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.

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About shantanu.sengupta
I'm a passionate Strategic Marketing professional who deeply understands the interplay of Technology, Collaboration and Design that drives brand innovation and growth in a post-recession world today. I believe that marketing solutions cannot be found by referring to historical case studies, esp. since no two marketing problems are the same. As a result, instead of adhering to a jargonised approach to marketing, I follow Design Thinking principles, challenge existing norms and processes, and search for innovative ways to solve marketing problems. I specialize in developing and implementing marketing and communication strategies across B2C and B2B channels, with a clear focus on brand development and customer engagement that increases future brand value.

One Response to What Montblanc could do for “Gandhi”

  1. Arman Hazorika says:

    Montblanc has traversed into being a ‘masstige’ brand with such an unconvincing & cliched tactic, now that they have come out with a UAE National Day commemoration!

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