Design Indaba 2016: the 1996 ad campaign that encouraged British housewives to throw away their fussy furnishings helped transform attitudes to design, according to ad executive Naresh Ramchandani (+ movie).
Ramchandani, who wrote the slogan and the song that accompanied the TV advert, said the campaign ushered in a new era of clean, contemporary design to the average British household.
"It was proper piece of propaganda; total propaganda," Ramchandani told Dezeen. "We pitched for it and we won with a preposterous idea: our strategy was to change British taste over the next five years."
Ramchandani agreed that the campaign achieved its aim, becoming part of a wider cultural and social sea change that gained momentum with Tony Blair's election victory the following year.
"Tony Blair sweeping to power really helped it, because in Britain it felt like it was time for a new broom," said Ramchandani, speaking to Dezeen after speaking at the Design Indaba conference in Cape Town last week.
"There was even a headline in The Daily Express I think, which said 'Downing Street chucks out its chintz' when John Major left and Tony Blair came in."
At first, however, the ad caused a furore. "There was a massive backlash," said Ramchandani. "[Actress] Kathy Burke said the phrase was the worst thing in the world. Traditionalists obviously hated it."
Ramchandani, now a partner at design agency Pentagram in London, came up with the idea while working at St Luke's, the advertising agency he co-founded.
At the time Ikea was struggling to sell its cheap, modern furniture in the UK, where consumers still preferred old-fashioned furnishings epitomised by chintz, a type of highly patterned printed cotton with a shiny finish that was widely used for upholstery and curtains.
"'Chuck out your chintz' started with an observation on how Ikea was doing in the country at the time, in 1996, when their furniture wasn't really going down very well," said Ramchandani, who realised that the ad needed to target women, who made most of the decisions regarding the home but who were not interested in Ikea's brand of cheery Modernism.
"The majority of people buying furniture were women at the time, and still are," he said. "I think 95 per cent of home decisions are made by women, and women didn't see Ikea's furniture as homely. They were thinking that modern furniture equals male and unwelcoming, like Mickey Rourke's bachelor pad in Nine and a Half Weeks.
"So no matter what they said about the price, women were rejecting it. For them, it didn't equal a lovely home, because a lovely home equals some sort of translation of the country mansion."
In order to succeed in the UK, Ramchandani felt that Ikea had to "convert the UK's sense of what homely is. To get the Ikea style adopted, they had to put it right at the centre of British taste, and push out the old version of British taste."
Ramchandani pitched his preposterous idea to Ikea, turning up with his guitar to perform the jingle and expecting to be laughed out of the room.
However, Ikea's Anders Dahlvig, who went on to become president of the furniture giant, loved it. "He said, let's do it," said Ramchandani.
The ad campaign reached out directly to women, starting with a skip falling from the sky into a typical British street, which women enthusiastically fill with their outdated furnishings while singing the catchy "Chuck out your chintz" jingle.
The jingle subversively implied that despite advances in sexual equality, women were being let down by their domestic interiors.
"We're battling hard and we've come a long way, in choices and status, in jobs and in pay," one of the verses ran. "But that flowery trimmage is spoiling our image, so chuck out that chintz today!"
"[It was] calling on women to sort of reject the past and reject feminine models of the past, and actually embrace being a modern woman and have a modern home," said Ramchandani. "There's some great rhymes in that song by the way. There's some other very good lines that 'Chuck out your chintz' has eclipsed."
The campaign was a huge success in terms of sales, with some items selling 30 percent more after the ads aired. "That's quite a big swing from one advertising campaign," Ramchandani said, adding that the ads helped Ikea find its voice in the UK and informed their marketing and communications strategy for years to come.
"The campaigns that came after that, things like 'Stop being so English' etc, were very much about being the rebel, being a kind of social force in home furnishing. Being the people coming from the outside, bringing in new ideas and throwing old ideas out."
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