they are thinking of buying one then it did its job.

boo said...


Jokes and poems always come from some kind of truth.

Yet, I can hear a joke once, and it's over. I can't laugh at it again. But I can read a poem over and over and be enthralled all over again - poems and poetics retain that spark.

Anonymous said...

I just think it's a bit much that they threw a dog out of a plane just for an advert. They could have given the poor little fellow a parachute at least. They could have got rid of the straps in post.

Anonymous said...

Seems like Mother went and did a Marissa Mayer. It's what I call the pretentious "advertising is art" pieces.

George said...

I thought dreams too. We've all had that dream a few times in our lives when you wake up with a jolt because you are falling. That's exactly what happened in the film.

Chizzy said...

Good question to raise.

I think ad people want more clarity on the intended idea than the viewers need. As long as the drama of the story grabs and holds some attention and the brand's distinctive assets marry up with some relevancy to the emotional needs, we're in business - i.e. branded entertainment.

If the ambiguity of story affects comprehension and therefore affects appeal, then you have an issue. But no, I agree, it is okay for an ad to mean different thing to different people. As long as that meaning is motivating behaviour, of course.

Anonymous said...

We always love things we don't quite understand, especially if we can tell that there's a story hiding somewhere underneath. WTF is 2001 A Space Odyssey about? Let's face it, nobody knows and yet it's the most important film ever made somehow.

let them join the dots Old CD Guy! said...

I think the message here is definitely single minded and completely unambiguous. It says, "There's no bed like home" which firmly suggests "so maybe get a better one than you have now, and hey we have we have beds at Ikea".

There's nothing else to conclude that they are telling us. The fact that the execution is not pushing the single minded message and is open to multiple interpretations is a good thing. It captivates and intrigues but tells the viewer nothing. Nothing rational or literal that is. Instead it taps into feelings and dreams we may have had and begs the question."What's this all about?" The answer to which is their single minded message.

So in the end it's more powerful than if it didn't invite the viewer's mind in to close the loop. This is what song writers and other artists deliberately set out to do - to achieve a duality, or a tension between possible interpretations. To quote one particular artist, "It gives the song more energy". Or in this case, it's what makes the ad more entertaining and chat worthy.

I think this is far more powerful than merely "A message dressed in entertainment". Its creators knew what they were setting out to do. They they were setting out to create ambiguity and to invite conversation and conjecture. It wasn't 'any' entertainment, it was completely relevant and powerful in that intangible way that all good brands are.

I think your cynical stance does feel a little old fashioned and dismissive. In this case (and many other cases) advertising can be both a powerful selling mechanism and great poetry/art/entertainment simultaneously. It takes a fair amount of genius to make that happen, and an inversely proportionate amount of 'tossing'. So it feels like you're tossing when you attempt to dumb this down. Our goal, I would think, would be to try and achieve something similarly powerful.

Probably not worth the time it took to write this, but your comment shit me a bit so there it is.

Surely you're not that old, 'Old CD Guy'? said...


I remember a lot of ads in the 90s and 00s where you had to close the gap and figure it out. Sometimes it took weeks. Then someone would tell you and you'd go 'Ah! I feel clever! Wow, that's great!'

The whole time, contrary to damaging the brand or not getting your message across, people were talking about the ad.

Word of mouth at it's finest.

Anonymous said...

You're all trying to make a good ad out of a nice film. The reason no-one is sure what the idea is, is because there is no idea - the team just got a bit over-excited about Juan Cabral and let him make a dreamy little film that doesn't say anything either ownable or clear.