Kodak’s Big Mistake: Killing the Kodachrome Brand

Kodachrome_boxThe other day Kodak announced that it was discontinuing Kodachrome film after 74 years. This resulted in great press coverage of Kodak’s imaging heritage and lots of discussions on the significant impact that Kodachrome made over the years (and of course every article mentioned the Paul Simon Song.)

Few can argue with Kodak’s decision to kill Kodachrome film. However, I see their approach as one filled with blunders. The company saw Kodachrome as a product or a name but not a brand. But a brand it is, indeed a brand that still has lots of positive equity associated with it (as evidenced by the press coverage) And there lies the blunder–they killed not only the product but the brand as well.

In their own press release, Kodak shows that they ALMOST (but now quite) understand that Kodachrome is a brand. At first they say “Kodachrome film is an iconic product and a testament to Kodak’s long and continuing leadership in imaging technology.” YES! But then they go on to say “…the majority of today’s photographers have voiced their preference to capture images with newer technology…” ARRRRGH! Its not a technology. Maybe 74 years ago in a lab it was a technology. But then Kodak gave it a name, people tried it–they had good experiences with it and it went on to become a brand. A good brand. A lasting brand.

In the public’s mind, Kodachrome still stands for memories, quality, deep colors, leadership, etc. Kodak could have taken advantage of this by introducing a series of Kodachrome digital products at the same moment they killed the film product. These products could have spanned a wide range from cameras to color accuracy devices to paper to printing services. All of these products would have had instant brand equity with the public.

While Kodak has become a digital company, most of the world does not yet realize that. People still remember that it took Kodak a long time to admit that digital was going to kill film. This was a great opportunity to help change that reputation. If Kodak had used this announcement to change the Kodachrome brand from a film brand to a digital brand they would have instantly reminded the world that Kodak had successfully made it through the digital transition and has remained a leader.  But with the way they handled this announcement, the public will still see them as a film company desperately dumping obsolete products.

Brands are not synonymous with names. Brands are the collective experiences people have had with the products that carry the name. Kill off obsolete products but keep great brands.