Honestly, there was indeed a debate about whether to include this phrase long associated with the Blackwing on our new pencil. Many Blackwing fans seem to feel quite strongly that this slogan should have been used and do associate this slogan directly with the pencils smooth writing performance. One person even referred to our new Palomino Blackwing version using the phrase “One Quarter the Pressure, Twice the Speed” to indicate that, in his opinion, it was smoother than the original.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Reviving the Blackwing: Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed
Photo Courtesy: The Blackwing Pages
I have nothing against a good marketing and promotional slogan and I certainly recognized beforehand that “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” is loved and well respected. However, I’ll admit I never really understood the logic of this slogan from a purely technical standpoint. Increasing downward writing pressure quite obviously increases friction and thus would slow down the gliding of the pencil across the paper with a given amount of lateral force. The inverse is true as well, reducing pressure increases speed. Thus when applied to downward writing forces this slogan is essentially true regardless of the quality of the graphite and how smooth it is in relation to the graphite cores of other pencils. Alternatively, looking at varying degrees of lateral pressure being applied with a fixed amount of downward force, as smoothness increases the same lateral force certainly would increase speed and I can see the logic that reduced lateral pressure might maintain the same speed, but not necessarily double it. Who can write or draw legibly twice as fast anyway? So it did not strike me as a particularly appropriate slogan when evaluated purely from an scientific, literal standpoint to represent comparative performance advantage versus other pencils or even just smoothness in general.
There are indeed testing devices to measure lead wear rates and lay down samples on pencils as well as ink flow rate on pens. I’ve checked with our lead supplier and there is however no current instrument they use to technically measure smoothness under controlled circumstances, just the experience of their trained staff. Presumably if a proper technical definition of smoothness was determined this could perhaps be evaluated by designing appropriate scientific method and test equipment to statistically measure and demonstrate smoothness performance. (Note: Our CalCedar Research department once developed equipment and conducted a set of studies to scientifically and objectively measure the different forces required to sharpen pencils made of different wood species with different sharpening tools. Being a specialist in wood processing technology and supplier of wood to the pencil industry this makes some sense for us to have pursued this, however we are not a specialist producer of our own graphite cores and have not really considered such tests in developing our new Palomino Blackwing pencil. Remember Adam Smith’s Invisible hand.)
Obviously this is a very theoretical discussion for what really ultimately has more to do with consumer perceptions. I doubt Eberhard Faber ever conducted any studies to scientifically measure and demonstrate smoothness before coining the slogan. Looking up the word “smooth” in the dictionary yields several appropriate synonyms which have been applied to the Blackwing Pencil at times “soft”, “silky”, “velvety” and “effortless” being among the most common. From the concept being portrayed that the Blackwing pencil is more effortless to write with, then the idea that reducing pressure corresponds to a dramatically increased speed may be interpreted that the pencil has characteristics that defy natural forces thus imparting a super-natural type quality. Perhaps this is closer to the originally intended meaning and interpretation for this phrase than my more literal view expressed above, it’s certainly a romantic one. In any event I have no idea who to credit for the inspiration and genesis of the “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” slogan. Perhaps it was simply the Mad Men. Who knows?
From a trademark perspective it does not appear that Eberhard Faber ever took action that we could find to protect this phrase. During our cursory evaluation of this topic with counsel we came to no conclusive answer whether it would be worth the effort and expense and if it would ultimately successful in being granted a trademark. Certainly we could have used it without taking such steps but for this and other reasons chose not to.
We did consider alternate slogans that I felt would more directly reflect the Blackwing’s smooth writing performance and would also improve linkage with some of the existing “slogans” related to the Palomino’s performance. (e.g. Ride the Palomino, the smoothest ride around. Or alternately, Smooooth…!, which came from one of our fans in an animation about the Palomino). We’ve also since had several suggestions including some of my favorites: Fast as Light, Dark as Night and Back in Black. Ultimately we rejected printing any slogan as a matter of the economics of dual side printing, and a desire not to offend those who may not like a changed slogan and also consideration for trademark concerns.
As we look ahead to future production the decision of whether to use the “Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed” slogan is currently under re-evaluation though perhaps alternately we should just hold a proper contest for a great new slogan unique to the new Palomino Blackwing and a new generation of pencil fans. Once concept now under consideration is to produce a separate SKU as a classic reproduction version, though when or whether we could support multiple Blackwing items in the line over time really has to be seen with how sales go as we move through the fall. We are now working on last few details before putting up the new Palomino Blackwing for sale on Pencils.com.