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.


Is nostalgia becoming a thing of the past as a brand value?

  • The question is about whether new brand managers in a company feel under pressure to change some brand-values for the sake of change? Given that brands indeed could become “tired” if not changed and there’s always a need to make them “relevant”. But while doing so in an increasingly uncertain world, do we tend to undervalue nostalgia ? LinkedIn Question by: Gerry Scullion.

First and foremost, we need to understand that a Brand is like a person (and if you succeed in doing the reverse, you’re great too:)). With such an understanding, it’s very easy to see that “Nostalgia” is a part of a person’s as well as a brand’s personality – whether identified as visible element or not – and hence cannot or should not be neglected! And if the brand manager does his job well, he’d definitely – and I repeat, definitely – find a way to make “nostalgia’ relevant in the life of the brand.

Nostalgia is an important value for a brand, especially on its journey towards becoming “Iconic”. One of the important characteristics of Iconic brands is that they are “super-familiar” – which can be enhanced by repeatedly associating them with nostalgic brand experiences – either modified or otherwise.

Numerous examples could be given to validate the point that “iconic” brands have used nostalgia even in recent times to gain more customers / followings; eg. Coca Cola “bottle” led campaign; Harley’s campaigns, etc.

Now, there are many companies, managers, brand experts, who flout this rule – not because they are not aware of it, but because, their top management (perhaps) insists on changing track at the cost of losing brand value.

In conclusion, YES, in the ever changing “fast” world, “The Power of NOW” rules supreme!

However, regardless their age, there’s always a part of the consumer, which pangs for something he / she experienced in the past – recent or long drawn. Thus “Nostalgia” could become a thing of the past in case of a few companies / brands / managers – but can and would never be neglected if one considers taking the brand to its Iconic status.

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