Redeveloping its image: How Polaroid is becoming relevant again

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The makers of the original instant camera—those clunky one-button products that provided immediate gratification (if little opportunity for customization)—could have faded into the background as digital cameras and camera-equipped smartphones came into play over the last decade. But, with an ingenious collaboration and smart branding, Polaroid has re-asserted its role and relevancy in the 21st century.

Founded in 1937, the Polaroid Corporation defines itself as an international consumer electronics and eyewear company. It is most well known for its instant film cameras, available from 1948 to 2008, which played a significant role in pop culture (e.g., featured in the movies Clueless, Memento, and Beetlejuice, as well as “Hey Ya”, a song by Outkast).

So, how did a non-digital brand that had its heyday in the Walkman and Nintendo Entertainment System era make itself relevant again to our constantly on-the-go and online culture?

Step 1: Tap into the cultural relevancy of a highly controversial and extraordinarily well-known pop icon.

Polaroid named Lady Gaga, who appropriately happens to be the writer/singer of the photography themed song “Paparazzi,” as its new Creative Director for Specialty Products. Her role? To provide concept and design ideas and inspiration for a portfolio of products capitalizing on the company’s heritage sweet spot: instant gratification.

No other current personality can better deliver on the idea of instant gratification like Lady Gaga, a woman known the world over for her eccentricity, offbeat fashion, and over-the-top performances. By announcing the collaboration, Polaroid was immediately thrust onto center stage, thanks to Lady Gaga’s status as a cultural icon and her legions of devoted fans.

Gaga also lends a sense of the unexpected to the brand, which is important to a company trying to carve out a new niche for itself and show that it’s still full of surprises. More importantly, she brings a believable sense of design and a strong understanding of what Polaroid’s target audiences want.

Step 2: Create innovative products whose design, aesthetic and functionality mesh with user needs and behaviors.

Together, Lady Gaga and Polaroid created three new products under the Polaroid sub-brand Grey Label, which is endorsed by Haus of Gaga and fulfills the sub-brand’s tenets: Creativity, Instant Artistry and Fashion.

They include an instant mobile printer, an instant digital camera with immediate print capabilities, and camera glasses—all of which combine the best of Polaroid and Lady Gaga’s influences. The Camera Glasses especially capitalize on Lady Gaga’s lifestyle and futuristic design preference by bringing a taste of it to the public.

Why does the collaboration work so well?

First, Polaroid made its name by helping consumers live in the moment while instantly capturing those moments for immediate and permanent memories. These new products reintroduce this promise, but with a digital spin. Next, Lady Gaga is known for her unfailing mission to express her own creativity, every minute of every day, and these new products will certainly help her, and others, do so. Finally, unlike other celebrities elected to design roles within well-known companies, Lady Gaga is serious and passionate about her role and remains committed to making a positive impact on the Polaroid brand.

In the press release announcing Grey Label, she says, “I consider myself to be a visionary, not just a songwriter and a singer. I am an artist. I brought my vision and love of fashion, technology and obsession with the future into all of my work with Polaroid.” The collaboration may have initially seemed like a May-December romance, but at the heart of it, both brands actually have many synergies.

Polaroid is proof that a brand can always reinvent itself to break through the clutter and stay relevant to its target audiences—but it doesn’t always have to be via a high-profile collaboration. All it takes is creativity, understanding and gumption.

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