Without Kodak there would be no Instagram. When George Eastman set out to make the camera as convenient as the pencil, he could never have foreseen that 130 years later around 1.2 trillion photos a year would be taken worldwide. It is a brilliant example of leading with purpose and a cautionary tale of how that can backfire if you’re not careful.
The Eastman Kodak company achieved what its founder set out to do: it brought photography to the masses. For many decades, the Kodak brand was the custodian of our memories. They invented the digital camera which ultimately spawned our now prolific use of smartphones to capture and share our moments. Their demise is well-known and well-documented, and with the benefit of hindsight, it is easy to point to decisions that took the brand from two-thirds global market share in 1996 (even holding the number one position for digital camera sales in the US in 2005) to bankruptcy in 2012. It is a hard lesson about the price of complacency, clinging on to the past and an inability to evolve your company’s vision, purpose and product.
But instead of looking backwards at Kodak’s golden days and what went wrong, we’ve been looking at how this iconic brand has risen from the ashes to once again find a place in our hearts and lives. A new vision, purpose and range of products have artfully captured what was great about the past to give the brand a powerful new direction and lease of life.
An antidote to the ever-changing, mind-boggling world of digital innovation, Kodak is riding the analogue counter trend with class and credibility. The brand is brilliantly placed to pull off something which very few brands can achieve – dragging itself out of extinction and carving out a new role in our lives with the potential to excite people once again.
I sat on a panel with Danielle (Dany) Atkins, VP of Brand & Marketing at Kodak, at the World Forum Disrupt on Strategy & Innovation earlier this year. When we caught up again recently, we discussed how the marketing team and leadership have been hard at work bringing this iconic brand back to life. It has been a journey of rediscovery; looking to Kodak’s visionary past, but with the sole intention of shaping a sustainable new future.
Their timing couldn’t be more perfect. The focus on analogue is more than just a trip down memory lane. It is not merely an exercise in trying to connect with the youth market, as Atkins herself acknowledges. Kodak take a psychographic approach to reflect the fact that the creativity they want to tap into is a mindset and attitude, not a demographic.
As the downsides of our digital lives become more apparent, the soulful, slow and personal relationship between photographer and subject which film and analogue enables is increasingly desirable. It’s an interesting shift at a time when restaurants are now actively dressing themselves to be Instagrammable, and guides to the most Instagrammable places in London are popping up in Vogue.
It’s easy to understand how the counter trend is gathering pace. Sitting alongside the trend for mindfulness, many people are realising that slowing down, being in the moment (rather than snapping it 100 times to pick the best photo to share) and appreciating real beauty (rather than faking it with a filter) are key to physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing. This has the potential to be Kodak’s moment to leverage its unique history and capabilities in a way that inspires new and previous generations of analogue lovers, while also moving the digital market on to a new and better chapter.
Kodak are purposefully positioning themselves as the brand for the ‘creative generation’
Kodak are purposefully positioning themselves as the brand for the ‘creative generation’ (although perhaps this should be generations?) and their strategy makes complete sense in this context. The iconic identity has had a refresh and is being applied in a whole range of distinctive and relevant ways. Collaborations with Opening Ceremony, The Girl Skateboard Co and Jigsaw among others have seen the brand cleverly applied to clothing, accessories and sports equipment in ways that encourage younger and older consumers alike to see the brand in a new light.
Key to this success however, is compatibility. Atkins knows that slapping the logo anywhere and everywhere will do more harm than good. With licensing, collaborations and influencer marketing, she and the team have been very careful to choose partners where the fit between their brand and what Kodak stands for runs deep and is truly complementary.
Last year, as part of their initiative to support gender diversity in the film industry by finding and backing young female talent, Atkins put a prototype of the new, much anticipated Super8 camera into the hands of photographer Renell Madrano. Madrano used it to make a behind-the-scenes film of her photoshoot with Cara Delevingne for GQ. The photographer is an advocate of the benefits of Instagram for promoting the work of young up and coming artists, but passionate about the process and unique qualities you can only get when using film. The highlight of the shoot was seeing Delevingne pick up the camera and start shooting with it herself. It is these moments Atkins loves to see because they reflect genuine interest and engagement with the brand and the products, rather than wading through the murky waters of large-scale influencer marketing. Mind you, when the brand has fans including Steven Spielberg and JJ Abrams, you can afford to be choosy.
The longstanding link with Hollywood has been a real boon. The beautifully crafted Kodachrome magazine and the Kodakery podcast, containing interviews with the likes of Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, provide an enviable platform for building relevance and engagement. As a record-breaking and ground-breaking director who used film to bring real artistry and depth to the superhero franchise, Jenkins’ passion for the medium reinforces why it still has a powerful role to play in creative endeavours. As with many of the creative powerhouses who love analogue, digital vs analogue is not an either/or. It’s about choosing the right tool for the job. This is good news for Kodak as it tries to work out how to bring these two worlds under the brand’s umbrella.
The answer will undoubtedly lie in understanding how the brand can translate its unique perspective and strengths in both analogue and digital, so that generations of creative people see it as a home for their various needs. Leveraging iconic assets, such as turning the Ektra into a smartphone offering, are tentative first steps in the digital consumer space. Bringing back the yellow film packets that land on your doormat with your beautiful snaps are a great example of taking the friction out of shooting on analogue.
Alongside this lives the innovation in digital flexi-graphic printing. This has enabled the Eastman Kodak business to rebuild itself by fuelling greater creativity in the increasingly dynamic world of packaging and helping entrepreneurial print businesses find their edge. Campaigns such as ‘Press On’ show how the might of Kodak’s new marketing capabilities are being applied in B2B as much as in the consumer space.
The path back to profitability has so far been paved with commercial printing and brilliant marketing but the biggest challenge ahead for Kodak is how to build scale. If the brand wishes to rise to greater heights, it needs to unlock its purpose in a way that meets big new needs. Building a highly engaged (but niche) analogue following is a powerful and credible platform, but how can the team take what they’ve learned and translate it more widely without diluting or overextending its success?
Thinking more deeply about how to turn Kodak’s new purpose into action across all audiences, along with selective innovation, will be key to driving large scale relevance that transcends the analogue vs digital debate. Having powerful insight into the lives, needs, motivations and barriers of those who want to be more creative (rather than speaking just to those who already are) would help them find the answers and avoid the mistakes of the past. It would let them consider how they can take more of the friction out of the analogue experience and how they can transform the world of digital photography in bold new ways that enable greater creativity and craft (without trying to replicate the analogue experience). These are exciting questions which - for an iconic brand like Kodak - deserve answers that will thrill and delight once more.