A challenger that takes something previously exclusive (stylish, luxurious, expensive, hi tech), and makes it much more broadly available to the masses.
What is it challenging?
‘Elitism’, the idea that something should be available only to the privileged or wealthy.
Why does its consumer respond to it?
The brand has given them access to a world that they hadn’t thought accessible to them.
Rodrigo Arboleda, CEO One Laptop Per Child
“Once and forever, we have decided to side with the many”, wrote Ingvar Kamprad, in ‘The World is full of Opportunities’, an internal guide for IKEA employees. From early in its life its founder wanted IKEA, in effect, to democratise.
As a challenger, the Democratiser believes in taking not from the ‘rich’ and giving to the ‘poor’, but taking from the ‘few’ and giving to the ‘many’ – opening up the beauty of great design, or the latest catwalk clothing, or the ability to become a broadcaster or news editor, and making it available to everyone. Sometimes this is done with an overtly idealistic flag flying above it (Current TV), sometimes without (Zara and Target). It is often characterised by remarkable pricing (surprisingly low or free) and/or the deliberate sharing of knowledge that was previously only known by a few. It challenges elitism, in effect. One might see TED as just such a democratiser, for example, sharing the world’s greatest thinkers and concepts with anyone with a thirst for ideas and knowledge.
Being such a Democratiser frequently demands not just the development of entirely new business models, but also the fostering of a culture which makes a habit of asking different kinds of questions, questions that constantly provoke the identification of new opportunities and possibilities. It is said, for instance, that when Kamprad was first looking to create well-designed affordable furniture, instead of creating designs and then looking at how to make them cheaply, he went to lumberyards and looked at the most regular shapes of their discarded offcuts. It was around those shapes that he then built his designs – because it was the fact that they were made essentially from waste that then allowed him to produce items at a jaw-droppingly affordable price for his ‘many’ consumers.
The interview above looks at arguably one of the most important Democratisers in the world today – One Laptop Per Child. Their importance lies not simply in the nature of their ambition, and the value they create, but also – for us – in the example they represent of a Democratiser sometimes needing to motivate and harness other forces (strategic partnerships, governments) to realise their ambition.