Saturday, June 27, 2009

Polaroid – brand cardio pulmonary resuscitation

Innovate or become obsolete is the new mantra in Detroit. It should be the mantra for all brands, because as we're seeing in so many industries, resting on your laurels is not an option, whether you're a computer company, a car manufacturer, an airline, or a restaurant. Many brands disappear into oblivion without making headlines. Yet some brands are like emotional signposts along the highway of our life. They seem irreplaceable, and we lament their loss when they are gone.

How does a brand achieve that kind of iconic status?

Well - they fulfill the classic brand strategy to the tee - (differentiated, functional & emotional benefits). Yet iconic brands also create experiences that drive emotional connections, art and science to be sure with some alchemy thrown in. The right timing helps as does an innovation that sets the industry on fire.

Enter the Polaroid - a child of the 60's and as cool and innovative as Google or Apple today. As revolutionary as digital - you could instantly see the result - better than digital because it was printed and off you went with your original piece of art or moment in time.

Early in my career I worked in the tv commercial and feature film business - or in "the biz" as everyone called it. Polaroids were a staple of any set - they were used to capture wardrobe, continuity between scenes (was her hair parted on the side or middle...), every audition "headshot" was captured by a Poloraid. Polaroids were even used for lighting tests by the Cameramen.

Picture: "JUST TRYING TO FLY HIGHER 1/2" (Rb67 + polaback) shot by S.OMBRE

Speaking of art, the Polaroid also led a rich life with many artists and photographers. Creamy soft colours...some artists even baked the picture to achieve amazing effects. And then there was the ultimate...... the amazing 20x24 camera which takes big, detailed 20X24-inch instant color and black-and-white photographs. Polaroid created it to make large format photography available for a wide spectrum of uses, from getting close-up magnified views of Raphael's Transfiguration for the Vatican Museum to taking portraits of President Clinton at the White House or Dave Mathews and His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Seattle.

William Wegman has also used this puppy to shoot portraits of his Weimareinars. However, weighing in at 235 pounds, this camera is not exactly what you'd take backpacking.

Ok - so now you're saying - I saw one of those smaller Polaroid gizmos up in the attic. Cool - I can be retro and artistic too! Are you sitting down? If not, take these words in very slowly. Polaroid has decided to stop making film.

Yes - no more Polaroids, except.............

The Impossible Project
was launched in the Netherlands. An Austrian scientist and a bunch of radical smart Dutch folks (mainly former Polaroid employees) are trying to rescue Polaroid by reinventing it using new, more cost effective and hopefully more earth-friendly materials. They've given themselves 12 months and are asking everyone around the world to help them innovate around a solution. How cool is that?

There's a real drama too about how they saved the last Polaroid-making machines from destruction from an old Polaroid manufacturing plant. It's a story filled with intrigue, a crook, and a Ponzi scam (no not Bernie Madoff). You can read the story here in the New York Times. With the launch of Project Impossible, there's been an outpouring of emotion and love, yes love, for this brand. Let's wish these guys success!

But the real point here, is that when you have a great brand and the business is strong and healthy, it's difficult to imagine any other scenario except continued success, high stock valuations and a case study of your brand published in books like "From Good to Great". But even the mighty fall, and success can never be taken for granted. Keep the the core, the heart of your business strong through innovation so your brand will never need CPR.


  1. wonderful post!! as one of the US employees of polapremium/impossible project I greatly appreciate your spreading the word :)

  2. Great to hear from you Anniebee. Keep us posted over here at "The Orange" if you have any exciting news to share. kk

  3. hi essential orange...i was actually able to visit IMPOSSIBLE last week! here is my story

  4. thanks for sharing Emily - what a great visit.