How the Cube could be the shape of things to come for Polaroid

Iconic brand is back with a camera that could disrupt GoPro’s cosy position in the market

Lifestyle Action Cameras ‘Cube’ by Polaroid: it doesn’t come with many of the bells and whistles a hi-tech GoPro might have but it’s not supposed to. photograph: ina fassbender/reuters

Lifestyle Action Cameras ‘Cube’ by Polaroid: it doesn’t come with many of the bells and whistles a hi-tech GoPro might have but it’s not supposed to. photograph: ina fassbender/reuters

 

Brands, like bands, football teams and skinny jeans, can go from cool to uncool pretty darn quickly. Polaroid, which was once considered a leading innovator under founder, Edwin Land, saw a drop in popularity in the 1980s. Gone but not forgotten, because no matter how bad things get, a brand that globally recognised, in the hands of the right people, can always make a comeback.

Without actually doing anything, Polaroid has been hip again for some time, due to the resurgence of interest in retro, vintage cameras and apps that can create old-timey pictures digitally.

Things weren’t looking so good for them in the noughties though. After filing for bankruptcy in 2001, the company was taken over in 2009 by Gordon Brothers Brands and Hilco Consumer Capital. While no longer doing any R&D in-house, they now work with start-ups and other firms to develop innovative products under the famous rainbow spectrum logo. The Polaroid Cube is their newest release, a tiny action camera designed in a similar vain to the GoPro. With some important differences though.

A more affordable action camera

“We wanted something that was appealing to the broader mass consumer in terms of how the camera would be used,” Polaroid CEO Scott W Hardy tells The Irish Times. This was the kind of business direction they gave to design company Ammunition, whose founder Robert Brunner, is an Apple veteran and responsible for the look of Beats Headphones.

“Most importantly we wanted a product that’s super fun,” states Hardy. “It’s about lifestyle. We want to grow the market. GoPro is addressing the extreme sports niche – people jumping out of hot air balloons on a bungee chord. But rather than going after the extreme male, we are aiming the Cube towards a younger, and female demographic.”

The camera is easy to use. Single one touch push recording and capturing. It doesn’t come with many of the bells and whistles a hi-tech GoPro might have – like Wifi accessibility – but it’s not supposed to.

“It’s interesting how much younger demographics already love Polaroid, girls especially,” says Hardy. “Teenagers will use their phone to take Instagram pictures of Polaroid analog photographs. Kids are digital natives. They were born into the digital world. So they see a magic in analog technology.”

Ironically, in an interview with Bloomberg, designer Robert Brunner admitted that some people under 24 suggested they had “ripped off” the rainbow-coloured band that runs across the Polaroid Cube’s middle, from Instagram.

There are other interesting overlaps between old and new. The Ammunition design aim was to make the new Polaroid camera a perfect cube, something that initially proved difficult when it was found the battery wouldn’t fit within the specified parameters. However, by using two batteries, one on each side, the final approved gadget ended up measuring 35 millimetres - the same as old-school film stock.

Disruptive technology from an old timer

“Disruptive innovation comes about when somebody sees an opportunity that the incumbent cannot,” explains Damien McLoughlin, Professor of Marketing at the UCD Smurfit Business School. “The GoPro guys are so focused on developing really good photographic expertise, they’ve forgotten what most people want is a simple and quick way to record whatever it is they’re doing.

“Polaroid have jumped into that space and to me, the attraction of the Cube is not that it’s cheaper but that it might actually fit into a market that is bigger and more sustainable.”

A ‘good’ venture capitalist?

X Factor

Companies with a recognised brand though, can always make a comeback. “Firms like Kodak, Blackberry and Polaroid, have huge bundles of patents attached to them,” says McLoughlin. “Frequently competitors will come in, take over and use the patents relevant to them right now. The brands themselves are useless, because of the fall away from the product. But sometimes you will get venture capitalists who see an opportunity to do something with the business. Venture capitalists have a bad reputation but sometimes they do positive, important things.

“They can’t rebuild Polaroid in the way that it was, but they can build a new kind of business. This is effectively what Steve Jobs did. Apple was in serious trouble and he took the core of their business – design and user interface – and redeveloped their strengths.”

Stocking filler photography

“But Polaroid is a brand that already has 100 percent recognition, and is now working with a unique business model where we have several strategic partnerships. So we don’t want to simply make a more affordable GoPro. There’s plenty of products already out there doing that. Polaroid has always been about ease of use, and simple one-step cameras. One click and you’re done. The Cube is no different.”

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