Furniture brand West Elm is encouraging young homeowners to take pride in their home decor, and move on from the grungier digs of their student days. With home ownership losing universal appeal among Gen Yers, West Elm is playing up the joys of embracing traditional routes to adulthood. We explore the insights behind the ad, and how household wares are being sold as markers of maturity.
In each of West Elm’s ads, a homeowner’s inner voice expresses moderate disbelief at how far they’ve come – whether by creating home that’s nice enough to inspire guests to remove their shoes before entering, or by selecting pillows that add an ‘accent colour’ to a room. West Elm’s protagonists are young adults that are just entering the world of adult decor, and the campaign charts their journey into homes that allow them 'get house proud’, rather than just get by. “There comes a moment in everyone’s life when they buy an item for their home that gives them a true sense of pride. It’s like you’ve crossed over and finally become an adult,” says David Littlejohn, the chief creative director at Humanaught, which created the ads.
West Elm is working hard to counteract a shift that’s underway among today’s young homeowners. For Generation Rent, affording a home of one’s own has become unlikely – so much so that it’s spawned house lotteries, where people gamble their way onto the property ladder. For those who aren’t lucky enough to land a house through a raffle ticket, a lifetime sentence of renting has made furniture seem more like a grudge purchase than a way to affirm one’s identity – which makes it less likely to inspire spending.
“The things we purchase become a part of us, our being – an essential possession to define our identities,” explains Dr. Mario Campana, lecturer in marketing and consumer behaviour at Goldsmiths. “That’s the crux of the matter. When a purchase is not a part of what we are or our identity as a consumer, that’s when we feel like we have to buy something because we have to buy it.”
But in this set of ads, West Elm is targeting young people at the moment of early adult life when they have a chance to test out the traditional markers of adulthood, and see themselves as the kind of people for whom pillows and chaise lounges can be identity-affirming. For Gen Yers, however, there’s a fork in the road: many are valuing experiences over possessions, while others are investing in ownership – and West Elm is making a case for the latter in a way that highlights the pride, rather than the responsibility, of growing up.
Mira Kopolovic is a behavioural analyst at Canvas8, which specialises in behavioural insights and consumer research. She has an MA which focused on artist-brand collaborations, and spends her spare time poring over dystopian literature