Smile! It’s a Kodak Campaign

Kodak, a central player in photography and imaging, found in 2009 that despite the proliferation of image sharing, technology and constant connectedness that Americans possess, personal relationships have “been declining.” The company worked with Ketchum on a program that would counter this trend and better the interpersonal relationships among their consumers.

While the campaign was incredibly creative and clever in its execution, it fell short of making connections among its research, identifying target publics and conducting the program implementation. Messaging was also inconsistent, and these critical but neglected elements created a campaign that was exceptionally popular among its publics, but that didn’t fully succeed in accomplishing what the company really set out to do.

Kodak's website

Kodak’s website

Kodak identified strengths and opportunities it could pursue for a public relations program. Kodak’s strengths include its longevity of 125 years and it being a trusted name in imaging, and the fact that its brand is inherently associated with camaraderie and happy times. People take photos during events they want to remember, and therefore people have positive associations and connections with the brand. With these strengths in mind, the company built on its slogan “It’s time to smile,” and identified a strategy for a program that would link to its brand: the team decided it would attempt to boost public happiness in select settings, thus increasing camaraderie and boosting the quality of personal relationships, which it noted have been declining since the proliferation of technological tools has risen. Opportunities the company utilized included the Compliment Guys they found at Purdue University, as well as the Brightsiding movement, because they could both be associated with the central messaging and themes of Kodak.

To determine the best ways to approach the campaign, Kodak conducted both formal and informal, as well as primary and secondary research about its brand and photo trends. Its primary research showed a link between photography and relationships, which Kodak didn’t specify, in addition to insights about personal relationships in the U.S.:

  • 67 percent of Americans say there is more loneliness in today’s society than there was previously
  • Facebook members report having an average of 136 friends but only 6 committed confidants
  • 98 percent of those surveyed believe sharing photos makes them feel closer to family and friends

Secondary research used included data from the 2009 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, which guided the target markets, and the 2009 Cassandra Report  that identified the human warming trend, which showed that performing acts of random kindness is a growing movement. Advertising partner Ogilvy also showed that while technology expands creativity, it limits relationships. Finally, a six month media analysis, included meme tracking, uncovered the Brightsiding movement and showed that Brightsiders identify with the Kodak brand. Kenneth Hein also writes in Ad Week that Kodak used a report issued by the Eastman Kodak Company that looked at the role digital imaging played across five countries. It found that people share a common desire to connect with loved ones in tough times, partly by sharing photos.


Planning the program

Kodak organized its goals by the objectives it wished to accomplish:

  • Awareness goals: Generate 30 million media impressions, reinforcing Kodak’s smile campaign and the brand’s emotional connection to consumers
  • Behavioral goals: Drive 10,000 visitors to the blog; Attract 500 Twitter followers to the Compliment Guys feed; Secure positive conversation about Kodak through social media channels
  • Brand goals: Increase positive brand perception of Kodak; Reach more than 100,000 consumers directly with the “It’s time to smile” campaign

The target audience of the program included women ages 20-45 with children who enjoy capturing images and sharing with family and friends, and tech-savvy customers who spend time online sharing photos. The publics were good target choices because obviously Internet users will better locate Kodak’s social media presence, and women tend to appreciate tearjerker moments such as those Kodak tried to elicit and demonstrate from the Compliment Guys. In this aspect, Kodak was successful in tying the publics to messaging and goals. It’s unclear how the publics were chosen, based on primary and secondary research, and it’s also unclear how the implementation of the program itself, and not just resulting media impressions, related to the publics.



Ketchum designed an online and grassroots campaign to emphasize the Kodak brand in the dialogue on relationships. The team discovered the concept of Brightsiding, a rising trend that focused on emphasizing the positive and staying happy. The team found that Brightsiders identified with the Kodak brand.

The Compliment Guys' Twitter Account

The Compliment Guys’ Twitter Account

It also found the Compliment Guys, two students from Purdue, who had a reputation for improving the happiness of and good cheer of fellow university students. Kodak recruited the Compliment Guys to conduct a 10-city Brightside tour to renew personal relationships among Americans. In each city, the Guys were positioned in high-traffic locations to deliver compliments and the “It’s time to smile” message. Kodak mastered planning events: the team integrated the Guys into events to drive visibility, such as at a Nationals baseball game, engaged local influencers such as the mayor of Birmingham to increase credibility, parked a Kodak Brightside tour mobile home and distributed “It’s time to smile” stickers. To maximize the impact of media relations, the team used a visual backdrop for interviews and arranged interviews with local broadcast and print outlets in each city. Finally, the campaign’s social media presence was very strong: it used a Brightside tour blog, the Compliment Guys twitter feed, YouTube channel to post videos developed in each city, as well as Kodak’s corporate social media channels.


How Kodak measured up

The campaign surpassed all its awareness, behavior and brand goals in its implementation. To assess its behavior goals, Kodak analyzed media impressions and placements. It secured nearly 140 million media impressions and landed coverage in The Today Show, Fox and Friends and It also generated many local placements, such as the Atlanta Journal Constitution, ESPN (as a result of the Nationals game appearance) as well as other segments that featured the Compliment Guys and encouraged the audience to visit locations the Guys had frequented. The results of the campaign’s behavior goals showed it attracted more than 12,000 visitors to, received more than 700 Twitter followers and garnered more than 75 comments on the YouTube channel and the blog.


Did it work?

What made this case so spectacular, and the reason it won a Silver Anvil, was the execution of the campaign and its creativity, and its use of pop culture and trends to draw in larger crowds of cross traffic. The team took advantage of the Brightsiding campaign, which had already gained traction in certain crowds and the media, and tied the message to its campaign to attract a larger audience. They company consistently utilized the theme of bring happy moments to people’s lives and tied it to Kodak’s slogan, “It’s time to smile,” which resulted in positive emotions and associations with the brand. The Compliment Guys were a fun twist, and because Kodak used relatively well known college students, the word about their new roles rapidly spread. The many events going on increased the potential reach of the campaign, and the general message was lighthearted, fun and sought to make a difference in everyday lives.

compliment guys

The Compliment Guys complimenting people.

Essentially, the primary issue with the campaign was that its relevance to the brand was unclear. While the idea was connected to the brand and possessed a lot of potential to utilize Brightsiding, Kodak failed the make the explicit connection between Brightsiding and the brand. Audiences need that connection to be made for them; everyone is so busy, and overwhelmed by technology overload, and a brand has to make explicit and simple connections to its products and programs. The company simply didn’t make the message simple enough for the consumers. The program was memorable and ownable, but it wasn’t simple. Consistent messaging geared at changing or adjusting behavior is extremely important in a PR program, and Kodak used too many new slogans and terms that their publics had to keep track of. It appears the goal for the messaging was to convey the idea that the quality of personal relationships are declining due to technology, and Kodak wants to better these relationships by increasing the number of smiles every day, just like the brand is known for eliciting smiles. If this wasn’t the goal of the messaging, it should have been.

Other research shows that Kodak released a photo sharing app, and they should have utilized this tool when trying to reach tech-savvy customers and moms who like to share photos. Encouraging these audiences to take photos during happy moments, perhaps during a time they engaged in Brightsiding, would have been a good way to actively involve these audiences in the campaign itself and strengthen the connection of the messaging.


2 years later…

Interestingly, Kodak filed for bankruptcy in January 2012, and stayed financially swamped for 20 months. Much of the reason for this financial state of the company was due to the fact that Kodak stayed mired in the past for too long; it didn’t adopt to the digital world quick enough to keep up with the competition. The company recognized this in the mid-2000s and sought to catch up to its competitors and new industry leaders, but it should have positioned Kodak as a top tier digital imaging company in the campaign. The company was trying to portray this image and reputation anyway, and using the app to help with the Brightside tour and program would have added to its reputation as a technological imaging company and involved its publics more in the campaign.

Kodak did a great job in identifying strengths and opportunities, and excelled in its creative implementation, but it fell short in conveying consistent messaging and setting behavioral goals. In a future campaign, consolidating messaging and really attempting to show that the program changed the behavior or attitude of its publics, and not just increased media impressions, will create a solid campaign that ties a social movement to a strong brand positioned on the forefront of high tech imaging.