Did Kodak which filed for bankruptcy last week fail because the name itself was just plain wrong for digital products? That is the proposition put forward in a fascinating blog by American marketing expert Al Ries.
Just 16 years ago, he says, Kodak was the fourth most-valuable brand in the world, just behind Disney, Coca-Cola and McDonald's. "Today on the stock market, Disney is worth $70 billion, Coca-Cola is worth $154 billion, McDonald's is worth $104 billion and Kodak is bankrupt,"says Ries.
How could the fourth most-valuable brand in the world have fallen so low, he asks writing in AdAge.
Everyone has an opinion on the subject, says Ries. A headline in the New York Times eight years ago described Kodak as , "A company slow to recognise the popularity of digital cameras." Donald Trump said a few weeks ago, "Kodak didn't get into digital fast enough."
Ries bluntly declares that The facts suggest otherwise..
"In 1976, Kodak invented the digital camera. In 1986, Kodak announced the development of the world's first megapixel digital sensor small enough for a handheld camera, one that had 1.4 million pixels. In 1994, Kodak introduced the first digital camera under $1,000. Between 1985 and 1994, Kodak invested some $5 billion into digital research & development."
As a result of its massive investments, Kodak holds more than a thousand patents related to digital photography.
He says scornfully, "A company slow to recognize the popularity of digital cameras? No company has poured as much time and as much money into digital photography as Kodak."
Then he zeroes in on what could be the real answer." Kodak means "film" photography. Kodak doesn't mean "digital" photography. When a category is changing, the worst thing that can happen to a brand is being stuck in the past, " says Ries.
" The Kodak brand was stuck in the past and the only thing that could have saved the company was a second brand . . .Kodak should have given its digital brand a different name than its film brand."
There's a lot of evidence in other Kodak products, from Kodak copiers to Kodak batteries , that the brand name "Kodak" is not worth much outside of photographic film, according to Ries.
There are a lot of reasons for a product to fail, he says, but two of the most important reasons are: (1) the product itself and (2) the name.
Nobody ever seems to consider the latter, says Ries. Almost everybody thinks a well-known name is an advantage when introducing a new product. But not necessarily.
He cites Eveready, which dominated the battery market until Duracell came along. With Duracell's marketing , consumers eventually believed there were two kinds of batteries: (1) inexpensive zinc-carbon batteries and (2) long-lasting alkaline batteries. "And Duracell rapidly became the market leader, a position it still owns today."
"Yet six years before the launch of Duracell, Eveready had introduced its own alkaline brand, called -- naturally -- Eveready alkaline battery. No matter. Just like Kodak and film, the Eveready name was forever linked to zinc-carbon, not alkaline batteries."
Eveready evengtually introduced an alkaline battery with a different name, says Ries. It's called Energizer, "a move it should have made much earlier."
Many of the comments on the original Adweek article agree with Ries, chairman of Ries & Ries, an Atlanta-based marketing strategy firm,.
What might have happened if the strategy he describes had been adopted by Kodak years earlier?