Quantum Brief

O&M and Eastman Kodak: How the Kodak KB 10 campaign deepened their association

O&M released an ad on the Kodak KB 10 camera in the mid-1990s to educate consumers on the ease of photography the product offered. The commercial helped the brand sell in millions, and the ad etched itself a permanent place in the memory of those who watched it.

By  Kashmeera SambamurthyApr 21, 2023 1:39 PM
O&M and Eastman Kodak: How the Kodak KB 10 campaign deepened their association
After the commercial’s release, it received critical and commercial acclaim, and KB 10 was sold in millions in the first year of its launch. It changed the whole landscape of the photography market, distanced it from being an expert’s domain and made it available to the average user. (Still from the ad)

When Eastman Kodak Co. transferred its $40 million consumer imaging mandate to Ogilvy & Mather (O&M) in the 1990s, it brought the curtain down on the brand’s 66-year-old association with J. Walter Thompson (JWT).

JWT produced the first television ad for Kodak in 1955 and in 1992 created the memorable Kodak Moments campaign plugging the American photographic giant’s cameras and film.

As former O&M creative director Shankar Nair recalls, after such a long association with JWT, Kodak was less than enthusiastic about the advertising work created by O&M.

Then came the launch of Kodak KB 10, a 35 mm, point-and-shoot SLR camera, and the ad campaign for the product, considered the biggest post Kodak’s move to O&M. The period leading up to it was a test of endurance for the advertising firm.

Kodak KB 10 and the advent of photography

Kodak had a good standing in India, where it was a market leader, and its film rolls sold well. But the company was not much into advertising in India, where it did not strike a chord with consumers, who remembered it from the yellow balloons that were visible outside Kodak studios.

That changed with the arrival of the Kodak KB 10, which put photography just an arm’s length away from consumers.

Rajesh Singh, former senior vice president of Kodak India, explained to Storyboard18 that photography was considered too technical a subject then. Few possessed the confidence to handle a camera and click photographs, a task they left to professional photographers.

“India is a country with a large population where a majority of the talent stands untapped. Hence, seeding of the market was very crucial. We wanted to bring photography to the masses where anybody could buy, load the film, click and get good photos,” Singh said.

Seeding is the process of targeting a specific consumer group to encourage the faster acceptance of a new product.

KB 10 cost Rs 995 because, as Singh says, the company wanted to price it below Rs 1000. When the camera was introduced, the general verdict was: “Yeh camera nahi chalega” (this camera won’t run).

That’s because every time the lens cap would slide, the flash would turn on, and it would spoil the prospects of a decent photograph.

Singh hit upon an idea. He instructed his team: “Go to every photography studio, take two photographs of the owner. Click theirs in broad daylight, and wherever they desire. Then ask that person to take a photo with this camera.”

Next day, the photographs were delivered and only after the campaign did the cameras go on sale; the product sold at least in the hundreds.

The photography trade was finally convinced about the ability and potential of the KB 10. But skeptics still felt it wouldn’t survive long in the market.

Kodak KB 10 was introduced with a three-year, no-questions-asked replacement policy that was unheard at that time in India.

O&M was briefed with the task of creating an advertisement that spotlighted how anyone could click great photos with the KB 10.

Band, Baaja and Baraat

O&M’s Nair penned the script for the commercial, which focused on the product’s ease of use.

Because the change of agency was a big step for Eastman Kodak, there would be constant calls with the company’s vice president, who was based in Rochester, New York, and who was very involved in the making of the ad.

The conceptualization and discussions, which took place under the guidance of Piyush Pandey, (currently) chairman of global creative, Ogilvy Worldwide, and executive chairman of Ogilvy India. Ad filmmaker Prasoon Pandey was drafted to shoot the commercial.

The ad showed a couple who are on their honeymoon, have a camera and want to click a photo of theirs. They see a baraat (wedding procession) passing by and stop a man in the procession to ask him to click a picture. The camera is so easy to use that he joins them in the frame. Slowly, the whole crowd joins the couple for a photo.

Prasoon was pleased with the script, and Banganga Tank in Mumbai’s Malabar Hill was chosen as the location.

The team thought the ad “should be shot at a historical place where one could feel that a couple had gone and the baraat happened to be passing from there,” he said.

During a pre-production meeting that also had the Kodak team present, they wanted the ending to highlight Buy a Kodak KB 10 today and show people buying one from a shop. For Prasoon, that sounded terrible. The script had a beautiful story set outside that had a visual texture. But the Kodak stuck to its guns.

Prasoon asked: “What is the intention? Is it because you want to show a Kodak shop?”

The Kodak team responded: “No, no! You don’t have to show Kodak shops.” The question then: “If Kodak shops are not needed to be shown, why show any shop?” The team replied: “We don’t want to show Kodak shops because we don't want people to feel that it is available only at Kodak showrooms.” Prasoon once again reasoned: “Then, it is very simple. Don’t show any shop. Just go and buy it.”

The team once again argued: “Our boss in Rochester looks after the Asia Pacific region. He has asked to us to do this.” For 30 minutes, the argument went on.

Finally, Prasoon picked up his Nokia phone and rang up his mother, who lived in Jaipur, and asked her whether he should go ahead with an ad film that he didn’t agree with. Her answer, he said, was “No”.

His mother had not even understood the question, but he told the Kotak team: “My mother does not know the script but she said No.”

This led to the team bursting into laughter and said they understood his point.

Roping in the cast

The person in the red shirt who requests a photo is Mohammed Asif. Cyrus Pagdiwala, who is a producer now, was cast as the bandwala.

In the commercial, the first person from the baraat who clicks and calls the next person is Sitaram. Prior to acting, he looked after supplying junior artists to film production teams.

The filmmaker got the band, and to recreate the music of the band, he visited the studio to ensure that everything was in place.

Advertising, reception and distribution

The commercial was released pan-India, and Doordarshan was the main TV broadcaster then. Kodak India’s Singh revealed, “I bought 1000s of seconds of advertising time from Star News and some other satellite channels. We were fortunate at that time because they were just entering the scene.”

The ad was shown during ad breaks on movie channels, sports channels, and during cricket was being broadcast. Singh reminisces that although posters were made, not much was spent on print advertising.

After the commercial’s release, it received critical and commercial acclaim, and KB 10 was sold in millions in the first year of its launch. It changed the whole landscape of the photography market, distanced it from being an expert’s domain and made it available to the average user.

O&M’s Nair said: “The success of the commercial improved the client-agency relationship and dispelled the company’s apprehension on the account movement. The first person to react after its release was (novelist and columnist) Shobhaa De. Next day, she wrote about the ad in a positive tone.”

Nair credits Kodak India’s Singh for constantly convincing and reassuring the executive overseeing the ad throughout the making of the film, and dispelling the doubts the Kotak team harboured.

Film rolls then started selling in outlets ranging from photo studios to chemists and gift shops, even paan stalls.

Live events were staged, where a frame would freeze and the inscription ‘Kodak Moment’ would surface along with the sound of the camera. The concept was eventually appreciated and awarded at the prestigious Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

First Published on Apr 21, 2023 8:23 AM