Steven Overman has been passed a torch that is very bright but awfully heavy. On Oct. 1, he was named CMO of Kodak. Remember Kodak? With the first handheld camera and roll film, Kodak was the brand that taught Americans to take pictures. It’s also the brand that filed a $6.75 billion bankruptcy in 2012, the digital era’s most visible victim. (Fact: Kodak had actually invented the digital camera but, tragically, realized its potential too late.) Now, minus most of its famous assets, Kodak is a small company that makes touch-screen sensors and printing technology. Overman’s job will be figuring out how to market a brand to a world that has largely turned its back on it. We reached Overman—Day Seven in his new job—on the phone in London.
The press release said that you are “responsible for leading a global, company-wide renewal of the Kodak brand.” That’s a tall order.
We’re in an interesting situation. We’re one of the most famous brands in history, and admittedly we’re the most famous brand to get into some really tough times. But that gives me an opportunity. I’m starting with a clean sheet of paper. We have a massive amount of legacy at our disposal. So what I’ll be doing is synthesizing future opportunities with this legacy. In a world suffused with technology, social patterns are changing, and there’s an opportunity to create new products and services.
Prior to this gig, you were with Nokia—another brand that got its lunch eaten. Will your experiences with Nokia help you with Kodak?
It’s really tempting to make direct comparisons between brands that faced disruption, but Kodak is in a very different place in its journey.
Kodak worked for decades to become synonymous with film, but today that association means little to the digital world. Is it strange for you to have a legacy that’s also a liability?
Nostalgia and legacy can be assets—but also challenges. You may have fond memories of your first kiss, but that doesn’t mean the person you first kissed is the person you’d marry. But the fact that trust in Kodak lasted for such a long time means we have the opportunity to renew that trust.
Just not in film, though.
I suspect the average person today thinks less about film and more about the picture. It’s about the concept, not the medium.
You went to the Rhode Island School of Design, worked on the 1993 film Philadelphia and have had your photography exhibited around the world. Does being an artist help you with a marketing job?
My background as a creative person will be useful. It’s going to take a lot of creativity to renew this brand. It’s going to take ingenuity and creative thinking. It’s going to take a lot of innovation in how we introduce this brand to a new generation.
Speaking of that generation, what do you think of the criticism that the ease of digital pictures means people take too many of them?
We’re in the middle of a picture revolution. At the same time, the image plays a different role than it used to. Its role is more vital. We use pictures as often as we use language.
Yeah, that’s what keeps people like me awake at night.
And what keeps me up at night is how to manage all of that.
Do you take selfies?
I force myself to take selfies. What I try to do is tell a story with every one I take. But I will admit, it’s not a natural thing.