The Cult of Dark Lilac: Three Lessons in Nurturing Devoted Customers We Can Learn From Lamy’s Marketing Ink Drama

Dr. Shani Horowitz-Rozen
4 min readMar 23, 2024

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Image by the Author

In 2016, Lamy, the famous German pen manufacturer, unveiled a limited edition of a beautiful ink color, Dark Lilac, that became an instant success.

As a fountain pen enthusiast, I, like many others, was captivated by Dark Lilac’s unique depth and romantic flair. It seemed like the perfect work-to-play ink. I bought Lamy’s Dark Lilac pen and ink back in 2016 because I felt it was special. I speak from experience — sometimes, the difference between a good day and a bad day can hinge on finding the right ink color. Don’t judge!

And boy, was I right. The sales of this cult-favorite Dark Lilac ink were phenomenal. Websites crashed under the strain as eager customers flocked to buy it.

There is drama in the fountain pen community

Fast-forward to 2024.
Lamy recently announced that it would release the Dark Lilac again, and the passionate fountain pen community was full of intense interest and excitement with the opportunity to buy more of the beloved ink.

Yet, when fountain pen enthusiasts received the new ink, they expressed much confusion, disappointment, and resentment. The ink was not quite the same as the original. It turns out the latest version was a slightly different shade due to changes in available ingredients. Adding to the confusion, Lamy had already unveiled a new ink for 2024 called Violet Blackberry, which many assumed was an homage to Dark Lilac.

Lamy acknowledged the difference and expressed regret over the confusion: “So you could say the Dark Lilac of 2024 is the old special edition with the technical possibilities of today. We should have given our revised Lilac release a different name.”

Speaking of the original Dark Lilac, here’s a glimpse of my own pen and ink set! The color is even more mesmerizing in person.

Missing your cult-favorite product

This is a case of a cult-favorite product that Lamy missed. The confusion and disappointment among the fountain community probably surprised Lamy, but more surprising is that the company missed the community of consumers’ affection for this specific shade of ink.

Consumers have relationships with specific products that they feel connected to. When a consumer feels so many positive emotions for a certain product, like I did when I wrote my emotional reaction towards the Dark Lilac shade, companies should be aware of that.

Not knowing what you’ve got ’til it’s gone

We can learn three major marketing lessons from the case of Lamy’s Dark Lilac ink:

1. Identify Your Cult Favorites: Lamy missed that their ink became a cult-favorite, instant success story.

Marketing is not just about promoting new products or pushing sales. It is also about thought leadership and keeping active conversations and engagements with consumers. By not acknowledging the hype around Dark Lilac and not fully grasping the popularity of the ink, Lamy missed identifying they have a marketing asset.

Lesson:
Look at your portfolio of products and try to identify which one your audiences love the most. Protect this asset and build a unique marketing journey for it. Even if it’s a limited edition, you can always create by-products to complement it and enhance your consumers’ affection. It’s not about reaching sales numbers; it’s about strengthening your brand’s relationship with your customers.

2. Accuracy matters to your brand: Lamy announced the release of Dark Lilac, but it’s not actually the same color.

Ink ingredients have changed over almost a decade, and that’s perfectly reasonable. We can’t fully create the same experience or product when the actual materials are different. Lamy should have acknowledged that when announcing the second release.

Lesson:
If it’s not the same 100% product, don’t announce it as such. Accuracy matters, as it reflects on your brand’s professionalism and trust.

3. What should Lamy do now? Foster ongoing communication

Lamy released a few short statements to acknowledge what happened, but that’s not enough in marketing. Marketing is not just about giving a response. It’s about creating conversations with audiences and letting consumers feel seen and valued.

Lesson:
When a case like this happens, consider it an opportunity to engage in conversations with your audiences. Create more opportunities to listen to your consumers, and don’t necessarily avoid engaging in the topic. This is always relevant, but mainly when dealing with such a vibrant community as fountain pen enthusiasts. This is the time to work with influencers or explore the theme, for example — expanding the discussion on Lilac the flower, the color purple, the mechanisms of color productions and how specific color is gone, etc., and educating the audience and engaging the consumers into sharing their love for the color.

Valuable Lessons for All Brands

This case study offers valuable lessons for any brand, but especially those with passionate customer bases. By fostering open communication and understanding the emotional connection consumers have with their products, companies can build stronger relationships and avoid similar marketing mishaps. In the meantime, the fountain pen community eagerly awaits Lamy’s next ink creation, hoping it will spark the same level of excitement as the original Dark Lilac.

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Dr. Shani Horowitz-Rozen

Helping companies and executives tell their stories and focus their messages. Framing is everything