When I wrote my review of the M605 White Transparent, I indicated that the pre-release product photography didn’t quite portray the actual pen very accurately. Rather than a cool white colored resin, the photos depicted a warmer, more ivory leaning cast. I wanted to expound upon this because it seemed to be a recurring theme at the end of last year that confounded several would-be customers. It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words and perhaps nowhere is that more true than when selling some form of goods. Pelikan’s product photography has always been somewhat hit or miss but the actual merchandise has usually turned out to be better than advertised. It may seem trivial, harping on the less than true pictographic portrayal of a fountain pen but, for many, those pre-release photos are the only visuals available prior to making a decision to purchase. Far too many consumers lack access to brick and mortar stores or any other opportunity to see a real world example of a pen prior to committing to buy. For some limited edition models, waiting for real world photos may mean missing the pre-order period which can equate to extra money spent or a missed opportunity all together. This is why true to life photos are important for any company selling a product. The M805 Ocean Swirl was subject to one of the most perplexing depictions in some time and therefore I thought that it was worth taking a closer look.
Given the size of Pelikan’s operation, I can only assume that they have a professional team working on their sales images. I’m sure that when a product is sent to the photographer, a certain style or aesthetic is sought by the artist and/or company. There are many common sins in the realm of product photography, some minor and others cardinal. Poor lighting, an off exposure, strong shadows, or odd composition can all affect how an item is viewed by a potential customer. Perhaps the most egregious of these errors is when a photo is not representative of the actual product. This can come about for a multitude of reasons. Perhaps there are strange angles or too much work done in post processing. Colors can become inaccurate and scale difficult to judge. Everyone wants to see a really neat shot that shows the best of the next hot release out of Hannover but what good is that shot if it’s not an honest portrayal?
Let us review the most recent release from Pelikan and see if we can’t illustrate some of the above points by way example. First announced on 9/28/17, Pelikan’s product photos depicted a beautiful blue-green color interspersed with darker areas of near black, a conceit used to invoke visions of the sea. The blue-green coloring looked nearly fluorescent in the stock photos which had more of a greenish than blue tint. Consumers had little reason to question whether or not the pattern was carried throughout the finish. Similarly styled pens such as the M805 Vibrant Blue and the M800 Renaissance Brown had unique but uniform patterns. On 10/18/17, Pelikan took to their social media accounts to share a 50 second video of the pen which was our first real world glimpse. While this started to clue us into the fact that the pattern was not uniform, the alternating darker colored bands were not very pronounced in that video. Once the Ocean Swirl began shipping, its true colors were quickly noted. Rather than a uniform appearance, there was instead two colorful blue-green bands that alternated with two much darker bands. Rather than leaning green, the pen seemed to bias more towards blue. In addition to that, each pen is not created equal. While fairly close, some pens skew more colorful while others are clearly on the darker side. Either by way of design or flaw, some of the caps do not line up well with these bands creating a bit of a mis-match. The full nature of this design was never clearly depicted in any of the pre-release photography and there in lies the rub. The Ocean Swirl is a fine pen but its appeal is hampered by how Pelikan chose to portray it. It comes down to managing expectations and this is where Pelikan’s marketing materials need to do a better job.
At then end of the day, the M805 Ocean Swirl remains a lovely pen that is both vibrant and subdued at the same time. I have no regrets owning one and rather than focus on the inconsistencies of the finish, I enjoy the overall look. There has been much ado made about the finish which I think ultimately is a non-controversy. In Pelikan’s defense, the pattern is more likely the result of the stock resin utilized rather than any purposeful design choice. I only dabble in product photography and am no expert by any stretch. I do know that capturing some of the unique finishes that Pelikan designs can be quite a challenge. Hopefully, future product shots will be more complete and truly representative of the actual wares so that consumers can make better educated purchase decisions and Pelikan can avoid any blow back over mis-representation. Overall, I think Pelikan does an adequate (not stellar) job at this which is why the example provided here stands out. I would love to hear your thoughts so please feel free to leave a comment below.