Features | From Pivot Magazine

Can Polaroid make a comeback?

Polaroid’s banking on nostalgia—again—with a small device that lets social posters embrace the power of print

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iphone with a polaroid photo printerThe new Polaroid Lab, a retro-looking device, costs US$130 and links to smartphones to convert digital shots into Polaroid’s iconic, white-framed prints. (Photo by Daniel Neuhaus)

Instagram users post more than 95 million new images every day, and Polaroid Originals is hoping some of them want hard copies. The new Polaroid Lab, a retro-looking device, costs US$130 and links to smartphones to convert digital shots into Polaroid’s iconic, white-framed prints. 

When Polaroid stopped making film in 2008, a company called the Impossible Project began manufacturing film for their vintage cameras and developing new hardware, too. Then in 2017, the Impossible Project acquired the once-popular, twice-bankrupted camera company’s intellectual property and rebranded as Polaroid Originals. Driven by renewed interest in tactile experiences, instant-film sales are growing by five per cent per year, and are expected to reach revenues of US$1.8 billion by 2021.

The challenge is that, while Polaroid was floundering in the early 2000s, rival Fuji pushed ahead on the tactile front. Shipments of Fuji’s wildly popular $90 Instax instant camera reached 900,000 units per month in 2019, partly because Taylor Swift endorsed the device. For comparison, the Impossible Project sold 28,000 refurbished Polaroid cameras and 1 million film packs in all of 2015. 

The Lab is banking on another powerful marketing tool: nostalgia. “A lot of people likely have fond memories of Polaroid from the 1980s and ’90s,” says Darren Dahl, a marketing professor at UBC’s Sauder School of Business. “That’s a major advantage. It can help them cut through the thousands of other marketing messages people hear every day and reconnect with people.” 

Still, the nostalgia factor doesn’t guarantee success. “To me, the Lab is less of a pivot than a grasp,” says Barry Cross, professor of operations strategy at Queen’s Smith School of Business. “They could have leveraged the Polaroid name to launch a web-based service that would have been lower cost and lower risk. People might want to print photos on Polaroid film. That doesn’t necessarily mean they want another device collecting dust on their desks.”