THE ENGINEERING OF DESIRE
By MICHAEL PERKINS
EACH HOLIDAY SEASON OF EVERY YEAR since The Normal Eye was launched over a decade ago, we have had some nostalgic fun recalling the glory days of the Eastman Kodak Company, the people who first took photography from a science nerd’s hobby to a global pastime, and the unique way that they influenced Christmastime gifting habits for over a century. Through an incredible, sustained campaign of persuasion that equated good times with the photographic chronicling of every major human event, Kodak cemented its relationship with its customers in a way that gave all other advertisers a key lesson in what one marketer would dub “the engineering of desire”.
Kodak was a film company that chiefly succeeded by appearing to be a camera company. In effect, the constant refinements in their cameras were a mere investment in the film side of the firm. Better, easier devices removed any resistance to taking more pictures, and thus purchasing more film. And, at Christmas, the company made the most of its relationship with its customers, using the occasion to create more users and make existing users consume at an ever-higher rate. There were several names for this ingenious marriage of form and function, and one of its most illustrious monickers was “Instamatic”.
The introduction of the Instamatic camera line in the early 1960’s was as big a leap forward for Kodak as the debut of its first Everyman camera, the Brownie, had been in the 1890’s. Like the Brownie, the Instamatic was a major advance in ease of operation. Designers Dean Peterson and Alexander Gow’s new cartridge-loaded film(which was simply dropped intact into the camera body) eliminated users’ long-time aversion to threading, and potentially ruining, traditional roll film. Its slim design made it easier to stash and carry. Its eventual use of self-contained flash “cubes” got rid of the bulk and mess of extended add-on flash guns and red-hot bulbs. And its fixed-focus lens and single shutter speed made it the world’s first true point-and-shoot.
The only challenge that remained lay in selling the new design to the public, and when the Instamatic was introduced in 1963 at a price point of $16 dollars and made the star of its Christmas campaigns for the year, the deal was sealed, to the tune of over fifty million Instamatics sold in the camera’s first seven years of production. Positioned as a cute newborn chick “hatched” just in time for your “morning-of” memories (as seen in the above ad), the Instamatic made as major an impact on the amateur market as have the cellphone cameras of today, in that they took more uncertainty out of the process of making pictures by ensuring better and more consistent results. Which is still the way you sell a ton of cameras, as you allow more and more people to get on with getting their shot on. Or, to re-frame the old “fishing” adage: Take a man’s picture and he has one picture for one day. Teach him to make his own pictures, and you’ll keep selling him everything else associated with that process forever.
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