Polaroid is no longer a camera. It’s now a ‘social lubricant’, say its
agencies. Jim Davies reports
Caviar, vodka, astrakhan hats and now Polaroid cameras - the Russians
can’t get enough of them.
In 1995, Russia became Polaroid’s second largest market, with nearly
USdollars 200 million in sales - and that’s just five years after the
instant camera was first introduced over there.
Why? Apart from the fact that photo-processors are thin on the ground,
it seems the Russians are a distrustful lot - give a film to a stranger
to be developed, they argue, and who knows where the negatives might end
A Polaroid, on the other hand, is for your eyes only, as frisky couples
who enjoy a pictorial record of their bedtime antics are well aware.
But outside Russia and selected bedrooms, Polaroid’s prospects have been
bleak. Camcorders, one-hour processing and throwaway cameras have hit
the company hard.
It had something of a corporate image problem, too - market research
showed that it was seen as old-fashioned, stuffy and irrelevant.
February 1995 saw the start of Polaroid’s ‘severance programme’, which
will eventually mean the loss of 2,500 jobs. Redundancy packages and
‘enhanced early retirement programmes’ don’t come cheap, and these -
combined with depreciation of equipment and fixed assets - saw Polaroid
reporting a net loss of USdollars 140.2 million for 1995.
Determined to turn its fortunes around, Polaroid is now reinventing
itself with aggressive marketing and advertising - a strategy which
appears to be paying dividends. Gary DiCamillo, chairman and chief
executive officer of Polaroid, pledged to double advertising spend in
the US and Europe in 1996.
The US account is handled by San Francisco-based Goodby Silverstein and
Partners, which won the business from BBDO Worldwide in September 1995.
Initial research passed on to the agency by Polaroid showed that unlike
other cameras, Polaroid is not about recording moments for posterity,
but enhancing the occasion you are participating in there and then.
‘It might sound odd,’ explains Jon Steel, partner and planning director
at Goodby Silverstein, ‘but we decided to position Polaroid as something
other than a camera. It’s a catalyst - a means to an end, rather than an
end in itself.’
The agency gave members of the public cameras for a couple of weeks and
monitored how they were used. Steel says: ‘One woman went clothes
shopping and had the assistant take pictures of her so she could ask her
partner’s opinion later. Another guy turned up with 20 nude pictures of
Steel - an Englishman who previously worked at BMP DDB in London -
claims the resulting campaign shows Polaroid being put to uses that no
other camera could match.
One commercial features a falsely accused dog proving his innocence by
taking a Polaroid of a cat in an act of vandalism. Another is set at a
meeting in an architect’s office. A harassed high-flier is on the phone
to his wife, who is trying to lure him home for ‘lunch’. Eventually she
tells him to look inside his briefcase, where he finds a stash of
Polaroids that evidently show him what he’s missing. He makes his
excuses and departs. More commercials are in production.
The print campaign uses the same ‘see what develops’ catchline and
follows a similar vein, using irreverence and ingenuity to highlight the
unique benefits of Polaroid.
The change of tack is paying off. The campaign reached number three in
USA Today’s ad tracking chart - the first time Polaroid has achieved
such awareness since the 70s, when James Garner led a celebrity-based
In Europe, Bartle Bogle Hegarty has launched the second burst of
advertising in its ‘live for the moment’ campaign, having won the pounds
20 million pan-European slice of Polaroid’s business in 1994.
Its first push, two commercials (‘rockstar’ and ‘cure-all’), was
launched on MTV in April 1995. The ads went on to appear in France,
Germany, Russia, Switzerland, Hungary and the UK.
The London agency can already back up the success of its strategy with
hard figures - a year-on-year increase in camera sales of 75 per cent
and a growth in film sales of 18 per cent in Europe.
Karen Hand, account planner on Polaroid at BBH, explains: ‘We had to
turn Polaroid into a relevant brand. No-one seemed to see a role for it
today. It was perceived as the wonder product of a previous generation,
along with Sodastream and Rubik’s cube.’
Independently, BBH had come to a similar conclusion to Goodby
Silverstein - that Polaroid should be treated as a product other than a
camera. They dubbed it a ‘social lubricant’, similar to alcohol, fancy
dress or karaoke, and applied a suitable media strategy, targeting
programmes between 6pm and 8pm when Generation X is busy dolling itself
up to go out.
‘It brings out the madness in people,’ Hand says. ‘Unlike a 35mm camera,
Polaroid is totally non-threatening - people will pull each other’s ears
and mess around, rather than trying to puff up like a Hollywood film
Like their predecessors, the new commercials (‘resignation’ and
‘scissors’) deliberately eschew dialogue so they work across the
European language divide. The endline changes in some countries, but in
territories where English is widely understood, such as Germany and
Holland, it is retained. ‘Levi’s does the same kind of thing,’ Hand
Like-minded, lateral advertising campaigns either side of the Atlantic
seem to be turning the tide for Polaroid. ‘It’s exciting for us and BBH
to be working for Polaroid at a time of such massive change,’ Steel
says. Whether it can maintain its momentum in the face of rampaging
technology remains to be seen.