Recent years have been tough for the Eastman Kodak Company. It emerged from bankruptcy in 2013 with a focus not on consumer products but on business consumers.
As film has gone digital, the company’s says its sales of motion picture film have declined by 96 percent over the last ten years.
But the company that gave us the “Kodak Moment” is getting some help from friends in Hollywood. Directors like Judd Apatow and Quentin Tarantino are pushing movie studios to commit to buying a certain amount of film from Kodak for the next several years.
The directors want to preserve the option to shoot film in the future, and Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke says in a statement that the company praises the “ingenuity in finding a way to extend the life of film.”
David Reibstein, a professor at The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, says having that option in the long-term will depend on what Kodak does with these sales.
“If you’re just getting more money to continue to do what it is that you were going that wasn’t working, that’s not going to be a successful strategy,” he says. Reibstein notes that when General Motors invested in saving its ailing but iconic Cadillac brand, it undertook a major redesign and targeted a new demographic of customers.
Propping up a product in the short term can be like a finger in the dike, says Ken Doctor, a media analyst for Newsonomics. He sees a parallel between Kodak’s deal and one pushed by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy to help ailing newspapers.
“He had the government fund one year subscriptions to… the students graduating from high school in France as a way to stem the tide,” he explains. “That was a short-lived program.”
But there is still value in Kodak’s brand, because now it has an "artisanal" quality to it, says Douglas Holt, president of the Cultural Strategy Group, a brand consultancy. He says Kodak used to be a symbol of mass culture; now the culture it recalls has become antiquated and cool.
“Pabst Blue Ribbon, Polaroid – a lot of these brands that were mass cultural brands of the [past decades], the '50s, '60s, '70s, have the same possibility to push back against the mass culture of today,” he says.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story failed to say Kodak had emerged from bankruptcy. Further, the story lacked sufficient context concerning the agreement the company and movie studios are pursuing, and it failed to include a comment from Kodak. The text has been amended.