Of Writing and Writing Instruments

The act of transcribing one’s thoughts on a page or any surface dates back millennia and is inextricably linked with our being human and needing to communicate. Whether expressed as ideograms or drawings, like the Lascaux cave drawings in the Dordogne region of France, this form of communication developed even before languages and scripts were born.

Later, writing really came into its own in the age of paper, ink and the printing press, as first invented by Gutenberg. This was when the widespread dissemination of ideas, particularly religious ones, was strongly felt. From a simple means of communicating to people across distances, writing grew in sophistication over time. Little wonder, there is a strong and direct connection between writing and reading. Those who care about what and how they write also tend to read a lot, especially enjoying the way that language is used to convey an idea or a thought.

Who one was communicating with also became important, as did what one was communicating, the latter depending on the former. In addition, what response the communication was meant to elicit too began to play an important part. This was when the full influence of written communication began to be explored and felt; when Edward Bulwer Lytton said the pen was mightier than the sword.

As a writer in advertising and brand communications, I keep all these considerations in mind when writing any piece of work. And our kind of writing differs from pure creative writing to the extent that it is meant to help deliver a brand communication strategy. Creative writing, on the other hand, can explore the entire gamut of thoughts and ideas freely without the constraints of form and sense. I am happy to say, though, that even in our industry of advertising and brand communications, I have had the opportunity and freedom to explore writing for a wide variety of brands. And across all media. And thanks to years at Ogilvy Delhi, I have had the opportunity to understand writing for all communication disciplines as well, including direct response and PR.

In my area of work, writing is as much work, as it is a pleasure. Which brings me to the subject of writing longhand. In the days of email, computers, text messages and social media, is writing by hand dying out? I have myself known the feeling of not being able to face an empty page, after years of writing directly on a computer. And I was glad to learn that I was not the only one to feel this way; I happened to read an interview with David Abbott of AMV BBDO in Archive Magazine that I used to subscribe to years ago in Delhi, where he expressed a similar discomfort.

That said, I do like writing with fountain pens very much and bought myself a Waterman years ago at Liberty London. In fact, one for myself and another for my ex-husband, who was much more comfortable writing with his old Wingsun, a Chinese make of fountain pens that used to be widely available in India then. I think writing with a fountain pen somehow makes one more conscious of what and how one is writing. It helps one write neater, as if the writing instrument is disciplining and guiding the hand on how to write clearly and legibly. It makes us take the act of writing itself more seriously, with its own rituals of filling ink, cleaning the nib every now and then and assembling it all back before writing with it once again.

Writing longhand helps us express ourselves individually; Image: Pixabay

The fact that fine writing instruments are still around and that people still buy and use them is testimony to the fact that people still write by hand, however little that might be. Many of the finest brands in writing instruments have also become status symbols of a kind, even if their use has dwindled in recent times. I’d like to believe that they still have a future and that they also need to innovate to keep pace with changes in technology.

Many of us write to communicate a message, or a point of view, at work. Work-related correspondence, memos, presentations, that sort of thing. Then, there is the kind of professional writing that calls for imagination and is about ideas. Some of us are lucky to get to do both kinds of writing. And it is this subtle nuance that I have tried to use as insights for my brand strategies and ideas for two storied brands in fine writing instruments: Parker and Waterman.

Of the two brands, Parker has a longer history in India and is better known. My father, for example, used to own a Parker fountain pen when I was a little girl and writing with it one day used to be an ambition of mine. Somehow, it dates back to the days of the British Raj in India, even though both Parker and Waterman have their origins in America. As an advertising and brand communications professional, I also know that some of the finest advertising for Parker came from the pen of an Indian in England, Indra Sinha, who also happens to be ex-Ogilvy.

Years ago, while in my second stint at Ogilvy Delhi, we were invited to pitch for the Parker business along with their globally-aligned incumbent agency McCann Erickson. Parker was at the time, entering the Indian market through their representatives in India, Luxor Writing Instruments. For some reason unknown to me, we were asked to pitch only with an advertising/communication strategy, not creative work. Yours truly worked on that pitch – even though I was a writer in the creative function – and we were delighted to receive positive feedback on the presentation. As I happened to hear later, McCann had made certain board-level interventions through their London office and managed to retain the business. However, the campaign I saw in India after the pitch won by McCann, was the usual celebrity endorsement featuring Amitabh Bachchan, if you hadn’t already guessed! What’s worse, the campaign had nothing to do with writing – this, when his father, Harivansh Rai Bachchan, was a well-known poet in India.

On the corporate front, both Parker and Waterman were owned by the same company, Gillette, in the ’80s and ’90s, the latter being acquired from Bic. It so happens that both are back together, owned by Newell Brands in the US, who also own other writing instruments and stationery brands such as Papermate. Ownership doesn’t affect the brands per se, but it certainly forces us to differentiate Parker from Waterman even more.

To my mind, Parker being a much more visible brand – thanks in no small part to some great advertising for it – has a brand history that one must keep in mind when trying to create new communication for it, or repositioning it. Parker has always been positioned as the fine writing instrument for those who have a point to make. Driving home your message is key to the Parker brand and I wouldn’t recommend anything to change that. Sadly, if you visit Parker pens’ website, it is about their range of pens, but without focus on the intrinsic qualities that make Parker such a storied brand.

I would bring back the focus on the brand’s core values and its intrinsic attributes, that help make it such a fine writing instrument. I would also widen the context, in an attempt to make writing by hand popular once again. And I would do it in the world of business, where people are perhaps writing ever less by hand.

Fine writing instruments are a writer’s tools; Image: Pixabay

Growing the market for fountain pens as well as creating preference for Parker among business professionals is what I see as the brand’s objectives in the years ahead. Similarly, for Waterman, growing the market for fountain pens and creating a preference for Waterman pens ought to be the objective for the brand.

When it comes to Waterman, though, it is the other kind of writing that I appeal to. Creative writing, imaginative writing, writing that calls for ideas to be expressed fluently and evocatively. Therefore, I recommend that Waterman be positioned as the fine writing instrument for inspired writing.

With these as the strategies for the two brands of fine writing instruments, I have created brand campaigns for both Parker and Waterman that clearly set them on different paths. Parker is the fine writing instrument that helps you make your point in an individually distinctive and effective way, while Waterman is the writing instrument for inspired writing. You can read my brand strategies as well as campaign ideas for Parker and Waterman pens by clicking the link below.

Scripting the Future of Parker and Waterman Pens

To meet the challenges of the future, I would urge both Parker and Waterman to innovate. If these fine writing instruments could write on an electronic surface, instead of merely paper, they would have bridged the technological divide. What I have in mind is a separate range of stylus pens that both Parker and Waterman can introduce that are capable of writing on any device, irrespective of operating system and platform. This would open up new possibilities in writing and communicating longhand, while at the same time reinforcing the superiority of individually distinctive handwritten text over typed text.

From the world of peace treaties and inter-government pacts, Parker pens also encompasses the corporate world of handwritten communication that is required in the world of business. And from ending wars and writing scientific theories, Waterman pens embraces the world of books, cinema, theatre, and more.

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