Perspective: Point, Shoot . . . Publish

For decades, camera ads have focused on ease of use. Today, there are promises of stardom, too

After WWII, as the golden age of consumerism dawned, so many men in suburbia turned their bathrooms into darkrooms that Time devoted a 1953 cover to “The Amateur Photographer”—a composite man with lenses for eyes, a camera-case body, and a roll of film as his neck. Half a century later, Americans are still capturing the moment, albeit in pixels. Consumers bought 25 million digital cameras in 2009, even as they shot 3.9 billion pics on smartphones.

Selling cameras has long been about selling the ease of use of cameras as both these ads prove. In 1955, you could “Take the Easy Way to better pictures” with an Anscoflex; 56 years later, Panasonic’s Lumix “does all the hard stuff.” So what’s really changed about camera marketing? Zoom in a little closer and see.

In the 1950s, twin-lens reflex settings were all manual. “There was a huge fear that you’d get it wrong,” says Stuart Leslie, president of industrial-design and marketing firm 4sight inc. Stressing fail-safe features such as the double-exposure guard, Leslie says, gave the user confidence to snap away. Hear the cash registers ringing? “The underlying message was to take a lot of pictures; this was all motivating you to buy more film,” he adds. (Just in case readers didn’t take the hint, two rolls of Ansco 620 film anchor the base of the ad.)

Ah yes, remember film? Well, it’s history. And that has camera marketers singing a new tune: Buy our brand, and you too can shoot professional quality. (“Even if you’re not a professional photographer, you can certainly take photos like one,” reads Panasonic’s tagline.) It’s not just a clever pitch; it’s the only one left. “They can’t play in the snapshot space anymore,” Leslie says, “so they’re telling you you’re making art.”