By Imogen Watson | Senior reporter

August 10, 2020 | 5 min read

When Virtue, the creative agency launched by Vice, got the news earlier this year that it would be leading Ikea’s creative output, it could hardly have imagined that just a month later Covid-19 would be turning the world upside down. But while things haven’t gone exactly to plan, six months down the line and its first campaign for the Swedish furniture maker is finally out – and it is a beautiful ode to remote living.

Tasked with leading brand-building communications across six European countries, Virtue was handpicked by Ikea back in February after an electric pitch where ideas bounced all over the room. While it might have appeared to be an unusual choice for the flat-pack retailer, in a lot of ways it was the perfect fit.

For Virtue, the account win was an important one. Last year, its president of international and chief revenue officer (and ex-Havas head) Dominique Delport went to Cannes with with a point to prove. It wanted to show to advertisers that Virtue was a “professional” company to be entrusted with serious marketing budgets. Signing a big name like Ikea was Virtue’s statement to adland that it was ready to measure up against the established elite.

And for Ikea, Virtue promised to give the brand some edge, aligning it with Vice, the darling of the new media age, and its access-all-areas attitude. A self-described ‘borderless’ agency with offices in 26 countries, Virtue’s omnipresent set-up counted in its favour as the Ikea deal covers Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Portugal and Belgium. Ikea needed an agency with knowledge of local markets and their cultural nuances, and Virtue was that guy.

According to Virtue’s creative director for Northern Europe, Emil Asmussen: “Ikea in the Nordics is really realistic in how it depicts life at home. The phrase ’Nordic Noir’ has come up a few times. But the brand has been in that space for long enough and it wanted to bring new energy to its communications. It was definitely a goal for us to figure out a new way to create communications and bring both positivity and rebellion to it.“

After winning the account in February, Asmussen says the team felt like they knew each other a lot better than after a normal pitch. “We already had a lot of thinking done, which was a good base to start with. And then Covid-19 hit and flew everything into the air.“

The partnership then had to figure out how to ensure their grand plans would materialise, in spite of Covid-19. “It was like building a plane while flying,“ says Asmussen. “We needed to figure out how to create a big campaign without ever being in the room with the client. Normally, there’s a lot of energy in the room, but suddenly all that was gone as everyone was just muted on a call.”

Despite the obvious downsides, Asmussen says the team soon realised there was something interesting about working on an Ikea pitch when everyone was locked up at home. During the lockdown, homes took on whole new meaning and in many cases have become a comforting constant throughout what was an otherwise tumultuous time.

Asmussen says the team started to dig into the idea of daily routines, looking into how people were able to make life and work function when the two became entwined. “We started to think that these everyday routines are quite beautiful. Without them, there is just chaos.“ And from that thought, ’The Rhythm of Life’ started to blossom.

“Life is a bit like a jazz band. You need someone to lay down the beat before others can improvise,“ says Asmussen of the spot that sees a mother and son melodiously move through their morning routine to an invisible beat.

Directed remotely during lockdown, the ad encapsulates the interdependency between families and their homes. And it doesn’t shy away from lockdown. Instead, it seeks inspiration – a subtle ode to the new normal – showcasing how Ikea’s products can help create wellbeing at home.

There is an emphasis on the sustainability of Ikea’s products through the spot, which pinpoints ways people can improve the way they live. “Sustainability is such a core part of Ikea now. Everything it does has a sustainability focus and I haven’t seen a brief that didn’t have that angle.“

With the campaign done and dusted, Asmussen says the team is now planning ahead for Christmas. And with a second wave still plausible, in some ways the ’Rhythm of Life’ is a valuable trial for its Christmas blockbuster.

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