Polaroid ads show flash of brilliance

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Advertiser: Polaroid Corp.
Agency: Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco
Ad Review rating: 3 stars

Quite the coup for those clever folks at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners--in their effort to develop a larger national presence--to nab the big Polaroid assignment.

What's next? Toaster ovens? Girdles? Zeppelins? Maybe they'll make a run at that big Consolidated Fondue account.

And why not, because the Polaroid arrangement is a masterstroke. Goodby cannot fail because nobody could expect the agency to succeed. Polaroid is too hopelessly moribund a brand, whose core product faces dismal prospects in the long term, medium term, near term or any term you can think of.

Advertising can no more save Polaroid's instant photography technology than advertising can save Jiffy Pop. The high-cost, medium-quality film product isn't exactly obsolete--in the sense that socialism isn't quite obsolete--but it's no growth industry, either. In fact, in a world of 1-hour photo processing, the Advanced Photo System and digital imaging, the Polaroid process is very much like North Korea: clinging to a concept created in the '40s, increasingly isolated and hanging on for dear life.

The Land that time forgot.

So the agency's position truly is enviable, as it endeavors to do for Polaroid more or less what it did with "Got milk?"--i.e., imbue a declining institution with some desperately needed cachet, a restored sense of fun, hipness and amusing possibilities.

Indeed, what has emerged is almost identical to the milk strategy, positioning Polaroid as a product that you should have on hand for those times when you really need to have it on hand. And, like "Got milk?" each realization of the strategy is charming, funny and brilliantly produced.

One spot is about a dog who uses a Polaroid to get the goods on a rival cat. A second is about a harried businessman who discovers a Polaroid left in his briefcase by his significant other, and drops everything to get home right away. A third shows amused parents documenting their resourceful little girl's adorable dress-up games with the dog. And the last is about Antonio, a fashion designer, barking last-minute instructions to his minions preparing for the big spring show.

Antonio is sick in bed, under a nurse's care, but he's wildly snapping pictures of his models in their revised designs so that the changes can be incorporated. They're incorporated, all right--only a shot of the nurse gets inadvertently thrown in, and . . . well, you can imagine. The nurse look takes the fashion world by storm. The tagline, in every case: "See what develops."

It's a marvelous slogan, appended to a delightful campaign. Summaries do no justice to the acting, timing, direction and comic impact of these spots, especially the inspired, absurd "Fashion." On the sheer strength of personality, they will no doubt exceed everybody's low expectations and give Polaroid at least a brief shot in the arm.

But if the client is imagining somehow re-creating the "Got milk?" phenomenon, it can forget that right now.

Beyond the genius of the strategy and the execution, what powered the "Got milk?" ads was the essential familiarity of the situations. They were exaggerated, but real. Sometimes you do need a glass of milk, and that fact was crystallized by the charming commercials.

Well--unless you work at the DMV--you never need a Polaroid, a fact crystallized by these charming ads, as well.

Copyright March 1996 Crain Communications Inc.

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