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instax: the instant photograph creates a new culture in the age of social media

Right now, young people around the world have embraced a particular high-tech but easy-to-use device as a creative tool for self-expression: instax! In 2015, Fujifilm sold over 5 million units of the instant camera, and its mark continues to grow.

Which is not to say that instax was never affected by the digital age. In the 21st century, sales dropped, putting the existence of the product in danger. Yet 10 years after the introduction of instax, Fujifilm gave the camera reboot under a radically new concept, and sales rebounded almost in a miraculous fashion. Here’s how it all happened!

In the era of digital photos, sales plummet

Introduced in 1998, the instax instant camera allowed users to take and produce photos on the spot. Friends could take and exchanges photos, and it was a great way to enhance communication in a group. The product was extremely popular, especially among teenage girls.

Sales peaked in 2002 and then dropped rapidly. The cause was not difficult to determine: starting in the year 2000, digital cameras, mobile phones with digital cameras, and eventually modern smartphones with digital still and video cameras were quickly becoming popular. The biggest selling point of instax had been its ability to take and print out a photo instantly, yet, similarly, a digital camera let users see results instantly on the LCD. A mobile phone with a camera could do that and conveniently send photos to friends as well. In sum, digital photos seemed simpler, speedier, and just plain newer than instant photos.

instax was not the only product affected by this trend. Polaroid Corporation exited the instant camera and film business in 2008.

instax was clearly at a turning point, as was Fujifilm itself. The age of digital photography was also destroying the market for traditional photographic film, forcing Fujifilm to build on its other businesses and expand into new ones. Fortunately, the company was up to the task, logging success after success in highly functional materials and advanced healthcare solutions and other new initiatives. In the area of photography, Fujifilm was working hard to satisfy strong demand in the market for high-performance digital printing systems. Meanwhas the conversion to digital capture and projection, movie camera lenses still reflected a long tradition of putting image quality above all else.

instax mini 10

A gamble on instax in a new era of photography

Nevertheless, there were Fujifilm employees who still saw potential in instax. In 2009 and 2010, they noticed a resurgence in instax usage among young people in the large cities of Japan. The young people were also using toy cameras that required photographic film and were enjoying playing with the filters on photo-sharing site Instagram, which made it possible to give photos a retro look. While digital cameras made it possible for anyone to take photographs easily and conveniently, young people wanted to take pictures that were unique and personal. Thus, they were looking for “new” methods of self-expression.

Moreover, this cultural phenomenon was borderless: young people in South Korea and China were also having fun with old school photographic equipment. Indeed, when it came to taking pictures, they saw self-expression as the heart of the matter, with digital and analog simply being different means to an end. They liked the distinctively warm look of instax photographs and the size of the film, which seemed ideal for expressing their thoughts simply and directly. To them, instax was, paradoxically, something fresh and new.

To the team in charge of instax, this trend was perhaps the final chance to revive the product. The task ahead of them, however, was massive in scope: to build a relationship with the new photographic culture they would have to update the product itself and completely revise their marketing strategy. In short, it was their duty to create an instax revolution.

A careful renewal leads to a highly successful revival

At the time, the people leading the new trend in photography were young women and girls with an eye for fashion and art. The first step in the renewal of instax would be to release the instax mini 8 in 2012. To please the target user, the marketing team envisioned the product as “the cutest camera in the world,” and the new model completely fit the bill.

To gain further traction in youth fashion and culture, the team also completely revised the packaging of instax: it would now look perfect in trendy shops where young women and girls bought a variety of hip goods. These efforts to match the era immediately earned the approval of target users in Japan, South Korea, who more than ever saw instax as a fashionable tool for self-expression. Instax sales spiked—and kept rising. Moreover, instax continued to win fans across Asia.

instax mini 8

A promotion plan for a new photographic culture

Despite the success of the instax mini 8, the instax marketing team still felt that something was missing. They now saw that the true value of instax lay in helping people express themselves multi-dimensionally in the new global photographic ecosystem, which includes smartphones and social networks. As things currently stood, instax had become too much of a fashion accessory and not enough of a tool for communication. Further, there was the danger the product would be seen as a fad and quickly forgotten.

The next initiative was to greatly expand the instax user base. The next product was the instax mini 90 NEO CLASSIC, which featured a chic yet classic design and a wide variety of photographic modes. Here was a camera that adult men and women would feel enthusiastic about using. The team also wanted to ensure that new users would get a good dose of the photographic fun that only instax could offer. They established a new global promotional strategy that focused more on the appeal of using instax than on the product itself. Ads showed how to enjoy instant photos in a variety of life scenes, how to use accessories to get more out of prints, and in general how to make life more fun and interesting with instax.

This strategy was a big success. Launched in 2013, the instax mini 90 NEO CLASSIC expanded the user base of the brand among middle-aged men. The instax line as a whole also gained a reputation as a lifestyle-changer, gradually becoming available even in retail outlets that had never before stocked Fujifilm products.

instax mini 90 NEO CLASSIC

Innovation comes from a fresh approach to experiencing

Since then, Fujifilm has continued to expand the instax line of products, launching the cool and stylish instax mini 70 and the instax SHARE printer, which allows users to instantly print photos via a smartphone. Since 2014, instax has also doubled sales each year in North America and Europe, and products in the line have appeared in popular apparel chains in the US and renowned old shops in Paris. Around the world, instax continues to inspire people to enjoy photography in new and creative ways.

The value of a product is not determined by the newness of its technology. Rather, an innovative product is one that helps people experience their lives and the world in a fresh and exciting way. New values, trends, and subcultures can breathe new life into existing products, and effective marketing can help people enjoy them in new ways. Rebirth and innovation—the story of instax is another example of how Fujifilm fulfills its mission of protecting and advancing photographic culture.

instax mini 70

instax SHARE SP-2

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