Polaroid, Technicolor, Kodak: With the Branded Beast Extinct, What Becomes of the Brand?
In the whirlwind of hyperactive change that is Moore’s Law, branding can be a prime anchor point. Brand identity fights the tendency toward ‘the new’ with powerful invocations of the past: nostalgia, reliability, simplicity, and the association of that brand name with the creation of very dear memories. Granted, nostalgia alone can’t save anyone from bankruptcy — but it’s a start. Polaroid, Technicolor, and Kodak are prime examples of this interplay, and each is adapting in its own ways — though there’s some overlap. Not one, but two of these traditionally film-based companies are even releasing digital cameras. In whatever the way, each of the three is working toward the preservation of its own historic brand name — which do you think will pull through?
Can staying power predict future lifespan? The answer is a terrifying “maybe,” and in the cases where the answer is “yes,” it’s usually because of adaptation in conjunction with the weight a brand may have to throw around. This can occur even (or especially) on the crutches of adversity — IBM is a powerful example in consumer tech. These are some of the approaches Polaroid, Technicolor, and Kodak are taking to stay relevant.
Polaroid: Wait, Did You Say ‘Brand Licensing,’ or ‘Bland Licensing?’
Below is The Verge‘s Adrianne Jeffries on Polaroid’s rough recent history, and present situation. The post follows an acrid reaction to the company’s $350 Android-based 18MP mirrorless/interchangeable lens camera, the upcoming iM1836 (pictured left). The in-hand preview went as far as saying, “Anyone who is looking to buy a camera to take photographs of any kind should avoid the iM1836 at all costs.” Uh-oh.
Polaroid took a beating from the emerging digital camera market and filed for bankruptcy in 2001 after racking up $1 billion in debt; it restructured with new owners, then filed for bankruptcy again in 2008. Through these reorganizations, Polaroid’s assets have been auctioned off and scattered to holding groups and bankers. Even its collection of prints by famous photographers was put on the block.
As Polaroid got chopped up into bits, its name became its most valuable asset… “Across several generations, people regard Polaroid as one of the most trusted, well-respected and recognizable brands when it comes to technology,” reads the release announcing the partnership between Polaroid and Sakar. Polaroid seems like a company adrift, and the dissolution continues with every new licensing agreement.
When Polaroid first filed for bankruptcy, the New York Times wrote that “most experts predict that Polaroid will never emerge.” At what point do you say, do not resuscitate?
The iM1836 is a result of the type of brand licensing mentioned above; as such,this doesn’t sound super promising for the future of Polaroid — especially if you go by what “most experts predict.” But, the company has already displayed a lot of tenacity, particularly given its age. It does still exist, after all. Despite the problems the above summarizes, I wouldn’t count Polaroid completely out until the fat lady sings just about as loudly and clearly as she possibly could.
Technicolor: “Color Me Technical!”
Technicolor has the same advantage: a name similarly historic to film. However, it benefits from having primarily been a process rather than entrenched in a certain back-to-front model of photography (see: the above and below). This means its relevance is not necessarily contingent on whether the dominant medium of motion pictures is film, or if it’s digital. To maintain that relevance, it must simply find ways to adapt its knowledge of color processing and reproduction to the modern age, just like it did with its ‘CineStyle’ picture profile. Fortunately, this seems to be exactly what the company is doing — again via The Verge, truncated for length:
Today’s Technicolor… is a gross mutation of the small post-production shop that grew up with the film industry. There was a lot of emphasis on Wi-Fi-enabled, smart home devices in this year’s trade show. Other inventions are more in line with its traditional business: helping people make movies. Technicolor invented [a] “advanced biometric technology” for use in the development and distribution of movies, commercials and TV shows… [plus] a drone that will optimize camera movement during shooting, as well as cutting-edge video editing technologies that are more in line with what the company is best known for. Technicolor is also hoping to help people consume movies, with a Netflix-like service called M-GO and an ongoing effort to push into set-top boxes.
This all seems like new territory compared to that which Technicolor is known for (see video below) — but if any of these products catch on, they could theoretically be very notable or well-regarded, as was vintage Technicolor.
“What is [Technicolor] about? We’re about technology. When you work in technology, you have to think five years ahead,” CEO Frederic Rose told The Verge. “Our biggest asset is our patent portfolio, but we’re not a patent troll. We consider ourselves to be an innovation company. What we’re trying to do is just come up with innovations that really address tomorrow’s problems, things that people are not clear about yet.”
I’m sure many of us would love to see Technicolor knocking something out of the park — I hope to see these products actually hitting the market, and making some waves in the industry. I’d also just plain like a chance to see them in action: that camera movement drone sounds very, very interesting.
Kodak’s Comeback: “We [Still] Make Great Film Stock, and Also This Micro 4/3 Digital Camera”
The most tell-tale nails in film’s coffin — the one into which it’s slowly sinking, but kicking and screaming all the way — were Fuji and Kodak’s announcements of changing respective directions. Drastically. On the other hand, Kodak’s recent announcement of a new (no, really! celluloid!) film stock for Super 8 and even more recent rise from the brink of financial extinction spells hope, if uncertain. Like Technicolor, though, Kodak’s eggs are in more than one basket. Kodak (along with manufacturing partner JK Imaging) recently announced a Micro 4/3 mirrorless camera, the S1. There are basically no details beyond this other than (these included) less-than-ideal/bootleg-style shots of a promotional build.
That said, you’re almost guaranteed it will shoot 1080p video at the very least, because developing any camera capable of less at this point in the game is basically a waste of time. Will it resolve as many lines as a 1080p frame should? Probably not, but DSLR shooters are used to that. And, I don’t think anyone is doubting just how powerful a seemingly harmless mirrorless “stills” camera can be in the right hands, either. Apparently it will have WiFi, though I can only guess what ‘best designed for smartphones’ means. The lack of details also extends to the partner/developer, JK Imaging, as well. It doesn’t exactly look like a competitive DSLR,* but neither does the GH2, especially given its crop factor — this could turn out to be a godsend for Kodak, or just as likely another harsh bump in the company’s road toward recovery.
No Fate But What Brands Make For Themselves?
Again, there is definitely some game-plan overlap here, but it’s impossible to say which modes will succeed. The company’s name will add momentum to the launches of new products in every case, and hopefully re-establish the presence of that name as a result. These developments may go down as an historic three-way case study in their own right — what worked, worked the best, or provided the longest lasting success? And what didn’t work? Waiting and seeing may prove to be very interesting.
What do you guys think of each company’s attempts here? Which companies do you think will ‘make it,’ and why? What are you own predictions given this information, plus what you already know?
Link: Kodak S1 Info — Weibo