Brand Health Check: Kodak

The veteran imaging brand is struggling to keep up with digital developments.

The annals of history relate that when Kodak founder George Eastman created the brand, he stipulated that its name must be short, impossible to mispronounce and neither resemble nor be associated with anything else.

More than a century later, it has been suggested that the only way to save Kodak, a brand deliberately named to stand out from the crowd, is for it to go 'invisible' by focusing on patents and back-end technology.

It would be a sad fate for the 131-year-old company, which produced the world's first consumer camera in 1888.

Such desperate measures have come about as a consequence of desperate times: the company has failed to turn a profit since 2007, and this month chief executive Antonio Perez was forced to deny impending bankruptcy at a 'town hall meeting' broadcast to all 19,000 Kodak employees worldwide.

It has arrived at this juncture after failing to adapt quickly enough to the shift to digital imaging, a problem exacerbated by the availability of high-quality cameras in smartphones.

There has also been a slump in the number of people printing their photos, a trend that has hit companies like Kodak and Canon hard. A high-profile autumn TV ad campaign for the Kodak Hero series of printers is an attempt to reverse this trend.

Should Kodak allow itself to fade into the 'invisible' world of back-end tech, or does it retain a future as a successful consumer brand? We asked Chris Cardew, strategy director at Mindshare, which previously worked on Kodak, and Beeker Northam, executive strategy director at Dentsu, which works with Canon.


CHRIS CARDEW, STRATEGY DIRECTOR, MINDSHARE

I was bought a Kodak Easyshare photo frame last Christmas. It's the antithesis of everything a digital technology brand should be about today - it's not mobile, its contents can be shared only with those sitting within 10ft of it and it can do only one thing.

Kodak's competitors appear more in touch with the digital age, with products that satisfy our need for self-promotion and functionality requiring just a swipe, poke or stroke to make magic happen. Kodak advertises its printers and frames and expects this to sell its cameras, but it is likely to have the reverse effect.

The brand is suffering from irrelevance; it doesn't cater for people's needs in a technology-obsessed world. Do you know anyone who has recently boasted about owning a Kodak product?

Kodak has evolved its product offering over time but it just hasn't succeeded in communicating this to the buying public.

REMEDY

- Reorganise the product portfolio and focus marketing on the camera ranges - cameras have a bigger potential audience and more of a place in people's lives. Having re-engaged them with the purchase of a camera, cross-sell the printer and frames.

- Put innovation at the heart of the communications strategy. Find new and exciting ways to make consumers take notice and engage with what the Kodak brand stands for - quality, creativity and innovation.

- Forge partnerships with relevant, credible brands or media partners. Borrow their credibility and existing audiences in the short term to drive relevancy.

- Think about creating product prototypes for tomorrow and talk about them. Lead the way. Excite and inspire people to think about future image technology.

BEEKER NORTHAM, EXECUTVE STRATEGY DIRECTOR, DENTSU LONDON

George Eastman sounds like a brilliant man. His feats, and those of his company, charged 19thand 20th-century amateur photography with what reads like a kind of Jobsian spirit of invention and creative empowerment.

Now, however, the game is reduced to fighting Apple in court and reportedly focusing on 'patent litigation' as a survival strategy. And giving rapper Pitbull money to use his Kodak as a kind of 'pimp weapon' in the war against women.

Eastman invented roll film in 1885, coined the brilliant slogan 'You press the button, we do the rest' in 1888, and established a lab that would go on to be responsible for the first digital camera.

The potency of Kodak's awesome history lies not in a banal 'tell your brand stories' strategy, however, but as rocket fuel for a spirit of invention for 2011.

The most exciting thing is the belief and expertise in the craft of translating the mind's eye, the camera's eye and the world's light rays into gorgeous, tangible media, whether soft or hard media.

That's a timely and brilliant thing to do well, as is the proposition 'You press the button, we do the rest'. What an extraordinary service proposition for 2011.

REMEDY

- Use that strapline as the strategic proposition for all innovation and make true innovation important again.

- Get excited about tangible media. There's a market for 'making life less virtual' and loving print. The idea of Kodak getting behind the printed image, and actually making media again, makes me want to work there.

- Retire Pitbull. The weird thing tech companies have for celebrities who will do them the least favours is, frankly, deranged.

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