Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

August 18, 2005

Kodak reshapes its image

Ads present company as 'trusted guide' to digital

By Ben Rand
Staff writer

(August 18, 2005) — One of Eastman Kodak Co.'s most prized possessions is about to get a makeover aimed at taking the company's image beyond the era of the little yellow box.

Rochester's largest employer is launching a comprehensive campaign to modernize and enhance the meaning of the Kodak name to customers across the globe.

The company today will let loose a torrent of advertising — online, in movie theaters, in print, on television and outdoor billboards — designed to establish Kodak's credentials as a high-tech innovator in the world of digital imaging.

Advertising will be just one part of the campaign, which comes in the wake of accelerating declines in film, the company's signature product for a century. Kodak will also seek to reinvent the way it presents itself to its partners, the way it packages and designs products as well as make other changes.

By at least one important measure, the identity campaign is sorely needed. The value of Kodak's brand was estimated at just under $5 billion this year, according to the annual Interbrand Corp./BusinessWeek magazine rankings of the top 100 global brands. That's down 55 percent from an estimated value of $10.8 billion in 2001.

Kodak is now rated as the world's 62nd most valuable brand, compared with 27th five years ago. "Only dominant in a film business that shrinks every year," the 2004 rankings said about Kodak.

The new campaign aims to reverse that perception by presenting Kodak as a diverse provider of state-of-the-art digital imaging products and services useful to many different industries — not only consumer photography. Establishing Kodak as a technology company is "table stakes" in the fiercely competitive world of consumer electronics, said Betty Noonan, director of brand management and marketing services at Kodak.

The idea is to move the company past the age when it was known for its little yellow film boxes — "to put our technology and innovation at the forefront ... and make customers stop and say, 'I didn't know that about Kodak,'" Noonan said.

At the same time, Noonan said the company knew it wanted to do no damage to the traditional attributes attached to the Kodak name — trust, quality, technological simplicity. Consumers in focus groups repeatedly told Kodak that its brand "was the kind of brand they could bring home to dinner," Noonan said.

As a result, Kodak will seek to position itself as a "trusted guide" — the only company with the capabilities to lead customers and businesses alike through the shift from film to digital imaging.

The company will use a metaphorical photo gallery as the campaign's centerpiece. The gallery will be a common backdrop in advertising debuting tonight. The company actually built a gallery, using real photos, in the same movie studio in which Walt Disney Corp. filmed Mary Poppins.

About the plan

The campaign is two years in the making and involves a complete re-examination of the company's identity. The only aspects that were unchangeable, Noonan said, were the company's name and its historic color scheme of red and yellow.

Kodak studied a range of companies that went through brand transformations. It paid particular attention to the approach used by UPS Corp., which in 2003 launched the well-known "What Can Brown Do for You?" campaign.

The idea behind that spot was to transform UPS' image from that of a company that delivers packages to your house to one that facilitates commerce on a global scale.

"The bottom line is that we help companies large and small peer around the corner to do things like smooth the flow of trade or just better manage their business operations," said Steve Holmes, a UPS spokesman. "That's a lot more than shipping a package from point A to point B."

In the two years since launching the campaign, UPS' revenue has grown from $31 billion to $36 billion. UPS was ranked No. 32 in 2005 Interbrand/BusinessWeek rankings; it was not among the top 100 in 2004.

UPS also moved to No. 2 on the Harris Interactive/Reputation Institute Corporate Reputation Survey in 2003, from No. 15 in 2001.

Kodak's campaign will be a mixture of heart-tugging Kodak moments with sharper, product-oriented spots. The ads were directed by well-known commercial director Joe Pytka, whose credits include such spots as the Ray Charles' "Uh-huh" advertisement for Pepsi Co.; and the Larry Bird-Michael Jordan "Nothing But Net" series for McDonald's.

Moving ahead

A branding expert says Kodak is on the right track in pushing the envelope of its identity while seeking to retain the equity built up over many years. "For Kodak, the only risk is not playing around with the brand. While there are a lot of nice historical and emotional attributes, it is still anchored in film," said Steve Manning, managing director of Igor International, a branding agency in San Francisco. Manning is a graduate of Penfield High School.

He said one of the challenges for Kodak and other digital camera companies is to find a dominant product attribute that cannot necessarily be trumped by technology.

Kodak, he said, is smart to try to establish its technological credentials by highlighting advances in businesses such as radiology, space imaging and commercial printing.

He also said Kodak needs to talk about technology because discussion of being easy-to-use can only go so far. The risk is being seen as producing products "that are dumbed down."

"People want better, not just easier," he said.

Further reading: