It seems strange, but inanimate objects can sometimes make for compelling characters. Then again, sometimes they can’t.

To illustrate this, we have two campaigns — one from Sherwin Williams, one from IKEA — that have recently released ads in which their products play a central role. Each achieved different results.

Sherwin Williams’ Magic Swatches

Sherwin Williams, one of the leading paint brands, has a unique challenge when it comes to showcasing their product. That’s because their product is basically just a colored liquid that doesn’t really take shape until it’s applied to a wall and allowed to dry.

More specifically, their product is colors. Lots of them. Colors that can be applied just about anywhere in the home to give a space the look and feel a homeowner desires. The possibilities are literally endless, and as such impossible to show in a straightforward manner.

So Sherwin Williams did something very creative. They developed an animated spot that used the color swatches you get from the paint department to create vibrant nature scenes. The ad doesn’t show a drop of paint, but instead uses swatches as a stand in, and the boundless beauty of nature for what the paint can achieve.

Through this ad, Sherwin Williams is doing something very smart. They are demonstrating perfectly the customer experience of buying paint.

The magic of the purchase process isn’t in pouring it out and rolling it on the wall — that’s actually the least desirable part. It’s in the choosing of colors. The dreaming, the picturing what the room will look like… using nothing but those swatches in endless colors with uncannily specific names.

Seriously, who comes up with names of paint colors?

The paint swatches are so central to the paint-choosing experience, and Sherwin Williams brought them to life, giving consumers permission to use their imaginations.

If it’s not entirely clear, we like this ad quite a bit!

On the other hand…

IKEA’s Living Rugs

Perhaps it’s because we’ve grown accustomed to expecting more from IKEA, but we feel their recent ad misses the mark. It was created for the Australian market, and maybe their sensibilities are different Down Under, but this ad is an example of how not to do the product-as-hero approach.

IKEA, of course, has a lot of products. Almost as many as Sherwin Williams has colors. Each is designed to add simplicity and comfort to people’s lives. Their choices in showcasing them was never the less strange.

The ad features a sheepskin rug as the central character. The rug replaces a human being — it’s in bed, awoken by an alarm clock, stumbles into the kitchen and brings back breakfast in bed for its companion… another sheepskin rug. All along, it interacts with and uses IKEA products in their proper context.

Except the rugs themselves are sentient beings. There’s also a stepstool that represents a dog. So some products are alive, and others are, well, just products.

It’s all a bit clumsy for our taste.

Now, we suppose this ad is a fine way to showcase multiple products, with their elegant simplicity and utility. It’s quirky and fun, and that’s all well and good.

But it misses an opportunity. It completely removes humans from tender, human moments of lovingly bringing breakfast to a mate. The emotional connection the viewer might have had with the brand is gone.

Given their track record, we’ll give IKEA the benefit of the doubt. But let it be known that we’re just not a fan of this one.