What Montblanc could do for “Gandhi”

Recently, Montblanc stirred a controversy in India, while launching the $25,000 worth limited-edition commemorative fountain pen in honor of Gandhi to mark the 140th anniversary of the birth of the Mahatma.

The decision to turn a man – who shunned foreign-made products and pushed simple living to new extremes – virtually into a “brand ambassador”, left some Indians puzzled and others angry. One group filed a lawsuit in India to try and halt distribution of the pen.

What went wrong? The BrandChannel labeled this move as “long on imagination but short on basics”. Montblanc intended to symbolize each element of the design as Gandhi’s life and achievements: e.g. The top of the cap and cone are inspired by the spindle which Gandhi used to spin cotton – one of the symbols of Indian independence.

Personally I feel that by doing this, Montblanc has overlooked 2 vital issues:

  1. Brand creation is not only about symbols related to a good idea – Just by gilding some of the symbols from the freedom movement, as well as imprinting Gandhi on the nib, doesn’t create a “Gandhi” brand! Even though the spindle, white and orange color, etc. do associate with Gandhi, doesn’t exclusively belong to the person or the personality of Gandhi fully. Rather these elements represent the freedom movement he inspired and led. Perhaps if there was a decision to commemorate Indian Freedom movement, these symbols would have been closer associations.
  2. Brand personality cannot be created without some basic values representing the brand – Even though the limited and mass editions were designed with some symbolic associations, they failed to capture the essence of Gandhian values, namely Simplicity, Satyagraha (resistance through mass civil disobedience), Swadeshi (self-sufficiency), Ahimsa (Non-Violence) and Swaraj (self-rule). What’s a brand without any values associated with it? Consider these: By replacing cotton thread with gold,saffron color with a saffron mandarin garnet and the white color with white gold, Montblanc has unknowingly demonstrated that they did not even understand Gandhi’s primary values of simplicity and opulence.

What could have Montblanc done to address its primary objective of raising its brand profile in a 1 billion populated country? There are plenty if ways it could have recreated Gandhi’s values. Some of the ideas could be:

  • Creating a simple pen design closer to Gandhi’s own pen design – by using mass affordable materials – e.g. Bamboo (??), Brass, Wood, Lacquer, etc.
  • Innovative ways of using the thread – not gold, but cotton – strengthened and restored by additional materials
  • Using Bamboo nibs perhaps?
  • Using a hand-woven cotton case for housing / packing the pen
  • Handcrafted pens for and from the masses – e.g. a design developed for mass production by the very people who love Gandhi in the land of Gandhi. (This would incidentally have given Montblanc a lot of exposure and increased its reputation in India)
  • Creating a limited edition out of the various prototypes that would have been developed to mass produce pens as described above

Yes, one final issue however lies in doing so – i.e. probable dilution of “premium-luxury” brand value. Well… this could be restored if Montblanc followed the above strategy for a year or two in some ways, and then released a design closer to the current one, but much toned-down in material and opulence, and with increased dose of donations (from the sale) to charity organizations and Non-Violence movements worldwide.

How to measure ROI on branding and image advertising

  • How do you measure ROI on your branding and image advertising? Please describe the tools, and formulas you are currently using to measure ROI on your offline advertising. LinkedIn question by: David Jacobstein

Let us understand the perspectives on this first. We need to understand what do we actually mean by ROI:

(a) did we literally mean mean to say Return On (our) Investment?

(b) Or did we just use it colloquially to mean just “Returns” from or “Effectiveness” of our branding and image advertising?

In case it’s (a), we must understand that ROI from Branding and Image Advertising usually is not realized immediately. Usually we can see the change after 2-5 years of doing the activity – even though exceptions could be found esp. in case of brands launching new/ innovative products or ideas (eg. Apple, thanks to it’s products since iPod). More often we see that a flurry of innovative product campaigns from “branded house” brands (eg. Samsung), improves Return on (Communication) Investments over short term. In case of the other extreme – ie. the House of Brands (eg. P&G) – there’s more propensity to equate ROI to the Sales growth – even though the dollars might have been spent in branding or image advertising.

In case it’s (b), then we need to question the very basis of of our activity, which will give us answers. What motivated us to do the activity? What are the objectives of the campaign? Are we trying to increase visibility? brand recall? point-of-sale recall? change attitudes? or preferences? develop new habits? change negative to positive? developing a personality for the brand? etc. etc. – the list could fill up many lines here! If we have your objectives laid down, then we would definitely have some reference points to those objectives – eg. in case of brand recall, we might start off with 25% current spontaneous recall that need to be increased to 40% with 5% flexibility. In this case, a “before-after” comparison would give the ROI indications. Similarly, if we perhaps plan to do an image campaign to increase total awareness (aided + unaided), and implement thru extensive outdoor visibility, we might consider “before-after” method again to ascertain ROI.

Therefore, to answer the question:

In general, every image advertising / branding campaigns aim to strengthen / improve upon the rational and emotional values associated with the brand. These values are usually identified and graded through an elaborate process of qualitative and quantitative research tools. Once done, key improvement areas are identified for a branding / image campaign and suggestions given for probable communication solutions. Additionally reference points for these values are created for comparison – empirically or numerically. Once the campaign is developed, it’s pre-tested to see if it addresses the concern areas identified by research. If yes, then the campaign is launched, and a second exercise is done thru the same elaborate process, after concluding the campaign. If the results match the objectives, the campaign is said to be “effective” or labelled as “successful”, giving good ROI.

A note of caution however; if the ROI=Sales growth, some campaigns might sometimes give excellent results, even though the results could hide sensitive factors or problems that might chip off brand value in the long-run, resulting in brand failures.

Also look for Other Answers in LinkedIn.

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