Polaroid, an iconic company founded more than 75 years ago, transformed the photography industry when it released the first instant-photo camera in 1948. Now, the brand is revamping its image as it aims to keep up with the ever-evolving technology of the 21st century.
The company, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2001 and again in 2008, entered the new year in a big way, debuting its latest innovations and strategies at the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show in January.
Polaroid turned heads at the trade show with a 10-inch tab- let, a 7-inch kids tablet, the iM1836 Android-powered camera, and a retail-store concept.
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"For 75 years, Polaroid has been a brand that has stood for innovation and products that help consumers exercise their creativity and share their favorite moments in a fun way," explains Scott Hardy, CEO of Polaroid. "We are remaining true to that heritage with everything we do, both in terms of the products we are launching to how we are using our marketing dollars."
In October 2012, Polaroid hired R&J Public Relations to help the company shape messaging and engage press outlets and bloggers.
The New Jersey-based PR agency helped the brand with product launches at CES and has been working on product promotion, media relations, corporate communications, social media engagement, branding, and crisis preparedness, notes Scott Marioni, EVP at R&J.
"As Polaroid reinvents itself, PR is going to be a big part of helping people understand what the company is, what it is doing, what the mission and the vision is, and how it is delivering new products and solutions while staying true to the brand's DNA," he explains.
One of the main target demographics for Polaroid is moms, or what the company calls "chief memory officers," says Hardy. To further engage this audience, the company is launching a retail concept in partnership with startup Fotobar, where consumers can bring their smartphones or cameras into a store and select photos to turn into hand-crafted art on canvas, metal print, bamboo, and many other backgrounds.
With the tablet market growing, Polaroid saw an opportunity to launch a tablet for kids since children "are getting more and more adapted to touch-interface devices," says Scott Hardy, CEO of the company.
The tablet, which comes pre-loaded with books, games, and YouTube channels for kids, is intended to be used as an entertainment and educational device.
Polaroid's 7-inch Kids Tablet also has its own app store for children to download additional free content, all of which has been screened and approved for viewing.
The first Polaroid Fotobar opened in Delray Beach, Florida in February, and nine more are expected to open around the US by the end of the year, giving more people the chance to experience the brand and its innovations, says Hardy.
Pamela Tufegdzic, senior analyst for consumer electronics at market research company IHS iSuppli, believes Fotobar will create new consumer awareness and niche audiences for Polaroid - particularly important because digital-still camera sales and shipment units are declining since "the all-in-one multimedia device has become more accepted as the primary camera for some consumers in recent years."
Global digital camera unit shipments, which include point-and-shoot and digital single- lens reflex cameras, shrunk by 3.8% in 2012 compared to 2011, according to IHS research.
One warning Tufegdzic gives is that "photobars" may only attract moms and parents, leaving out Millennials, but Hardy says Polaroid is also targeting the younger, tech-savvy demo-graphic with its new range of innovative products.
Social media is another part of Polaroid's PR and marketing plan, incorporating Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr pages, as well as apps for both mobiles and tablets.
Jim Fisher, digital camera analyst for PCMag.com, thinks Polaroid has some challenges ahead in revamping its image, particularly in the areas of product innovation and brand reputation.
He says product pricing may not be aggressive enough to attract consumers and Polaroid needs to make sure people are aware of its products when they hit the market, especially since Nikon and Canon cameras have strong "digital reputations."
However, Fisher says the Polaroid Fotobar concept may be one way to help refresh the brand to potential consumers.
"I'm fairly proficient with a camera, and find myself falling into the trap of sharing images online and not printing my images," he explains. "If Polaroid can get that aspect to take off, it will do more for the brand than any digital camera the company is capable of designing and manufacturing at this point." l