Never one to shy away from a scandal, controversy or unorthodox marketing scheme, in 1994, Ikea aired a commercial featuring two men shopping for a dining room table, the first major national TV ad to portray a gay couple, well, ever. It's kind of crazy to think that less than 20 years ago such a move was considered incredibly pioneering, but Ikea actually received a boatload of flak for it; phone lines were jammed with angry calls, conservatives called for boycotts, and the Ikea store in Hicksville, N.Y., was evacuated because of a bomb threat.
In an April 1994 L.A. Times article, Fred Danzig, then-editor of Advertising Age said, "It is one small step for Madison Avenue, but it is one giant leap for the gay community. There has never been anything like this before." And how did a corporate giant Ikea respond? Like diplomats, naturally: "We're not trying to promote a certain lifestyle or make a statement," Peter Connolly, then Ikea's head of marketing for the East Coast, told the paper. "This is just part of our overall strategy to try to speak directly to all kinds of customers."
According to Buzz Feed, which recently dug up the commercial, Ellen Carton, who at the time was head of the New York chapter of the LGBT advocacy group GLAAD, once told the L.A. Times that the ad showed "an aspect of gay life that people never see: our daily lives. Instead of showing gays and lesbians marching at gay rights rallies or suffering from AIDS, the Ikea ad humanizes us. The importance of that cannot be overstated."
While progress in the last decade has mellowed reactions in the U.S., Ikea's pro-gay stance is still ruffling feathers elsewhere; it was only a couple of years ago that Ikea's pro-gay ads incited wrath in Italy, after all.
· Ikea's Groundbreaking 1994 Commercial [Buzz Feed]
· TV Commercial Featuring Gay Couple Creates a Madison Avenue Uproar [L.A. Times]
· All Ikea coverage [Curbed National]