The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Should Ink Stink?
February 2, 2007, 8:42 am
Filed under: Comment


I’m in a dilemma.

Why? Well let me explain.

You see Mont Blanc have decided to go and launch an aftershave.  Now on first impressions, I find them doing this very, very wrong … because apart from the fact they’re a bloody pen company, I can’t shake this horrible thought that it probably smells of ink. However on the other side, I also have to sort-of admire them – because at least they’re having a go at trying something new.

So why does this idea still feel like [excuse the pun] a ‘stinker’?

Well the thing is while brands with a demonstrative set of values and/or philosophy can use those attributes to go credibly into almost any area of business [ie: Virgin / Apple / Caterpillar / Honda / Yamaha / cynic / NIKE etc] brands that seem rather one dimensional end up coming across as rather soulless when they launch into new areas.


Yeah … that feeling you get when underneath it all, you feel it’s not being done for the right reasons – it’s more about the cash!

OK so you could argue Mont Blanc does have some values [precision? / quality? / elegance?] but this still feels like an exercise in profit extension rather than credible brand extension. 

And yes … I do know there have been some amazing examples of very successful brand extensions that had ‘no reason to succeed’ [Lamborghini used to make Tractors / Nokia used to make Wellington Boots] however I would counter that Lamborghini were so unknown they could simply re-invent themselves without consumer backlash and Nokia were always about ‘connecting people’ … it’s just that it used to be about Farmers in rural Finland whereas now it’s the World by phone.  [Plus there’s the small matter of spending billions of dollars on advertising to ensure brand understanding – even though now it’s more focused on products than brand]

Actually the Lamborghini thing is quite interesting.

You see a while back we had a client who was launching into Vietnam and said our brand idea might be ‘too alternative‘ for them because they were still unknown in the marketplace. They then added that maybe after a few years of being known, they could then embark on something like we were suggesting.

What did we say?

Well we simply commented that given their brand was unknown … and they were in a very low interest category … they could do pretty much whatever they wanted because there was nothing it could be compared to in the minds of the consumer. In essence, they had the very wonderful opportunity to be whoever they wanted to be.

You should of seen the look on their face as they realised the logic to our argument – despite their training telling them the brand had to behave like everyone else within their ‘not-bothered’ category. 

Of course they used the argument that their research showed people did care about their product category – but when you looked at the questions asked, you soon realised they were so screwed to ‘client friendly responses’ that they were of no real use at all.

My view is that too often, when you present a new idea, people immediately scream ‘YOU CAN’T’ because ‘being conservative’ is still safer than being pragmatic … however given we live in times of low differentiation and consumer cynicism, I do believe there are certain circumstances where you can counter with ‘WHY NOT?’ … because if a brand has values and a philosophy – or is little known – you can take it pretty much anywhere.

OK … lets get this back on track.

Mont Blanc.

Well the thing is I just feel this brand extension is wrong.

While I am sure they have tons of research to show why this brand can stretch into aftershave, I still feel the real reason is not because of values or philosophy – but because they want to be wherever individuality and status combine. 

Surely it can only be a matter of time before they go into areas such as mobile phones, jewellery, clothing … and when they do, I’ll still feel the same way about them as I do now … EXTENSION FOR THE SAKE OF EXTENSION [and profit].

Finally, can someone tell me why ‘aftershave’ is so highly regarded by brands wishing to extend their presence? 

I mean, why did Hummer and fucking Play-Doh [I kid you not … and yes, it DOES smell like the plasticine] think this was a great thing to do? 

Maybe I should launch Rob Campbell aftershave – an annoying smell that leaves an even more annoying rash all over your head.

Brand extensions can be a brilliant thing … I mean, Yamaha make motorbikes, pianos, guitars, golf clubs and I have no issue with that … it’s just that when a brand seems to do it for no other reason than personal gain [and aftershave is hardly difficult to manufacture] it doesn’t exactly make me feel more warm towards the brand, quite the opposite actually.

Yeah … I know some people out there will buy it because they can’t afford one of their extortionate pens and this is a more accessible option … but it still feels wrong and if someone could tell me why [on top of the reasons I’ve written] I’d be very grateful.

65 Comments so far
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given that Mont Blanc are into prestige, precision, quality, elegance and style, perhaps they should have extended to make high-end razors before they went into aftershave…

Comment by Lauren

Good point …

I wouldn’t mind if their campaign was now something like “People Can Now Smell How Rich You Are” – but of course, humour in status branding tends to be thrown out the window because the people it tries to connect with are oh-so-serious.

The worlds of Marketing and Reality rarely meet when communicating this sort of status product – and yet, as I wrote here [] they rarely get it right.

Comment by Rob

Why is this better than the article you wrote for FC?

Comment by Jonno Marks

Are you insulted by that Jonno?

Well think how I feel …

I spend bloody weeks writing a well argued piece on the destruction of humanity thanks to technology [which, I hasten to add, STILL hasn’t seen the light of day] and then you tell me some rant I wrote in 10 mins is actually better in pretty much every way!

It’s a mad World … haha!

Comment by Rob

Rob Campbell Pour Homme – An Almost Contemporary Fragrance For The Naturally Angry

Comment by fredrik sarnblad

To me, Mont Blanc and all of their extensions are the epitome of the airport marketing you were discussing a while back.

And sorry to say, Rob, but I think “an annoying smell that leaves an even more annoying rash all over your head” has been done before; see/smell P Diddy’s cologne.

Comment by Age

I’m ‘S-Daddy’ … one better than P!

Comment by Rob


Comment by Age

Well maybe next time you should write your article in 30 minutes rather than 30 days and then we’ll print it sooner.

Hope all is well, you know I am just teasing.

Comment by Jonno Marks

Mont Blanc: Starwalker Fragrance:
Your Bank Manager Will Smell You Coming

Comment by lauren

Rob Campbell Pour Homme:
“So You Can Tell Them All To Get Fucked and Still Seem Like A Classy Chap”

Comment by lauren

You’d better be Jonno – or a certain wife will hear about a certain spending spree in a certain place called Las Vegas!

Comment by Rob

Lauren … you’ve obviously not met me … the words ‘Robert’ and ‘Classy’ have never [will never] be used in the same sentence. EVER.

Comment by Rob

Here’s one more reason. When they launched mobiles Nokia was present in 7 different industries ranging from farm equipment to tyres! After they launched mobiles, the company actually took the gutsy decision to hive off all other business units and let the brand stand for just one thing and represent it with products related to only one industry. That’s the exact opposite of all the other companies wanting to expand into anything that’ll allow them to forecast 5 cents more as revenue.

Comment by Hari

Good point Hari … Nokia are a great, focused company – though they definitely need to regain their vision and flair because with Apple coming onto the scene, it’s going to be an even more competitive landscape!

Ironically I always thought NOKIA could have become the Apple of mobiles – what a shame they succumbed to bland [Connecting People] when they had such a great opportunity to really mean something on a bigger scale. [Human Technology]

Comment by Rob

what? no sideways dig at rob? you must be new hari!

Comment by lauren

He works for me … and has only been in the job for 2 days … he needs abit more time before he can make career-limiting comments, ha!

Comment by Rob

the reason it doesn’t work is that it’s to close to an “ingredient” (liquid=”ink”) of one the products; the pen. It looks like an accessory. There’s also too much Mont Blanc on the bottle, when a star would have done. But at the end of the today, and we discussed this yesterday, this is something they shouldn’t have done. Somebody, somewhere, should have said no to this.

Good morning. I’m up.

Comment by Marcus Brown

Marcus – are you sure you’re not me in disguise?

Comment by Rob

yeah Marcus, there’s only room for one Rob in disguise around here, and that’s me! (well it’s really Rob… but me, as Age, but Rob… meh you get the point.)

Comment by Age

I’m old (ish), grumpy, have very little hair and myopic.

Comment by Marcus Brown

I’ve got one of those big Mont Blancs (that a dodgy director at Arc Advertising on the Euston Road flogged me years ago when I was trying to get into planning). I swear I’ve never had a more useless pen, it’s leaked on a pink Thomas Pink, it’s scrambled security at Shanghi Airport, it’s been refurbished in the MB headquarters of Hamburg to stop the leaking, only to be dropped while under the influence of a cheeky cognac, on a mates tropical tile floor patio where at least it had the truculence to stain the white grout black (sorry Alex) before I decommissioned her.

So now she or he, or whatever, is in rehab. I still bring her out for the occasional ‘Is your Monty bigger than mine?’ meetings in Asia where, some people still don’t get the irony of a pen in my shirt pocket that I don’t use. Let’s face it, it’s the snow capped peak that matters most.


Anyway, I’ve been in and out of Mont Blanc shops since I got one of their pencils around the Millennium. It was infinitely more usable, understated and elegant AND gave me a free engraving. I mean the idea of putting my name on my pen is practical because I lose stuff all the time but it’s just so triple whopper cheesy. So I hit on the idea of having the engraving put on my 2nd hand Monty that I bought off a dodgy director at Arc advertising on the Euston road (Sorry).

Arc advertising they called it. I called it ‘Carry on Advertising’ after they pitched (and lost) for Magnet Kitchens. Bless them; Kitchen Feng Shui my ass. How about cheap ‘n firkin wannabe cheerful. Around about this time I started to lose faith with propositions.

Anyway where was I? Oh yes. So the temptation of having my Monty engraved with ‘M*therf*cker’ was just overwhelming, and I even got down to selecting the font (a graceful italicised un-joined up handwriting style if you must ask) but somehow it never materialised, I think because my lead pen was swiped so I couldn’t show the receipt for the new purchase and engrave the old one, but the point is that I fell in love with Monty’s watches during this time and while in Hong Kong I did some research about buying a proper watch, and it was either going to be a second hand Rolex or a Mont Blanc. So I asked around and you know how nutty the Honkys are about watches so there was plenty of opinion. I was given some good advice that the Rolex was a better buy in London just off the Greys Inn road opposite where Robert Maxwell took a leak off the Mirror Building after stepping off his helicopter because he was larger than life and knew how to live off the backs of his workers (pension fund) because he was a proper socialist. Anyway he didn’t know how to cling on to the back of his yacht and he’s buried somewhere exclusive now.

But I digress. I love the Montblanc brand, there’s no reason why really, I can’t pinpoint when it became a sort of ‘in love with a strict machine’ kind of affair, but I love that it only cost 20 euros to have my useless pen reconditioned while on a stint in Dusseldorf and I didn’t even need to post it as the local, ahem, dealer was dead professional and placed it lovingly in a dedicated plastic case for emergency repair and a lovely padded and branded envelope. She came back good as new and still as useless and impractical but I loved her nonetheless and schemed on ways to give her at least some dignity in retirement.

Anyway back to the watch, which apparently has this top notch movement that, all serious watch collectors know about. I shelled out for it, and the lovely lady (Fay Wong I think), who cut the strap for me said, you’ve got small wrists so leave a bit of excess on the strap and it will fall just right on the upper hand and look better, besides if you don’t like it we can always trim it a bit more. She was dead right, (and quite saucy for a Hong Kong Lass too boot, and I’ve loved her and the watch ever since.

When after about a year of the strap, which gets a fair amount of stress with the excess strap movement, burst open and the dealer in Bangkok fixed it for free and has done every year since, and even on the last occasion (as it busts open once a year regular as clock work) replaced the mechanism for free! That’s brand love that is. Not lovemarks or kiss and tell brand love or stormy relationship brand love or dull as ditch brand apathy love mind you, but the Montblanc Brand lovin’ me up, the way I so want to be loved up.

So Brands are a huge mesh of good and bad experiences and clearly mine fall into both categories but I like Mont Blanc brand. Not the way some Mac owners would be quite comfortable if there Puters told them to be ‘at ease’ after the users had saluted their machines on boot up, but in a way that keeps me interested in what they do without making me a slave to them.

Sure I think the move into fragrance is a bit dodgy and I wont have an opinion until I’ve had a sniff, and more importantly tried some on because everyone knows that different people’s skin reacts differently to different fragrances (call it chemistry mash up), but hand on heart if Dunhill can get into fragrance via tyres & fags then I’m blowed if Montblanc can’t via luxury pens 🙂

Comment by Charles Frith

Isnt Fay Wong quite famous in Hong Kong?

Its an unusual extension, it smells (…ahem) of branding excercise.

Also, Nokia had made tv’s for years, and were originally called ITT.

On that note, Nintendo started making playing cards, Sega (actually an american company) started as a pinball machine operator, and Namco started life running Disney branded merry go rounds.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Morning Mr. Mortimer.

I like the Nintendo, Sega etc examples. They are extensions that make sense, even Namco. That’s what I’m missing from the stinky ink. It doesn’t seem to make sense.

Comment by Marcus Brown

Exactly. I’m all for big brand extensions, but they have to feel relevant to the brand to feel right. Sometimes this means you have to expand the brand before you expand the product ranges.

Computer companies are my area on this topic!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Examples of your thinking young man! Don’t tease the old folk.

Comment by Marcus Brown

Examples of brand extensions that seem right:

PC’s to portable media

Software to Consoles

Cars to Driving Wear

Crap Actress to Crap Musician to Crap Perfume

Comment by Rob Mortimer

OK. Here one for you. What about amazon?

Comment by Marcus Brown

Is this about something they have expanded into (that im not aware of), or about what could they expand into?

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I’d like to have a think about what they could expand into, yes. Let’s assume that Amazon trust us, and we’re allowed, with our expert knowledge, to help in a proper way. Where should they expand, what could they become?

Comment by Marcus Brown

Well, in terms of the local ideas; you have things such as a high street retailer or a commercial library (ala dvd/game rental).

More external ideas:

Book publisher
Distribution of products
Media/online media publisher
Electronic goods products (own brand esque)

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Excellent. You see I think Amazon will soon be about publishing things. Anything. Books, games, music, food, cookers, computers. Yes, I think you could publish food. You could have a whole range of products that interactive with each other. And And at amazon you can anything, from anyplace at any time.

Comment by Marcus Brown

They definitely have that potential.

I do like the story of Viacom, which was set up by one of the big US tv networks (CBS or NBC i think). Viacom was sold off, grew, expanded, and became so big and diverse it ended up buying its original parent company.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

could amazon get into TV? Or would that be like David Bowie and Banking?

Comment by Marcus Brown

Online distribution of tv – yes; and that would lead to being accepted as a producer / publisher of tv programmes.

If they could get the full PPR set of channels it could be very powerful.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Hello … I think Amazon could become the World’s postal service … what do you think to that?

Comment by Rob

Would be extremely difficult because of the established competition and legal issues; but thats not to say it wouldnt be possible…

Hi as well!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Colin … that was the best post EVER. It was a cross between a stream of conciousness and the World’s best Shrink session. It’s an honour to have you on my blog!

… and Marcus, you still could be me given your description of ‘grumpy, have very little hair and myopic’ is damn near a mirror image of yours truly. Don’t know who should be more upset by that, haha!

Comment by Rob

I’m not saying they SHOULD go into the postal service, just that it would be a logical place for them to go given they are the ultimate delivery service.

Comment by Rob

The problem as I see it with that idea is that they currently rely on the worlds delivery services… if they were to start one, they would have to make it able to cover the whole world efficiently from day one, as once they started it the other postal companies would probably refuse to ship for them.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

imagine what would happen if amazon said, right, that’s it, no more UPS, DHL FedEx. Fed up with that. We’ll by a fleet, employ some people, take a loss for a couple of years, build a business off the back of the business we’ve already got, and see where it goes. Genius. Works for me. UPS et al would get REALLY scared.

Comment by Marcus Brown

Rob M, they’d buy one. FedEx probably.

Comment by Marcus Brown

Hahahaha … well done, you’re taking Marcus and my advice and standing up for fundamental things that are wrong. We’re proud of you. And no, that wasn’t supposed to be as condecending as it came out.

Comment by Rob

no, no, no…. they should buy Amazon! There it is.

Comment by Marcus Brown

Fair point Marcus … and can I point you out to this post –

If Amazon did it, they could hold the World’s economy to ransom, hahaha

Comment by Rob

Haha, ok!

It would scare them, IF they had the cash reserves to see it to the end.

Id actually say they’d buy DHL/Deutsche Post as they deal with virtually every international package ive ever received.

Now…what if eBay bought DHL?

Comment by Rob Mortimer

What if Microsoft bought SONY!!!

Comment by Rob

What if I’d been born into the Royal Family?

Comment by Rob

What if I wasn’t jetlagged????

Comment by Rob

what if I wasn’t a printer?

Comment by Marcus Brown

I thought I had a legitimately good question!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

my question is legitimate too!

I think Ebay is interesting, but I’m warming to the idea of a carrier buying either Amazon, or Ebay. Yup, I think that could happen. It would make good business sense.

Comment by Marcus Brown

It would.
Buying a company that provides you with custom, logical chain buying.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

Sorry Rob … I didn’t mean to look like I was taking the piss out of your question. It’s a perfectly legit question and a far better suggestion than Amazon.

I’m having a ‘moment of madness’ so ignore me – I am sure you do normally, ha!

Comment by Rob

Haha, no need to apologize; I did join in a sausage conversation on a serious post after all…

I just wondered about it; ebay would then own the marketplace, payment AND delivery.

Comment by Rob Mortimer

And to be honest, my Microsoft buying SONY was a legit question too … but maybe not as commercially liberating as the ebay one you’ve come up with.

Anyway guess what … I’ve got to fly off again so have a great weekend and speak Monday for more debate on the weird.

Comment by Rob

There were lots of rumours before the Wii took off that MS were going to buy Nintendo.

Id like to see Nintendo buy Sega!

Have a good trip, and rejoin the madness next week!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

back to work everybody. back to work.

Comment by Marcus Brown

58 comments? I’m not reading all that!

Great post though – Rom Mortimer pour homme would smell of Cointreau.

Comment by Northern Planner

Cointreu with a hint of bitter!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

I’m here, it’s Sunday. Agreed time. Where’s Rob. No where to be seen.

Comment by MarcusBrown

A least it’s slightly more consistent with the firm’s brand values than the famous case of BIC discount aftershave. But in general, I agree with the thought that there should be some sort of logical progression to how brands extend themselves. There should be a resonant narrative or myth to how Mont Blanc came to be a purveyor aftershave. Saab is “Born of Jets,” Apple was the product of thinking different, Virgin was the result of one man’s mania and enormous ego. But Mont Blanc is smell freshener for aspiring blue-bloods?

Comment by Eric Alper

Hi Marcus … sorry mate, in bed feeling sick with man-flu [not a cold, oh no!] but will catch up with you soon.

And Eric, I take it you’re not that keen on Mr Branson … I can’t comment given he helps pay our wages … but he still has created an empire in totally different categories united by a constant brand philosophy of ‘Robin Hood’ – steal from the brand leader to give to the masses.

Sure, his success can be attributed to many factors – including his love of personal PR and the fact other companies are just so plain and bloody boring – but his ability to build diverse brand based on consistent values and philosophy has to be given some credit, surely?

[And yes, I do use the ‘Robin Hood’ term because I come from Nottingham, ha!]

Comment by Rob

sausage wins. We’re in the quarter finals people.

Comment by Marcus Brown

[…] But if it’s to differentiate in the knowledge it will hardly ever be called upon, it’s evil genius [Kind of like the time I recommended to SONY that they should offer 50 year warranties on their fast-becoming-obsolete-thanks-to-smartphone-technology, Handicam. Though I'd also suggested they should communicate their High Definition Handicam to 'alien conspiracy theorists' under the justification that it would help them prove aliens live amongst us thanks to its amazing ability to capture every detail] … but if it’s because they think people want – and will use – that service, it’s possibly one of the greatest brand delusions [if not overkills] since Mont Blanc decided it was a good idea to launch a bloody aftershave. […]

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