Kodak's Ink Play Is Shrewd Move

An Ad Age Editorial

Published on .

Kodak isn't letting a film-free world turn it blue.

It's no secret the company we all grew up with struggled some to adapt to the digital age. After all, when the overwhelming majority of camera users simply stop using film, what's a film company to do? Make cameras was one obvious answer, and Kodak quickly did that, launching its EasyShare line as part of a long-planned strategy. Though the original EasyShares may have seemed clunky compared to sleeker entries from Canon and Sony, they regularly placed the company in the No. 1 spot for digital-camera sales in the U.S.

And while Kodak may have been caught off guard by the speed at which the film market collapsed, the company has tried to remain one step ahead of the game.

At the end of last year, for example, Kodak publicly made an attitude adjustment via a viral video. In the video, a General Patton-like figure started off with a warm, fuzzy tribute to our collective memory of Kodak but quickly shifted gears into a self-deprecating and hard-nosed look at the future. Kodak Director and VP-Brand Management Betty Noonan said at the time: "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."

Or, as the shouting man in the viral video says, "They're not playing grab-ass anymore." And there's no greater evidence than Kodak's foray into printer ink. The move to change the economics of home printers from the cheap-razor-expensive-blades model to a more-expensive-razor-cheaper-blades formula is a bold marketing innovation. Consumers, annoyed by absurdly priced ink cartridges, should be receptive. And Kodak is a trusted brand. Because it long faced stiff competition in film, it never ripped off consumers-something printer makers can't exactly claim. If Kodak can make an honest communication about the value it's delivering, it has more than a fighting chance.

Consumers stand to gain, and ink sellers, forced to compete, may also be forced to innovate.
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