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3 brands that refused to adapt to the times – and suffered the consequences

by Kirsten Cresswell

November 23, 2022

Marketing is an ever-changing machine, and never is that more apparent when emerging technology surfaces out of the blue and starts to change the landscape.

It's part of human instinct to fear new things — or at the very least, be wary of the perceived dangers of the “new thing.” Despite their caution, history has shown us that by fearing the unknown and avoiding emerging technologies in favor of staying with the “old and comfortable,” many brands have often lost their way and have never recovered from their scepticism and unwillingness to change.

Here, we share some top business blunders from brands that refused to get with the times and adapt to fit into a new reality.

Kodak: a fumble with film

One of the best-documented case studies of failure in modern business history, Kodak famously refused to change with the times, resulting in one of marketing’s biggest falls from grace.

The global company, famous for its photographic film, was massively popular in its heyday and was once one of the most powerful companies in the world. Kodak even coined the popular “Kodak moments” phrase, referring to life’s biggest and best events or memories.

However, Kodak missed a very major Kodak moment of its own when digital photos arrived on the scene, followed by mobile phones with integrated cameras and photo-sharing apps. Despite investing in the new technology with its digital cameras, Kodak steered towards digital print and encouraged consumers to continue printing their photos. When competing with up-and-coming new online photo-sharing platforms like Facebook and Instagram, Kodak didn’t stand a chance, filing for bankruptcy in 2012.

Meanwhile, Fujifilm, once a lowly competitor for Kodak in the 1980s, swung into action in the new emerging market, exploring new opportunities with a joint venture with Xerox — eventually cutting ties in 2020 — and building itself up to annual revenues of over $22b today.

By comparison, Kodak has a market capitalization of under $1b today, a fraction of its worth during the heady heights of the 1980s. Sacrificing the new emerging technologies and demand in favor of the familiar proved to be its biggest downfall and an important lesson for businesses everywhere.

Nokia: Knock-knock-knocking on smartphones’ door

Finnish technology company and mobile phone manufacturer Nokia also learned a hard lesson in not going with the flow when it was sunk by the smartphone revolution.

Initially resistant to the changes in mobile technology by rejecting Android in 2011, its marketing strategies came under strain when faced with competitors like Apple and Samsung. They were willing to go the extra mile with new emerging technologies and developmental advancements. Meanwhile, by the time 4G was widely available, many of Nokia’s handsets weren’t even 3G-compatible.

Moving too slowly within the industry, prioritizing its hardware over its software, and leaving innovation to its competitors left Nokia behind the times, lagging behind when it came to the consumer experience. Even Nokia’s last-ditch attempt to kickstart mobile phone sales, its Nokia Lumia series, eventually fell flat.

Blockbuster: rolling the credits on streaming

One of the most infamous falls from grace in business history, we saw the biggest video rental empire of the late ‘90s to mid-’00s crash and burn within the space of just ten years. A tenacious beast in the video world, Blockbuster owned over 9,000 stores worldwide at its peak in 2004. The company was buying video and even gaming businesses across the US, Europe, and beyond, all in the name of mail-order rentals.

In 2000, a small but upcoming company approached Blockbuster with an acquisition offer of $50m — a fraction of Blockbuster’s $5.9b in revenue. Blockbuster refused.

That company was Netflix.

That same year, Netflix shot to success with its video-on-demand subscription services, known as the Unlimited Movie Rental program, an ‘all-you-can-watch' model that gave customers unlimited movie rentals every month for a flat fee of $19.95 per month. Over the course of the noughties, Netflix upped its game in the digital streaming market, using big data and analytics to algorithmically recommend content to consumers without the need to go into a physical store and browse for hours.

Blockbuster's attempts to compete with Netflix tanked, alienated by its mail-order subscription services and insistence on retaining its DVD-by-mail program until 2014 in the US. Now, there is just one remaining Blockbuster store in Oregon, used as an Airbnb for 1990s-themed parties.

Meanwhile, Netflix announced revenues of $29.7b in 2021, with profits increasing 85% compared to 2020. Arguably one of the biggest global streaming services alongside competitors like Disney Plus and Amazon Prime, the company has rolled with punches and gone from strength to strength, branching into its own TV series, film exclusives, and even moving into gaming with Netflix Games in November 2021. Netflix even released a new series on its platform, Blockbuster, as a cheeky homage to the story, set in the last remaining Blockbuster store.

Netflix, despite its humble beginnings, overtook Blockbuster to dominate the video-on-demand scene with at-home streaming.

"So what?", you might ask

While it’s seen as shrewd business acumen to not always jump on the latest marketing fad or new technology, consider this a cautionary tale for rejecting emerging technology that demonstrates big wins consistently across the industry. By digging in their heels and sticking with the comfortable and known, brands have missed out on the industry’s biggest opportunities time and time again.

For instance, in-game advertising is an established media channel, successful with many iconic brands already. But that hasn’t always been the case. Even today, some advertisers still refuse to go with the flow, clinging to their comfort zones. Blockbuster Video’s CEO must have felt a similar way when first approached by Netflix, laughing in the face of the brand’s original buy-out offer of $50m. (Who’s laughing now, Blockbuster?).

Take that chance. Jump that leap of faith. Seize a new opportunity with both hands, and be part of the changing face of advertising for good.

Or you may end up the next Kodak and miss your moment.

Looking to showcase your brand to young, hard-to-reach audiences around the world? Take the next step with Anzu.io, the world’s most advanced in-game advertising solution.

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