“Polaroid, whose images were often found in real estate windows, has returned to the party, the backyard and the family room.” – Phil Patton, The New York Times, 5/18/2000


How does a company whose greatest achievement is a technology introduced more than 30 years ago become one of today’s hottest brands among the increasingly difficult-to-target teen market?  In a year with no new products and reduced advertising budgets, public relations played a critical role in driving Polaroid’s brand revitalization efforts and cementing the company’s relationship with Generation Y.  Direct-to-consumer and grassroots programming combined with more than one billion media impressions garnered Polaroid four slots on the top-10 best-selling camera list for 2000.  Most importantly, the Polaroid I-Zone Instant Pocket Camera maintained its No. 1 status for more than 52 weeks and 83% of teens now term Polaroid a “cool brand.”


In 1999, Polaroid took the first step in revitalizing its brand with the introduction of the I-Zone Instant Pocket Camera.  Desperate to attract new users to its franchise, Polaroid’s cell-phone sized camera with its mini photo stickers needed to become the “must-have” product of a new generation of customers.  Prior to any advertising, the I-Zone became the No. 1-selling camera nationwide, with PR driving sales to record heights.  However, extensive coverage of the camera in its launch year, along with its status as the top-selling camera in the country, presented a challenge for the company in year two:  How would Polaroid maintain its “hot” status among Generation Y, perpetuate I-Zone’s “must-have” appeal and ultimately, continue the revitalization of the Polaroid brand in the absence of any product introductions?


Our target audience was Polaroid’s next generation customer – the kids, teens and young adults who comprise Generation Y.  A 1998 tracking study showed that personal use of Polaroid cameras had dropped to 12 percent from 16 percent only one year earlier.  The research revealed significant erosion in brand preference among younger consumers, driving negative perceptions of the Polaroid brand.  Fewer than 60 percent of consumers under 30 viewed Polaroid instant photography as fun; fewer than 55 percent viewed the brand as contemporary; and only 25 percent felt Polaroid fit their lifestyle.

Polaroid also utilized a variety of secondary research to better understand the youth market and how and where to best reach and influence them.  Based upon this research – which revealed that Gen Y responded most favorably to products that they “discovered” in their own environment and on their own terms – all public relations activities set out to communicate to this audience in their own vernacular and at points of discovery that would position Polaroid products as relevant and necessary to their unique lifestyle.


Our objectives for the program were to: 1) Drive awareness and sales of the I-Zone product line, and 2) Increase relevancy of Polaroid and its products among consumers under age 30.


Recognizing that attracting younger users to the franchise was the key to the company’s future, Polaroid developed a public relations program that took to the streets and reached teens and young adults at their “point of discovery.”  This approach was designed to 1) once again make Polaroid aspirational through association with other “in” brands and personalities, 2) leverage the I-Zone’s “cool quotient” to position Polaroid and its other products as hip, lifestyle accessories [halo effect], and 3) move media coverage beyond new product columns and onto the fashion and lifestyle pages that resonate most strongly with this audience.


All That Glitters Is Not Gold ... It's Silver:  To capitalize on the target audience’s interest in fashion, and to elevate Polaroid’s “cool quotient,” the company worked with fashion influentials to establish the Silver cameras as an “of-the-moment” fashion accessory.  Fashion-forward designer Todd Oldham joined forces with Polaroid to introduce the company’s new Silver Collection of instant cameras at New York City hot spot, Float.  The cameras were unveiled amidst a silver-themed fashion show featuring Oldham’s Polaroid-inspired TO2 collection, including his finale piece – a dress made entirely out of I-Zone photos – worn by Lisa Ling, co-host of ABC’s The View.  In a unique turn of events, models walked the catwalk with the new Polaroid Silver Cameras in hand, snapping photos of the media.  Fashion and lifestyle editors – along with celebrities and influentials – were invited to celebrate the introduction of the new collection.  The launch of Polaroid’s new silver line [new color applied to existing cameras] generated more than 28 million media impressions.  Coverage highlights included a national feed on Fox News Channel, ABC’s The View, The New York Daily News, Seventeen, O: The Oprah Magazine and The Donny and Marie Show.

Britney Spears Sponsorship:  To capitalize on teen girls’ interest in music, and to further draw the parallel between the I-Zone camera and its relevancy to youth culture, the company sponsored Britney Spears “Oops I Did It Again” tour.  Polaroid employed a variety of public relations activities to leverage the sponsorship and maximize its value, including use of the camera on stage during each concert, local market radio promotions and grassroots consumer events.  Pre-concert "tailgate" parties in 20 cities across the country offered zealous Britney fans the chance to have their pictures snapped with the I-Zone Instant Pocket Camera and then stuck on a 15’ x 9’ billboard [along with their personal message] to be delivered to Britney backstage.  Tailgate parties were supplemented with editorial radio promotions in which local deejays gave away concert tickets and I-Zone cameras, driving event traffic and excitement.  Local media utilized the colorful billboard and melee of activity as part of their “Britneymania” stories.  Britney public relations efforts reached more than 1.5 million teens directly and generated upwards of 700 million media impressions.

Street Marketing:  To further cement its relationship with tweens and teens, the company created a 20-city direct-to-consumer sampling initiative spanning the east and west coasts of the United States.  Polaroid “took to the street” and capitalized on pre-existing events in order to reach today’s youth in their own environment – on their own terms.  Driving into town in heavily branded I-Zone Hummers, the team recreated the “Zone" at each event.  In addition to the Hummers, the “Zone" consisted of tents, camera-shaped blowups and a crew of Gen-Xers who ran the festivities.  Kids had the opportunity to take part in a number of quirky games while earning the chance to win any number of prizes.  The I-Zone cameras were at the center of the activities giving participants a hands-on taste of the nation's number-one selling camera.  Overall, the program reached more than 250,000 teens who snapped a whopping 54,000 photos over six summer weekends.

Lifestyle Media Relations:  As an overlay to the direct-to-consumer and grassroots programs, media relations efforts focused on positioning Polaroid’s product within the Gen Y culture.  These efforts extended coverage beyond new product mentions and placed Polaroid and its products in the “lifestyle” stories that appeal to this discerning demographic.  Initiatives included outreach to photo stylists; editorial give-aways with cutting-edge teen magazines, ‘zines and Web sites; and tailored pitches highlighting Polaroid as part of larger fashion and trend stories.  This coverage positioned Polaroid as “in tune” with the wants and needs of Generation Y, and also resulted in more than 300 million media impressions.


Polaroid garnered four slots on the top-10 best-selling camera list according to Information Resources, Inc.  Most importantly, the Polaroid I-Zone Instant Pocket Camera maintained its No. 1 status for 52 consecutive weeks.  Other indicators of success include:

Polaroid brand relevancy among consumers under age 30 increased by 43% [from 25% to 68%] according to a Polaroid 2000 Tracking Study.  Furthermore, 83% of teens now view Polaroid as a “cool” brand.

“Got-to-have-it” buzz secured new channels of product distribution including amazon.com, Urban Outfitters, The Wiz, Best Buy and expanded Polaroid’s presence in Target, KMart and Wal-Mart.

Sandy Lawrence, Senior Vice President and driver of the I-Zone phenomenon was named to Advertising Age’s annual “Marketing 100” list.

More than one billion media impressions of Polaroid products [300 million+ for products other than I-Zone] with extensive lifestyle and fashion coverage in key outlets such as Oprah, The Today Show, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, New York Magazine, Time Out New York, Working Mother, InStyle, Teen People, Vogue, Family Life and Seventeen.