By Claire Zillman
October 26, 2017

Ikea has apologized for a television commercial in China and pulled it from the air after some viewers called it sexist.

The 30-second spot features a couple and their grown daughter sitting down for a meal. The mother scolds the daughter: “If you don’t bring home a boyfriend next time, then don’t call me Mom!”

Moments later, a young man, holding a bouquet, appears at the door. In a snap, the parents lay out their Ikea place settings and a lavish meal for their daughter’s new boyfriend.

The Swedish furniture company is known for relying on deep research to translate its Scandinavian products to other cultures. (For instance, one company study found that in Shenzhen, China, people sat on the floor and used Ikea sofas as a backrest.) That kind of analysis has helped fuel Ikea’s global expansion.

But critics in China say the TV ad lacked that kind of cultural awareness, blasting it as sexist and insensitive to the country’s single women.

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According to the BBC, one Weibo user said the commercial “discriminates against singles and single women.”

“No boyfriend, so your own family members look down on you, what kind of values does this transmit?”

Said another: “Even if this sort of situation does happen in a lot of families, it’s not suitable to make advertisements about it, because it’s wrong.”

Ikea has issued an apology on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like messaging platform, saying it’s sorry for “giving the wrong perception.”

“This TV ad tried to show how Ikea can help customers easily and affordably convert a typical living room into a place for celebration. The purpose was to encourage customers to celebrate moments in everyday life,” the statement said.

Why did the commercial strike such a nerve?

It aired as women in China try to push back against the intense societal pressure to get married by a certain age. Chinese women who are not wed by age 27 are branded as “leftover women”—a term coined by the Chinese Women’s Federation in 2007—and are considered to have longer odds of finding a spouse. The pressure to marry is due, in part, to the severe gender imbalance caused by China’s recently-abandoned one-child policy that prompted families to favor sons over daughters. There’s such a disparity—an estimated 117 boys to every 100 girls—that one well-known economist suggested that multiple men be allowed to share one wife.

Women, meanwhile, have sought to shed the demeaning “leftover” designation. In April, a four-minute documentary-style ad by beauty company SK-IL went viral for standing up for “leftover” women and highlighting how they’re denigrated.

The Ikea ad, meanwhile, seemed to reinforce the “leftover” stereotype.

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