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Pen Views

April 2009

Using a Fountain Pen... Pretentious?

I hope not.

In the movie Duplicity, released in March 2009, CEO Howard Tully (played by Tom Wilkinson) sits at a long marble desk and on this desk there are just two things: a leather writing case and a large silver Montblanc fountain pen. When at movies with my wife, scenes like these come along with a whisper: what pen is that?

I won't give away the plot, but CEO Tully writes a speech with this fountain pen. The speech is stolen by a rival firm, and the rival CEO Dick Garsik (played by Paul Giamatti) sees the written speech he proclaims something to the effect: "Who writes with a fountain pen anyway. How pretentious is that?"

Ouch, that hurt? It prompted the question: Is writing with a fountain pen pretentious? I don't think so.

Are only expensive fountain pens pretentious? Or, is just writing with one enough to set you apart.


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I have regularly asked the question of who is buying and using the high-end expensive fountain pens. Doctors, lawyers, professionals, collectors come to mind. When I ask store owners about who is buying pens in general I am told that yes, the big expensive limited editions are out there, but there is a regular ongoing interest for entry and mid-level fountain pens. Students are coming into stores wanting to write with a fountain.

There is not good marketing data that is readily available on sales of fountain pens. On the web site for the Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association', www.wima.org, production levels of writing instruments are reported. The most recent data is for 2007 and indicates some 17 million fountain pens were shipped in the United States. This is supposed to equate to about 85.2 million dollars. I don't know about that statistics First of all, it would yield an average price of $5 per fountain pen and also the same volume, 17 million, is reported for 2006,205 and 2004.

When I think about the market I conclude there are three generations of buyers: the baby boomers, the Gen X and the Gen Y. Each group buys products from a different perspective and I don't think being pretentious would fit into any of the three dominant groups.

The baby boomers, and that's me, represent a segment of the market with definite spending power. Well, maybe that's not me! Marketing folks will tag this group as being open to splurge on luxury when it is right for them. Buying a $800 fountain pen is the purchase of a luxury item and it is for a sense of reward.

The Gen X group is reported to be far more price conscious. This is the generation that has given great growth to the large discount stores. Pretentious does not seem to match this generational group.

Finally, the Gen Y group is large and marketing material says this group is influence by both price and brand considerations. To attract this group, companies are attempting to build brand connection. This group lives on the Internet and the web provides an ideal means of finding products and prices. Whether the produce makes the brand connection is a combination of influence from peers and the effectiveness of the marketing of the product.

Both the Gen X and Gen Y groups tend to have price as one of the considerations in making a purchase.

In reviewing articles on the marketing of writing instruments, I don't find the characteristic of pretentious to be one of the personal characteristics being held out as an effective influence in the sale of fountain pens. It is a connection to a brand and price. Oh yes, we don't want to forget the baby boomers who may want to reward themselves with a luxury item. Of course across all these groupings there are some differences by various cultures but the three groups are broad enough to be useful when considering who is out there considering a pen.

Do a Google Search for pretentious fountain pens and you will be surprised at the number of pages that are returned. So I guess it is not the first time pretentious and fountain pens have been used in a sentence!

Last month I had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Vancouver Pen Club. Great meeting, I got to meet others in Vancouver who have an interest in pens. Well, who buys and enjoys fountain pens, whether vintage or new? They are the people you meet everyday. They are also people who enjoy the experience of writing. As we tried the various pens that were brought to the meeting, dipping and drawing the nib across the paper, I could see the enjoyment individuals had in fountain pens and the writing experience. Pretentious? I don't think so.

 

Enjoy your pens! Your pen, an expression of you.