Polaroid cameras seemed magic to me (and to most people I knew) in the 60s when the standard wait time to have your photos developed was 5 days. (If you took Kodachrome slides as my father did, the process including mailing, took up to three weeks.)
So I was saddened by the news in February that Polaroid was phasing out its line of instant cameras, and that its film will stop being available next year. (To nab one of the last Polaroid cameras made, go to amazon.com. To keep tabs on the dwindling supply of film for it, go here. For undying Polaroid love, check out flickr. For Polaroid postcards sent snail mail--fascinating project--click here.)
For decades, Polaroid was a great client to work on, known for cutting edge advertising and clever re-inventions of its core product. More than 300 commercials were produced by Doyle Dane Bernbach beginning in 1977 using James Garner (Rockford Files) and Mariette Hartley who played the part of a bickering couple so convincingly that Hartley had a T-shirt she wore on set proclaiming "I am not James Garner's wife."
One of the best (if indecipherable) spots for Polaroid was shot in Asia by Michael Gondry (pre-Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.) The first 20 seconds of this 60 is a silent, seasick, hyper-speed view of workaholic Hong Kong where a young male exec is being chewed out by his older female boss. He returns to his desk, takes a Polaroid camera out of a file drawer, sneaks into an empty office and takes a photo that we never see, a photo he uses to resign from his dead-end job and learn to "live for the moment" --Polaroid's tagline at the time. But what does he take the photo of? Perhaps the soundtrack in Cantonese explains it? (If you figure it out, please let me know.) Still, the footage is surreal, unforgettable, and what more do you need, really, than standout visual to recommend a photography product.
And that's not the only Polaroid spot that left the photo to the viewer's imagination. (Did focus group testing prove this effective?) This one left out voiceover, too. The only audio is hysterical laughter.
Like many companies, Polaroid attempted to capitalize on the Y2K panic in 1999. It introduced its new disposable instant camera with a commercial about the millenium crisis. We're reminded of the all-for-naught national frenzy that year by the voiceover: "With just moments before the new millenium, the dreaded Y2K bug threatens worldwide bank disruption and computer failure" as a young reveller races through the Times Square crowd to an ATM and takes a Polaroid of a display of his bank balance. (It was widely feared that computer glitches embedded in bank software would compromise savings accounts.)
By 2007, digital cameras had pretty much eaten up Polaroid's market, but a valiant attempt was made to keep the product afloat in Brazil where Polaroid cameras replaced mirrors in shopping malls, reinforcing the brand's tagline: Instant Images.
via Advertising for Peanuts via a/d goodness
Polaroid, which declared bankruptcy in 2001 and was bought by an investment group, will try to keep itself afloat with the intro of a Polaroid Printer called ZINK which is the size of a deck of cards and designed to make instant prints from digital cameras or cameraphones. Sure, sounds like dubious product idea. But probably so did the notion of an instant camera in 1948 when Edwin Land, a photographer on holiday in Santa Fe with his family, came up with the idea after his 3-year old daughter complained about having to wait to see their vacation shots.