Kodak's Self-Deprecating In-house Video Goes Viral

Consumers Tickled by Blustery Speech That Aims to Raise Marketer's Tech Profile

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YORK, Pa. (AdAge.com) -- Kodak is the grandpa of the camera industry. You know, the sweet old guy you love like crazy, but that black-licorice breath and non-ironic trucker cap scream generation gap and frumpy un-hipness.

Kodak's tongue-in-cheek exultation of new its technology builds to a frenzied cry that has been the toast of bloggers since it went viral last month.
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So it's no wonder that a brash Kodak video unleashed on the web has gone viral, is ranking high on viral-video charts and is garnering big laughs and praise. For many viewers, it was undoubtedly like finding out grandpa built a sick skate park in the backyard for him and his teen skater bros.

Frenzied cry
In the video, a silver-haired actor begins a staid presentation exalting the "Eastman Kodak Co." and its creation of "Kodak moments," but quickly digresses into an increasingly energetic, slightly tongue-in-cheek exultation of new Kodak technology, building to a frenzied cry: "You were a Kodak moment once, and by God, you'll be one again. Only this time, it's digital." It's sort of three parts "Patton" and one part "Stripes."

"You'd never expect it from Kodak," said Betty Noonan, Kodak director and VP-brand management, talking about the video's appeal and popularity. "Kodak has been very narrowly defined -- broadly represented as a brand, but narrowly defined."

"Kodak has been puppies and balloons and families and birthday parties and God bless us all. It's defined the brand for 100 years and done a wonderful job. But we have to look at puppies and balloons and those visual cues a bit differently," she said. "We want to keep what defined the brand, but we need to make it relevant to what's happening out there today."

Exclusive invite to tech shindig
The Kodak video began as an internal presentation for the Wall Street Journal's D: All Things Digital conference last May. Afraid that tech snobs would wonder why Kodak was even invited (much less delivering a keynote), the company knew it would have to prove to the attending technorati -- CEOs and top level execs from the biggest and arguably best tech companies in the country including Microsoft, Apple, Sony, Google and Dell -- that it belonged at the exclusive digital conference.

The video was created by an internal marketing group and Kodak's agency, Partners & Napier, Rochester, N.Y., and reworked into several versions for internal use at town-hall type meetings. The executives interviewed said they are not sure how the video made its way to the web in December, but the best guess is one or more tech-savvy employees copied it or uploaded it from the company intranet.

Consumers and bloggers in general love it. Typical comments run along the same theme as this one on YouTube: "Is this a real commercial? If so, Kodak will now rocket back up to popularity. Gotta love a company that can make fun of itself."

And Kodak gets that too.

A fine line
"I think it's acceptable now for companies to go through transformations. Still, a company transformation is one thing, but a brand transformation is another," Ms. Noonan said. "There is a fine line of respect and on any given day you can err on either side of the line. ... We've been walking that line every day, and yes, we've fallen off it sometimes."

Kodak's digital manifesto is nothing new. They've been extolling the switch to digital for several years, but analysts have grumbled about its lumbering speed in getting there. Ms. Noonan said the video is the beginning of that internal transformation going public.

Still, the company may need to hurry up a bit. As IDC analyst Chris Chute pointed out, Kodak is now the No. 3 seller of digital cameras, behind Canon and Sony, and investors are getting impatient with quarter after quarter of red ink. Fourth-quarter figures aren't in yet, but Kodak's market share for the third quarter was 14%, down from 21% in 2005, he said.

'Running out of time'
"You can have all the best conferences and videos in the world, but they really need to show the new technology leadership ... with products and services," Mr. Chute said. "They're running out of time."

Facing that, and with the viral-video success, it's almost certain Kodak will continue to push the marketing edge to grab attention and drive digital sales.

"We've always executed emotionally. But that can mean not only making you cry, but make you laugh or take pause," Ms. Noonan said. "We're doing a lot more exploring in the digital-media world, a lot of testing. You can expect a lot more from us."
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