Kodak Goes Negative


This new Kodak campaign from Deutsch starts out strong, with a tone of righteous indignation that seems fitting for our times. "The world's most expensive liquid isn't found in the Middle East," an announcer -- probably the same guy who did the Swift Boat ads -- says with trademark graveness in one of the political-attack-style spots. "It's found in your printer."

"Dripping," the most graphically sophisticated ad of the bunch, shows spots of black liquid hitting a white surface, like an abstract painting. "Drip by drip," scary announcer guy says, "your wallet is being drained." The visual is as dramatic as the voice, as we really get the feeling of drowning, or being buried alive, or at least standing idly by while mud is thrown, until the black sludge covers a map of the U.S.

Touché. This is a legitimate point of attack. The people who jumped at the chance to get a very cheap (or even free) printer with a computer purchase realize by now that there's no free anything, and that the companies make money on the replacement ink cartridges. It's an old marketing ploy going back to razors and it does seem like a rip-off.

Indeed, these Kodak ads succeed in providing yet another outlet for our outrage. Now, along with Big Oil and Big Banks and Big Insurance and Big Auto, we have a new villain: Big Ink! Those dirty bastards! How much did they get in bailout money? Give it back! Clip their bonuses!

Wait a minute. Who? Bernie Epson, Merrill Canon and HP Goldman?

If only the newspapers could become a powerful cabal and call themselves Big Ink. There's a weirdly old-fashioned, tea party-ish aspect to muckraking about ink cartridges. The fact that this roguish "raid" mentality is coming from Kodak, a brand known for smiles and happiness, only adds to the cognitive dissonance. And while I give the campaign props for cleverness, and acknowledge that in its simplicity and aggressiveness it certainly gets attention, on closer inspection there's something upsetting and disingenuous about the way it takes advantage of today's throw-out-the-bums hysteria. Though the creators worked mightily at making an artful segue to the sell part, the two halves of the ads can't -- and don't -- match.

In both the print and TV (which use the same attack-ad-style headlines), the problem of overpriced ink, spelled out in black and white, is followed awkwardly in muted yellow by the solution: "Switch to a Kodak ESP all-in-one printer and stop overpaying for ink." That line appears over the quiet, lowercase, unassuming Kodak logo, which floats in red above a black box radiating yellow sunbeams, under which the words "Print & Prosper" fan out.

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