As Polaroid Corp. developed its I-Zone instant pocket camera for markets in Europe North America and Japan management had a single global package squarely in mind. That represents a significant departure for the Cambridge MA company.
"Historically we haven't been as consistent in our approach to packaging" says Craig Stafford marketing manager in Polaroid's consumer global marketing group. "A core product like our 600 Instant Film for example would look different depending on whether you were in Japan or Europe or Latin America or the U.S. That's not the best way to build a global presence."
The Cambridge MA-based firm plans to establish a single brand image and identity around the world. "It's easier to do that" says Stafford "if there is a common thread throughout the packaging that people can easily identify a recurring image that says 'Yes that's Polaroid. No matter where I am that image is Polaroid.'"
Stafford says the aim is to maintain a 70/30 split. "We'd like about 70 percent of the package to be identical corporate-wide" he says. "But we still recognize that you need to build some regional flexibility into the process."
While Polaroid had its entire product line in mind as it formulated its new global-look philosophy the instant pocket camera represented a perfect place to begin. It's been available in Japan since April '98 though not under the I-Zone banner. It relies on Polaroid's famous instant-camera technology but it was developed jointly by Polaroid and Tokyo-based toy manufacturer Tomy. Made by Tomy it produces postage-stamp-sized photos; a later-generation camera will produce photo stickers. Kids in Japan are wild about the camera says Vicki Thomas marketing leader in Polaroid's newly established kids category.
It didn't take long for Polaroid marketers in Cambridge to realize the camera's potential outside of Japan. It also made them realize that kids were an untapped market for Polaroid products. So the company has established a whole new division aimed at creating new products or modifying existing ones specifically for 8- to 17-year-olds. They also came up with an overarching brand identity for this kid-oriented line: Polaroid I-Zone. The instant pocket camera is just the first of many I-Zone products planned.
Seeking a global look
Underpinning the new I-Zone line in the most fundamental way was packaging designed for markets around the world. Assisting Polaroid on design was The Sterling Group (New York NY).
As Polaroid marketer Thomas puts it "The aim from the start was one package for a global marketplace. But achieving it took a lot of work by the packaging team to develop something that all the different regions agreed to. Naturally they have different requirements and emphases. So upfront you try to arrive at a 'brief' something that outlines what you're aiming to do what your positioning is your target markets and the look and feel you want. The brief is a document that the packaging folks both graphics and structural can execute against. It takes iteration upon iteration upon iteration to get where you want especially when the final design of the camera is still in development."
Thomas emphasizes that the drive for a global look was about more than image. Cost considerations were an influence too.
"There's a tremendous amount of cost in the system when you have more packaging varieties than are necessary" says Thomas. "From a corporate standpoint a key strategy for us is to limit inventory through global product development and equally global packaging."
Among the challenges Polaroid faced was that the Japanese market already had the Tomy package in place. It's a blister-pack thermoformed of polyvinyl chloride with "tabs" around the perimeter. The camera film and batteries fit in the blister and then the paperboard is slid into the tabs to hold everything in place.
Unfortunately the word "Polaroid" is barely visible on it. and since the I-Zone concept hadn't even been conceived when the Japanese camera was introduced there isn't a whiff of that word to be found. As Polaroid developed its I-Zone package for the global marketplace it quickly became apparent that the Japanese market with a successful product and package already in place would have to be handled differently.
The solution for Polaroid was to position the I-Zone camera as a second-generation version. That lets Polaroid leave the packaging alone for the Tomy-brand camera originally marketed in Japan. The second-generation I-Zone camera aimed at the global marketplace including Japan is being differentiated by adding certain features--indoor/outdoor capability and a greater picture-taking range--to make it an I-Zone as opposed to a Tomy product.
With that settled Polaroid turned to the task of designing an I-Zone instant pocket camera package suitable for a global marketplace. Like the package used by Tomy it's a clear blister pack thermoformed of 20-mil PVC sheet with a paperboard insert. But it's a different style of blister pack. Operators load camera batteries and film into the blister put the paperboard insert on top and then complete the package by radio-frequency sealing an unformed PVC piece to the formed blister.
Copy of course will change to suit language requirements. In Europe there will be three versions each having three or four languages. Though that will account for about nine different languages it still won't cover all the languages used in the markets Polaroid has targeted. For these regions a package including English will be used but inside will be an insert with additional information in as many as 17 languages.
"In designing the package we've relied on icons as much as possible and have avoided copy" says Brian Bigler Polaroid package development engineer. "Where copy is required we customize by region."
Bigler points out that a multilingual approach would make a lot of sense in North America. By adding French and Spanish to English copy on a package the identical package would serve Canada the U.S. and Mexico.
"For cost reasons we keep recommending a NAFTA pack one with three languages on it" says Bigler. "But there's a perception that the U.S. consumer will not purchase a product with multiple languages on it so our marketing people resist the NAFTA pack idea for current products. A NAFTA pack is planned however at some point for the new I-Zone instant pocket camera."
Aside from language certain other variations on the I-Zone global package were inevitable.
"As you start designing a package for global use you encounter requirements that are specific to regional markets" says Bigler. "In the U.S. for example we have electronic article surveillance requirements that don't exist in Japan."
The I-Zone team knew all along that an EAS tag would have to be incorporated in the $24.99 blister-packed camera package. But they hoped it could be avoided in the folding carton for the $5.99 film cassette. When retailers made it clear they wanted an EAS tag in the cassette carton Polaroid simply went to a contingency design.
Polaroid also learned that material specifications were dictated by region to some extent as well. PVC for instance will be used for the thermoformed blister in the U.S and Japan. But in Europe where vinyl has a poor environmental reputation the blister will be made of polyester.
New packaging philosophy
As significant as the development of the package itself is Polaroid's new approach to putting product and package together. Internally it's referred to as the "Flexible Packaging Concept."
"We've always packaged at the site of manufacturing" says packaging engineer Walter Lamb. "Even when we first began to ship internationally we'd still package at the manufacturing site in quantities based on market forecasts."
Forecasting however can never be completely accurate. On occasion a specific camera might have been out of stock in Europe and overstocked in the U.S.
"The obvious solution in such a situation was to ship inventory from the U.S. to Europe" says Stafford. "But that inventory in the U.S. was already packaged and the packaging materials might not have been correct for Europe. So when the shipment reached Europe we'd have to break it down and throw away the packaging so that we could repack in materials having the appropriate languages."
To avoid this and other disadvantages inherent when packaging is done at a single manufacturing site Polaroid is now implementing a regional packaging strategy. When it's fully implemented all Polaroid product marketed globally will be packaged at regional facilities. The I-Zone instant pocket camera will be the first product to be packaged under the new scheme.
"It's a global product that we'll make in two or three places and then ship in bulk to as many places in the world as necessary" says Lamb. "In other words we've severed packaging from manufacturing and made it the responsibility of our logistics people. Packaging is now a distribution function."
Initially three regional packaging centers will be set up: Tokyo Norton MA and Enschede the Netherlands. Packaging material vendors will be selected in each region. Lamb says if regional facilities of a single packaging manufacturer can supply all three of Polaroid's regional packaging centers this would be considered a plus because it would reduce the amount of overall communications necessary and it might bring some economies of scale. But Polaroid isn't making this a top priority says Lamb.
The I-Zone cameras themselves are not being shipped yet so no picture of a camera bulk pack is available. But production of film cassettes for the instant pocket camera is in full swing and a look at how it's packaged is instructive because it's the first application of Polaroid's newly developed bulk packaging concept for global markets.
As as the drawing at the top of this page illustrates three layers of film-wrapped cassettes are packed in a corrugated shipper. Each layer holds 120 packs in a chipboard cell partition with five packs in each cell. Chipboard pads separate each layer.
According to Lamb the regional packaging strategy had been formulated before the I-Zone concept was developed. "The fact that the I-Zone product came along when it did and appeared to require this global strategy simply accelerated everything" he says.
"The big benefit this new packaging philosophy gives us" he continues "is that since we're packaging so close to market we can move product around from region to region with no tear-down or repackaging costs. We'll be able to shift inventory at will almost to the point where we'll be packaging to order."
It's ironic that even though the packaging will be executed in more countries compared to Polaroid cameras of the past greater uniformity around the world will be accomplished thanks to Polaroid's emphasis on developing a global package for the camera. That says Thomas will help allow Polaroid to develop global advertising which she describes as "a tremendous step forward for this company.
"Everything has to be in line to do that" she adds. "It all ties together including the packaging."
Now it's a matter of finalizing details and filling the pipeline for a summer launch in the U.S. and a fall launch in Europe. As the launch dates approach director of graphic design Linda Reuter will be as anxious as anyone at Polaroid. She'll also be busy incorporating new I-Zone products into the global I-Zone look. Her work is far from over she says.
"Once your design is finished as ours is now the next six months are spent protecting it from compromises to the point that it loses brand personality" says Reuter.
She's optimistic however that protecting the global design will be relatively easy because its development was never dictated. Instead it was negotiated.
"It's about relationships" she says. "Your counterparts in marketing are going to have different needs. The earlier in the process you begin negotiating over those needs the better."