Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reviving the Blackwing: Half the Pressure, Twice the Speed

Photo Courtesy: The Blackwing Pages

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.

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.


John said...

I missed the slogan at first, but I think the new BW is different enough to merit its own slogan. I think your idea of a contest of other joint-effort is a good one. I miss when pencils had slogans, like "bottle of ink in a pencil." :)

Adair said...

I am anxious for this outstanding pencil to become available for purchase. My suggestion, though, is that, if you are not going to use the original slogan, do not use one at all. Regardless of its scientific inaccuracy, the original has a lovely symmetry (3,3)and a smart play of opposites (Half vs. twice; pressure vs. speed)that the new slogans lack. Definitely stay away from "Back in Black." Anyway, is there any hope that we can start placing orders this week? I want to get down to serious work with the new Blackwing! Thanks.

Andy @ Woodclinched said...

Y'know, the more I think about it, the more I like "Fast as Light, Black as Night". It sounds sort of like a superhero — worthy of The Mighty Blackwing. I still am a fan of the original slogan, but this is growing on me.

Matthias said...

I do not think that it is right to scrutinise the old 602 slogan from a scientific, literal standpoint when you use slogans like "for the smoothest ride" that would not hold up to scrutiny either. "Scientifically" speaking you should apply the same measure to all your slogans then, i.e. use the old 602 slogan on the new horse.

Robert M. said...

One valuable product differentiation that the Palomino brand has relative to other brands is an understated, minimalist aesthetic.

Since the aim is not to reproduce the original, it would be a bad idea to toss a cheesy slogan on, especially given the mediocre printing and typography so far shown. It would make the pencil look even more like a cheap Chinese knockoff than it already does.

If you're going to load up the sides of the pencil with copy, it should be well-executed. Otherwise, leave it off and let the lead and eraser/ferrule compensate for the lack of barrel design.

If this were going to be a complete reproduction, then absolutely go with the slogan. If your copy and printing/finish were strengths of your pencil design, then it would be fine to have a modern reinterpreted slogan. With the current pencil design however, the smartest thing to do is to leave it free of superfluous printing.

Andy @ Woodclinched said...

@Robert: Too bad we can't get Don Draper to work his ad magic (albeit fictional) on this pencil. That way, we can replicate that mid-century feel as well as have a fresh, strategic slogan. (-:

Michael said...

I really like the idea of a contest. One of the options should be no slogan. It would be fun and add publicity (offer a gross of pencils to the winner).