Camera brand Polaroid turned 80 this year. The company that took the practice of developing shots out of the equation was a huge success for decades. In the era of digital cameras and smartphones, however, the instant film brand has fallen out of fashion.
There are other challenges as well. For one, photo processing is all but immediate. The remaining processing centers that used to take a day or two to process photos can now do it in about an hour, sometimes even faster. Then there’s the fact that many photos are now simply taken for the purpose of being shared on social media. How can Polaroid compete in a marketplace that has moved on from the question their cameras answered?
Recently, Polaroid Originals, the Dutch company that acquired Polaroid's brand and intellectual property last year, began releasing a line of products geared toward those who appreciate the nostalgia and simplicity of vintage Polaroid cameras. In conjunction, the company unveiled the OneStep 2, a throwback to its popular ’70s model “OneStep.”
But will Millennials, who do have a bit of a nostalgia bug, fall for old-school Polaroid equipment? Well, Polaroid Originals’ 28-year-old CEO, Oskar Smolokowski, certainly thinks so, and says he’s game despite the daunting task in front of him.
Smolokowski formerly led Impossible Project, a company formed by a band of instant photography fans which bought the last Polaroid manufacturing facility in a bid to keep the technology alive. Now, Smolokowski is leading a charge to bring Polaroid out of ersatz retirement with a strategy to “adapt by not adapting …”
Speaking to CNN, the CEO said, “The smartphone is really saturating everyone’s lives, and people are reaching out for other ways to experience photography … (They want a) physical artifact …” That’s not to say Polaroid is ignoring tech advances. Its new OneStep 2 comes equipped with certain 21st Century upgrades including LED lights, long battery life and a rechargeable USB.
There’s no doubt Smolokowski’s peers are a strong target market for Polaroid’s new products. Those who grew up with smartphones and digital photography look at instant photos as an intriguing oddity. A luxury, perhaps, but one worth exploring. The $100 price tag for the camera may well make it worthwhile … if Polaroid develops a winning interactive public relations and marketing campaign. The niche market may get them a toehold in the marketplace, but the company will have to do more to appeal to a wider audience. They need to grow beyond a niche if they want to succeed in bringing Polaroid back to life.