The rise of the democratisers


The former CEO of IKEA, Mikael Ohlsson once spoke of the vision for IKEA as ‘to allow people with limited means to furnish their houses like rich people’.

Democratising brands do just this: they break down the barriers that limit the access of brand and customer experience to exclusive people — and make it available to the masses. They stand for a world that is the opposite of the traditionally feudalist structures of brands that promote exclusivity. Volkswagen was the original democratiser — championing the middle classes with small, frugal cars at a time when the average car was the size of a small ship. These are brands that over the past few years since the global financial crisis have gained an acceptance and coolness that they may have struggled for in happier times.

The fundamental appeal of democratiser brands goes beyond just ‘lower prices’. For sure, they are strong value brands — but it isn’t just value defined as acceptable performance at a low price that marks their appeal. They are bigger than that. They are game-changers that borrow from the vocabulary of politics and human causes to create their own vocabulary and appeal. At the heart of democratiser brands lies a deep belief that they are the chosen ones to create a better world for the masses.

Take AirAsia for example. The CEO, Tony Fernandes doesn’t just believe he runs a low-cost airline. He believes he is changing people’s lives by making travel accessible. He is a master of stage management and creating the power networks that make AirAsia a powerful democratiser. Apart from cutting costs, Tony is obsessed with building the AirAsia brand as a champion of the mass traveller.