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Fountain Pen concept

Posted on August 04 2018

It leaks and inconvenient, its ink can’t be erased. There is no hope for fountain pens to stay. It almost happened. For a long time fountain pens were overshadowed by the more technologically advanced biros (what we call ball pen, which I personally lost thousands back in school). Today, its back, as a concept. (Check out the New York times July 27, 1995 article.) 

The journey from product to concept begins here. The modern fountain pen mechanism we know today was developed by Lewis Waterman sometime in the late 1800s. He was a pen salesman who bought the company he worked for after the owner abandoned the business after 6 weeks in operations. Soon after he took over, he simplified the feed of the fountain pen. Our feathery pals should thank him for saving us from plucking their feathers.

The biggest challenge for the fountain pen came after world war 2. This was the time when the ballpoint pen became commercially available. They were way cheaper than fountain pens and more convenient to use because ink lasted longer.  Number of sold fountain pen units plunged from around 45M to around 8M in 25 years, that was between 1949-1974. By mid 70s fountain pen sales took a turn around, it’s started to rise slowly despite the proliferation of typewriters which meant less hand written communications.

By 1986, Mont Blanc came up with the ART OF WRITING* branding campaign. The ideas is to sell fountain pen as a symbol of power and culture instead of a writing tool; from function to form, from product to concept. The year after, the world learned about Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street. He was a powerful movie figure everyone looked up to. Everyone wanted to be like him. Everyone wanted to dress like him. Everyone wanted to be powerful like him. The marketing world is learning about a new breed of consumers, those Gordon Gekko wannabes in power suits who put their John Hancocks (signatures. I just want to use some 80s buzz word) on documents. They are the BMW-driving yuppies. Fountain pens became their symbol of success. It was their way of showing how far they have gone.

The fountain pen is seeing its rebirth, thanks to the Gertrude Stein whose words “a rose is a rose”  inspired branding geniuses to wrap status symbols around fountain pen’s image. The success was followed by other brands like Waterman and Parker.

Today, fountain pen sales are up in terms of value but number of units are still low. This is just how luxury items behave. Prediction by research groups are positive about fountain pens. Could there be another phase for fountain pens in the future? 

*This was a good move for MB because they were able to create a new category in writing instruments. To ensure the success of the position, MB put up high end boutiques, promoted their brands in museums and grouped their products alongside leather goods and jewelries. (That’s me writing as a marketing professor)



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