Why Kodak missed their moment

The commercial opens on the sweeping vista of the Arizona desert. The camera swoops up a tall rock formation to reveal a native American standing proud. He unwraps the blanket around his neck and holds it aloft like wings.

He jumps.

He glides and swoops through the air darting through the rock formations flying like superman.

CUT TO:

Two boys sitting under a tree holding a portable screen, they are watching the shaman fly through the air.

BOY ONE:

That’s cool, but couldn’t it be an F1–11?

The other boy starts pressing buttons with glee.

SUPER:

Kodak. The future of photography.

CUT TO:

JWT Sydney 1994.

My copywriter looks at me with a sigh, “Jane, I love you dearly, but that’s the biggest load of crap I’ve ever heard.”

The suits didn’t get it either. All they said was the client would never believe photographs could be on anything but paper. I argued what was the point of exploring future possibilities if they were going to restrict me with the client’s expectations? But everyone saw my work as a wild guess and I had absolutely no way of proving the existence of the iPad when the iPhone was still thirteen years away.

So I saved the concept by describing the screen as being made of paper (it felt a bit ahead on the timeline I was envisaging, but hey, paper thin or non-existent screens were a distinct possibility).

I will never forget the look of bewilderment on the client’s face when I presented a few weeks later in Hong Kong.

He really didn’t get it.

He could barely speak.

In the end, he just held up his coffee and said,“OK, so explain digital to me like it’s a cup of coffee.”

 

“Well,” I said, “it looks like coffee, it smells like coffee, it tastes like coffee. No cup.”

He walked out shaking his head. He simply couldn’t comprehend the future.

And he wasn’t alone. In the early nineties, clients were obsessed with their 20:20 vision. They’d brief us creatives to tell them what was in store for their brands.

And never believe a single word we said.

Two years before Kodak, I was hauled into my CEO’s office and asked what sort of drugs I was on when I told the Panadol client people would use aromatherapy for relieving headaches round about now.

And right about now it would seem tempting to say “I told you so”.

 

But sometimes when you see glimpses of the future you see things you wish you hadn’t. Like TV stars running the world.

(I made a conscious decision to stop looking to the future after that sneak peek in 2006.)

Fortunately, I now work with a small group of open-minded clients who enjoy having their preconceptions shattered and are excited to explore all our possibilities no matter how preposterous they may seem at the time.

They have been with me for years and always look further than the bottom of the next quarter’s balance sheet. They know future gazing will never be an exact science and understand that the visions are like frustrating cryptic crossword clues; Impossible to imagine till solved — then blindingly obvious.

Drowning mouse. Delicious. (6.3.6)*

Now we're actually hurtling towards 2020, one thing’s for sure, hindsight will be valued as highly as foresight. Experienced visionaries and creatives with unbelievable pattern-recognition skills will show revolutionary companies a breadth of possibilities that can only be of value when taken with a total suspension of disbelief.

Except for a belief in humanity. Because no matter how quickly the world changes, our emotions never will.

Kodak was so close. They had the foresight to invent the digital camera, but for some reason, they thought they were in the business of selling paper and film. They were selling moments. And moments don’t last and time changes everything.

Now it’s time to explore the ‘wibbly wobbly’ stuff and set our sights to the possibilities of AI, and machine learning, and the internet of things, and blockchain, and quantum computing…

We’ll tell our tales of what’s to come. But they won’t be stories about tech. Just simple stories of how tech brings human hopes, dreams, and imaginations to life.

* Bubble and Squeak

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