E-letter: Ikea goes rustic mass-elitist

Conrad Black in last week’s National Post predicted the eventual win by Donald Trump of the U.S. Republican Presidential Primary. While I am not persuaded by sooth-sayers, fortune tellers and theosophists, something else he said caught my attention. He said of Trump rival Ted Cruz that his constituency did not extend beyond, “Bible-thumping, M16-toting corn-cobbers and woolhats, and he has no traction outside the southwest and perhaps Alaska.”

Kerry Knudsen
Kerry Knudsen

This kind of rhetoric interests me, mainly because I don’t recall hearing it when I was younger. It reflects a kind of self-ascribed elitism with the willingness to talk down with disdain to the proletariat. Not just to talk down with disdain, but with invective and disgust. Further, the disdain is aimed at the majority voters in a relatively large and productive part of the country.

Of course, this kind of city mouse/country mouse caste awareness is nothing new. At all. But it is cause for reflection if you are in the business of marketing, transporting, manufacturing or distributing consumer goods. Isn’t it strange that suddenly the people with social grace are the rustics, and the big-money elitists have become coarse vulgarians? I mean, the charges laid about M16s, sex acts, bibles and attire are gross overgeneralizations and sweepingly untrue. It’s bad enough to be ignorant, but to profess your ignorance as truth is to be a lout.

Maybe Trump will win. Perhaps he will lose. But what should we consider vis-à-vis our business strategies – assuming that we are neither Black nor Trump?


On its face, it seems as though a huge marketing segment is content to follow the crowd. In this case, it seems odd, since being a follower and an elitist are in conflict. Nonetheless, if you are not currently sitting around in your Under Armour, you are a Bible Thumper for caste purposes. Please don’t mistake me. I am not accusing Black or Trump of wearing Under Armour. They may not.

But have you ever considered where Under Armour got its name? I always thought the word “under” in its brand was a clue, but that hardly explains why you see it so often on hats. Not woolhats, of course. Call me a rustic (but, please, not a corn-cobber), but why would you name your company Under Armour when your primary marketing strategy would be to put your logo on everything for people to read?

At least when Trump puts his name on everything, you can read it as a verb, so Trump on a hat can look as if you can trump everything. A kind of violent approach to leadership. It is not so easy if your name is Black. In that case, if you put Black on a cap that is not black, folks will think you are rustic. However, I am surprised than when you put Under Armour on your head, people do not think you are an idiot. (Please, if you have an Under Armour cap, please don’t take this personally. I am just a humble, rustic scribe. But lose the hat.)


So I guess I was going to talk about Ikea. Marketing magazine says Ikea is going local with living rooms: that an Ottawa store is part of a global test pilot that draws insights from local communities.

Think about that. Ikea is drawing insights from local communities. How rustic. Ikea, of course, is an archetype for mass-elitist marketing, along with Apple, Bass and Coach.

In Ikea’s case, it specialized in modularity and mass production as an identity-definer. Its market was people with just enough money that they didn’t need cement blocks and one-bys to make a bookshelf. Then they named the modules something very unintelligible and esoteric. And oh-so-cool. As a side note, Ikea has done more to increase the world’s landfills than anybody, and they sold the idea to the world’s ecology caste.

Anyway, I think it’s notable that the quintessential mass-marketer, one-size-fits-all, worldwide franchiser, Ikea, is now testing the use of local communities to tap that sense of identity, quality and belonging you just can’t find being cool.


It is time for anybody interested to book their trips to Milan for Xylexpo. Wood Industry will be there for many reasons. For one thing, you can stop by any booth and ask for the Canadian rep to get an update on the company’s direction and products. There are many products available to Canada that are not available in Canada because of our distribution protocol. Xylexpo is a world-class show, so you can expect to see products from the Near East, new companies and product innovations that have waited for Xylexpo to launch.

Also, let’s be honest. There are few places as beautiful as northern Italy in the spring. The pace of life is much different than in North America, and people pay attention to long lunches, casual walks and the rich sense of history. At minimum, you should set aside a day to take the train to Como, then catch the ferry to Bellagio for lunch. With the six-hour time difference in play, Lee Ann and I were on the ferry approaching Bellagio in 2008 when my cell rang and we received the news of a new granddaughter. So I’m biased. If there’s a lesson there, it’s that you should not piggy-back on my memories but make one of your own. Just sayin’….


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