Sunday, January 10, 2010

Going ga-ga over Polaroid

I read recently that Lady Gaga was appointed Creative Director at Polaroid. Actually it is supposed to be a "strategic partnership" between the fashion icon of today and the iconic brand of yesteryears (or maybe even more appropriately, yesterdecades). As if that weren't bizarre enough, according to the Herald,

The partnership is designed to help Polaroid appeal to a younger demographic after its technology was rendered obsolete by digital cameras offering a more effective form of instant photo gratification.

And here I was thinking "I wonder what Polaroid's been doing since the 70's when they did instant film photography...". Turns out that they are still doing instant film photography!

That can't be right. So I checked out the Polaroid website and looked over their products section. Indeed they still do cameras. To be fair they do digital cameras now as well as a little device that does instant digital prints called PoGo. A bit sad, I think. The Polaroid name alone used to stand for instant portable photo printing. Now, the process that made them an icon is provided by a mere peripheral to the range of undifferentiated products they currently market.

Would you choose a Polaroid digital camera over one made by, say, Canon, Panasonic, or even JVC? The brand itself is definitely still seen to be iconic as the marketability of Polaroid charm necklaces (pictured on the right) attest to. But the current products of Polaroid itself have "So what?" written all over them. That's where Lady Gaga comes in, I suppose. As "creative director", presumably she will likely work on rubbing off some of her coolness onto them.

I dunno. At first I thought that there is something dishonest about painting a lead bar gold in order to pass off said bar as worth its weight in... well, you know. But then don't most of us wax and vacuum the car before we sell it? Or wear a suit to an interview? Get all made up for a night out in town? My point is, everything in one way or another is a pitch. Often the sale is made less on the merit of the product and more on the skill by which it is pitched.

In the case of Polaroid, the company made its mark pretty much on a groundbreaking but one-time technological innovation (instantaneous film photo printing). That technology has since been made obsolete by digital photography. So unless it is up to the task of coming up with the next big groundbreaking technological innovation, the company will have to transform itself from being primarily a technology company into one whose core competency is in marketing undifferentiated products. Clothes, for example, are fundamentally undifferentiated. Most of the clothes we buy nowadays, which could easily encompass fifty-odd brands over a year, are probably produced by a handful of garments manufacturers somewhere in China. Think of it: fifty-odd brands manufactured by ten-odd factory owners. Garment marketers in our comfy societies have all but convinced us that we're getting a shitload of "variety". That's the garment industry's pitch to us.

Beer is another. I mean, honestly, how different is one brand of beer to the other in the overall scheme of flavours the human palate is exposed to? Three to five bottles into the night and it won't even matter even to those who beg to differ to my summary dismissal of variety in beer. Yet the sheer variety of beer brands and the equally diverse range of marketing and advertising approaches taken to convince us that drinking their brand is cool boggles the mind.

It's ridiculous.

Because we have become a society obssessed with self-image, the pitch to us has become more an appeal to our egos and less to our rational sensibilities. And that to me is why Lady Gaga is now "Creative Director" of Polaroid.

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