The other day I remarked on the passing of Andy Griffith to a coworker old enough to know whom I was talking about. A young intern was standing nearby and I said, “You don’t know who Andy Griffith is, do you?” She shrugged and replied, “No. Should I?”
Should she? Are you kidding me? Everyone should know who Andy Griffith is! And everyone should be able to whistle the tune that accompanied Sheriff Taylor and son Opie to the fishing hole during the opening credits. For crying out loud, we’re talking about an icon of American popular culture here. Being born too late is simply no excuse for being ignorant of Mayberry.
But of course it’s a valid excuse. Whom am I kidding? My shock at the intern’s cluelessness is felt by every generation who witnesses the demise of precious cultural icons. That goes for brands, too. My 16 year-old son grew up in the digital camera era. He has little, if any idea what Kodak is. Yes, the company is still alive, barely. But the idea of Kodak, a brand that developed over the course of a century is quickly fading.
Kodak first put the power of photography into the hands of the masses over a century ago with the simple promise, “You press the button, we do the rest.” Kodak made virtually every roll of film I ever purchased and every reel of movie film shot by Hollywood. For decades, Kodak was a proud member of the venerable Dow Jones Industrials. Kodak was the word we used to label a rare, one-time moment worthy of being captured on film. When I was a teenager, Kodak supplied the chemicals and paper for my darkroom. Sure, I flirted with Fuji, but I always came back to Kodak’s bright yellow boxes. They were instantly recognizable, and instantly conveyed a feeling of quality and reliability. If you loaded your camera with a roll of Kodak film and all the pictures came out lousy, you knew it had nothing to do with the film and everything to do with your skills as a photographer.
Once upon a time, you could buy a roll of Kodak film at virtually any newsstand or drug store on the planet (one of the neat things about the name Kodak is that you can spell it in every major spoken language.) But oh, how the mighty have fallen. In 1975, Kodak developed (no pun intended) one of the first digital cameras, but it was put on the back burner for fear of it competing with the company’s film business. On January 19, 2012, the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. It has until February 15, 2013 to produce a reorganization plan.
I know it sounds a bit melodramatic, but I’m not sure I want to live in a world without Kodak, a faster, digital world with immediate photographic gratification. That’s how deeply its brand, its classic orange and yellow logo is burned into my consciousness. But that’s what great brands do, they become part of your life. Or afterlife, as the case may be. If Andy Griffith is taking pictures in heaven, I know what brand of film he’s using.
By Charlie Smolover