Polaroid to Instagram: Hey, That's Our Retro Vibe You Got There, Buddy!

Sam-BInstagram makes no secret of standing on the shoulders of former analog camera and film giants. The app’s own icon recalls the front of a Polaroid SX-70 or Kodak Instamatic. The image filters are deliberate nostalgia plays for the faded glory of companies that once owned the very idea of picture taking in America. In the meantime, where the hell were both Kodak and Polaroid?

Well, Kodak was busy with some corporate business. But it turns out that Polaroid has been lurking about producing 3D TVs, tablets, camcorders and mobile printers. It seems about damned time they come onto the app platform and claim a bit of the nostalgia that built Instagram into a billion-dollar Facebook target in less than a couple of years.

And here it is. Branded as if it were the next generation of goofy-looking instant camera, the Polamatic app for iOS arrived this past weekend. This is Polaroid’s take on retro image editing and sharing, albeit on other people’s networks. The filters recreate the many ways we encounter old Instant SX-70 images with their signature oversized bottom border. Some are crumpled, some have tape on them and others are meant to look sat upon. You can add a caption, of course. In about half a minute I had a recent Halloween pumpkin hunt shot of my daughter looking as if it could have been one of her mother found in an old box of fading snapshots.    

They may be late to the game, but Polaroid and its development partner Appadana Development got much of it right. The interface is clean and self-explanatory with the same narrow set of choices that helped make Instagram easy to use. The social integration is especially neat, with one-button access to posting on Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram.

For Polaroid, it is a good brand play that gets its name and fond memories of its signature device widely distributed. Whether image editors really care whether their Polaroid-like image comes from Instagram or from the real McCoy is anyone’s guess. 

But Polaroid is not trying to one-up the social nets themselves. In this app at least it is not trying brazenly -- and perhaps foolishly -- to create a network of Polaroid network users. That also means that we don’t get the massive library of other people’s images to peruse. In my mind, the real killer brand move here would have been partnering with Instagram/Facebook to bring the Polaroid filters into the hit social media app. That would have gotten huge coverage and likely would give them incredible brand reach, as most Instagram users would have to try the Polaroid filters at least once. 

But unlike Instagram, this is an app with a built-in business model. The basic app is 99 cents, with three packs of new filters and effects for 99 cents each.

Like one of the early iPhone hits, the virtual Zippo lighter, Polaroid has a shot at leveraging its retro cred for a new generation of people who are too damned young to remember the adorable James Garner and Mariette Hartley promos. Now talk about a hit off the retro bong!

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