The Polaroid and Blipfoto Licensing Agreement: Of all brands this one?

Update 30/3/15: Since writing this blog entry I've posted another, 'Barking up the wrong tree? A reinterpretation of the Blipfoto/Polaroid tie-up' which should be read alongside this one.  Much of the detailed work that informed 'Barking up the wrong tree?' is contained in this post.




In 2009 Polaroid was a defunct, hollowed out company associated with instant film photography that had missed out on the great shift to digital and had lost vast amounts of money ($89m) attempting to develop the Polaroid Instant Home Movie camera named Polavision.


Ironically, given user reaction to the Blipfoto/Polaroid tie-up, the name ‘Polaroid’ came from the polarising polymer patented in 1929 and further developed by Polaroid founder, Edwin (‘Dr Land’) H Land who started out from a garage in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


The Polaroid Heritage


Described as the 'Steve Jobs' of his time Dr Land,


‘stuck to his guns, never diversified into other businesses, never sold out to another company, and never borrowed money on a long-term basis’.


Life magazine pictured him on its front cover in 1972 with the caption, ‘A Genius and His Magic Camera’.


At its height Polaroid had revenues of $3bn (1991) and and employed 21,000 people in 1978.


Polaroid did attempt to get into the digital market but largely failed and passed through bankruptcy twice in the 2000s.


It was a classic one-man led US corporation with a compelling garage-to-billions-to-bankruptcy narrative.

Promotional video for the SX-70 launched in 1972

At 8.50 minutes the film talks of the user where the SX-70 'provides a rich texture to memory and more than that thoughtful use can help reveal meaning in the flood of images that makes up so much of human life.'

Originally posted here.


The SX-70

The Polaroid SX-70 SLR with instant film launched in 1972 was a huge technological breakthrough and extraordinarily complicated. A long time Polaroid executive who wrote the book, Land's Polaroid,  Peter C. Wensberg said of it,


The SX-70 program was so complex and so extended the boundaries of half a dozen technologies that those who worked on it had difficulty in stretching their faith and their optimism beyond the piece of the whole on which their own energies were concentrated. Land was virtually the only person in the company who knew in detail all the difficulties that had to be surmounted. The rest of us could only guess.


Land had a maxim that went, “Don’t undertake a project unless it is manifestly important and nearly impossible.”


The story of the SX-70 never became the game-changer Polaroid had hoped for and was dogged by technical problems  and failed to meet initial sales projections. It went on to make Polaroid a lot of money, particularly when issued as the cheaper 1977 $39.95 OneStep. But only seven years after the SX-70's launch Lands was forced out of the CEO role by the Board (see


In a coincidence that Joe Tree, founder of Blipfoto, draws attention to in his Blipfoto journal on a 7th Jan 2015 visit to the Polaroid Museum in Las Vegas the SX-70 was launched in the same year that he was born - 1972. He goes on to say that the two SX-70s he owns are amongst his most treasured possessions.

Photograph from the early 1970s of Ken Williams of the Polaroid Revolutionary Workers Movement that exposed Polaroid product links with the Apartheid regime in South Africa. He was fired by Polaroid in 1971 (click for African Archivist link).
Photograph from the early 1970s of Ken Williams of the Polaroid Revolutionary Workers Movement that exposed Polaroid product links with the Apartheid regime in South Africa. He was fired by Polaroid in 1971 (click for African Archivist link).


The Polaroid Revolutionary Workers Movement

There was a darker interlude to the Polaroid story that was revealed in the early 1970s by the Polaroid Revolutionary Workers Movement – formed by two African American Polaroid employees who discovered that Polaroid equipment was being used to take the photos for Apartheid South Africa’s notorious and hated Pass Books.


‘The company responded by sending a delegation to South Africa that recommended what became the "Polaroid Experiment." The company banned all sales to the government, including the military and police, and promised to raise wages and increase job training at its distributors. The plan was announced in the U.S. in full-page advertisements in major daily newspapers and 20 black weekly papers’ (African Archivist).


But in 1977 Polaroid film was still being sold to the South African government by a distributor and Polaroid ended all direct sales of Polaroid products to South Africa.


Artists and Polaroid

Polaroid instant film became a big hit with experimental photographers and artists. In 1948 Ansell Adams was hired to test their cameras and Andy Warhol, Chuck Close and David Hockney all had a go.  There's a nice little vignette on that experimentation here that notes a book, The Polaroid Years: Instant Photography and Experimentation. Also see the huge 20 x 40 inch  giant instant Polaroid camera made in 1970 and used by Chuck Close to create the Vanity Fair Hollywood Portfolio.


Bankruptcy and Decline

Polaroid's very messy and public decline, with two bankruptcies, the conviction and  imprisonment in 2010 for 50 years of CEO, Tom Petters,  of the Polaroid holding company, Petters Group Worldwide, for running a huge Ponzi (pyramid selling scheme) cannot have helped the brand's reputation and many industry commentators thought that Polaroid could not rise from the ashes of its demise.


The post-2001 Polaroid had already shifted towards becoming a licensing platform with a three year exclusive deal with World Wide Licences to produce and distribute cameras under the Polaroid brand. And at this time TVs and DVD players started to emerge under the Polaroid brand. It also sold of its manufacturing operations to Flextronics in 2005 who sent most of the manufacturing to China.


The New Polaroid: Remaking the brand


Despite those past glories and that rich heritage by 2014 Polaroid was largely a licensing platform (with a few dozen staff - see below) operating out of Minnetonka, Minnesota (apparently Tonka Toys were named in honour of nearby Lake Minnetonka) and owned by two distressed asset recovery giants, Hilco Global and Gordon Brothers (see previous blog entry).


The story of Polaroid's transformation is briefly documented in a Gordon Brothers case study of the company they acquired with Hilco Global in 2009.


Gordon Brothers Group shifted Polaroid from a distribution model to a "license/royalty" business model and began aggressively securing global licensing agreements. Gordon Brothers Group initiated a raft of organizational enhancements to align with this new business model approach, including retaining the majority of Polaroid’s Minnesota-based licensing team and appointing the Executive Vice President & Director of Marketing from the acquired entity as CEO of Polaroid.


In a previous  - now updated -  blog I've calculated a valuation of Polaroid at about $108m from the recent acquisition of a 65% stake by the Minnesota Pohlad family for $70m. Interestingly the article detailing the investment notes that the Minnetonka HQ of Polaroid employs less than 25 people.


From being unsure of where it was going (again see below)  Polaroid under its new owners and CEO Scott Hardy seemed much more confident with a string a cute ex-Apple designer designed products (the entry level action camera, the Cube, the tablet printer, the Zip, the printer/camera, the Socialmatic and the tiny zoom lens for iPhone's, the iZone).


Scott Hardy declared the company's new role in the press output surrounding the Polaroid/Blipfoto launch at the start of 2015 as a 'curator of innovation'. (There is a Fox New profile of Hardy, who has been with Polaroid since 2004,  here).


More particularly he said elsewhere,

"We're looking at all the technologies and new ideas happening in the country, and we're trying to curate that innovation."


Chair of Polaroid, Bobby C Sager, of Gordon Brothers, said in an interview with the Boston Globe in January 2011,


“Polaroid is a magnificent, iconic brand that stands for innovation. It was the original Apple. It could be the next Apple, and it’s going to be... We didn’t buy Polaroid to take a walk down Memory Lane. We’re at the very beginning of our innovation road map. ... We’re not only going to be thinking outside the box, we’re going to crush the box....Polaroid needs to be re-imagined. And that’s what I do: I re-imagine.’’"


The article goes on to look at the acquisition of Polaroid (for $85.9m). Regarding Polaroid’s niche Sager says that it is,


"about real people, real moments. You take someone’s picture, write something on the bottom, and give it to them. Polaroid pictures are the original social network.’’


The language here, way back in 2011 is interesting. Sager was already seeing Polaroid as a 'social network' long before Blipfoto Ltd began talking to the company about a licensing agreement.


The way this article tells it, the Gordon Brothers of acquisition of Polaroid was personally driven by Bobby Sager:


"Nearly two years ago, Sager was working on a philanthropic project when he read a routine Gordon Brothers memo that mentioned Polaroid was for sale.


“I was interested right away,’’ he said."



In the last chapter of the book, Instant: the Polaroid Years, (Christopher Bonanos, 2012) Bonanos notes that Sager alludes to 'mysterious future products' that will 'not be physical'  that will be 'connected to photo-swapping that goes on via social networks like Facebook' p.175


In another article a Minnesota ad agency exec gives a view of the Polaroid brand. He says,


"Polaroid has maintained an incredibly cool, retro feel to the brand. They’ve done a nice job keeping themselves relevant with the next generation, but the challenge is retaining that relevancy going forward.”


Another industry commentator says,


Consumer confidence in Polaroid and HMV is largely due to them being considered ‘heritage brands’ – or brands with nostalgic value – which allows them to retain brand value through their intellectual property after insolvency.


The Polaroid brand has been through a real beating and it was further damaged by the licensing undertaken in the bankruptcies period  (2001-9). You could argue that the brand has now been stabilised and a process of rehabilitation and growth is underway that is both generic across demographics and also specific with certain licensees focusing on particular market segments.


As a brand Polaroid does seems to have a strong residual appeal as a heritage and 'retro' brand with strong links to photographic innovation. And a lot of effort is going into remaking those connections and rooting the brand in that innovative past - for example through the 'history' sections on the Polaroid websites and through the Polaroid Museum just a stone's throw from Caesars Palace in Las Vegas (visited by 41m people last year).


And the company's forward strategy seeks to 'curate' further innovation and build the the brand, whether through cameras, printers, accessories, retail outlets and side licensing deals. You can argue that this innovation is never likely to replicate the scale or quality of the innovations developed under Land's inspired leadership in the post-war period. But I would imagine there is an aspiration as the brand is strengthened by focusing on the backstory and developed though current licensing agreements to attract more innovative products around it.


The Polaroid Licensee stable


What is the Polaroid group of licensees that Blipfoto Ltd joined when it negotiated a licensing agreement with Polaroid to rebrand as Polaroid Blipfoto?


There are the flat screen TVs, tablets, instant film cameras, action cameras, sports cameras, wireless photo printers, the 'Impossible Instant Lab' for turning mobile digital photos into prints (at least in Australia where the three volumes of Polaroid founder Edward Lands' essays are also available) and accessories that are marketed and sold online through the Polaroid website.


There is Polaroid Fotobar with so far 11 franchise stores in California, Nevada and Florida and an online operation. 


This was set up by entrepreneur Warren Struhl who approached Polaroid with the idea. Fotobar is, according to the marketing blurb,


'the first-of-its-kind, fun, and experiential retail destination that is changing the paradigm of how people "liberate" [ I think that means 'print'] their photos and turn them into innovative and memorable products.'

With regard to the brand Struhl says,


"I don't know of another company that has a name as associated with photos as Polaroid. They stand for quick. They stand for quality."


There is a bit of a trend for 'making the digital physical' at the moment. Whilst it may seem strange to start a bricks and mortar outlet for the digital age Struhl says,


"There's something to walking into a trusted location, with a name like Polaroid. You can feel the wood frames, the metals, the glass, the bamboo, the canvas, and see what you can do with that picture in person."


From the initial California, Florida (Boca Raton) and Las Vegas store locations Fotobar is not a 'happy snaps' type operation but looks to be spending heavily on getting the appearance of the shops just right and building a series of photography events around them.


See this video at Bloomberg where Struhl talks about the Polaroid brand and Fotobar as one of the top ten brands in the USA:


'It is truly one of the greatest brands of all times, in fact a few years ago research was performed and [it came out] a top ten most recognised brand so it's really deep in our culture, deep in the veins of society and we're blessed to have it as our name.'


Fotobar appears to have undertaken the development of the 4,500 sq ft Polaroid Museum and Fotobar shop at the flash and very expensive retail development at The Linq centre in Las Vegas on the main strip as well as opening shops in Florida and California. According to a Caesars Entertainment Corp filing (Form 8-K),

'The [Linq] location will take advantage of the significant foot traffic and visitation to the Las Vegas Strip and should provide increased visitation to our nearby Strip properties by attracting visitors to the area. Project Linq is planned to appeal to the region’s growing Generation X and Generation Y clientele (ages 21 to 46) whose market share is estimated to grow in the future.'

Polaroid Fotobar announced in June 2014 that it was offering its new retail experience as a franchise opportunity. DI Reporter noted,


There are a variety of design options for franchisees, including a traditional 1,400-square-foot store and a micro-retail experience. Initial investments will range from $135,000 to $439,000, depending on the type of Polaroid Fotobar concept selected.


On the ownership of Fotobar see Note 1.



There is a recent licensing agreement with L'Image Home Products Inc. 'to bring to market a new line of Polaroid-branded home lighting products in Canada, Spain and Russia'. A Polaroid smartphone was recently unveiled for the European market. And there's a Polaroid 'fit band'.


There are also marketing tie-up with retailers like Urban Outfitters in the USA and ASDA in the UK.


Internationally and judging by the Polaroid international website outside the USA Polaroid is most active in Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, Mexico, South Africa, Spain and the UK.


You can also still buy Polaroid 'polarized' sun glasses online from Polaroid Eyewear Limited in the UK and which is located on the Vale of Leven Industrial Estate in Dumbarton, Scotland (see also the jazzier Polaroid sunglasses website)and a Facebook with a quarter of a million 'likes'.


It looks like the Polaroid Polarized Sunglasses brand may be owned as part of a stable of proprietary brands by Italian eyewear giant, Safilo which had revenues of €1.2bn in 2014 (see here where in 2013 Safilo announces a 10 year licensing agreement with opthalmic lens producer, Essilor. Roberto Vedovotto, CEO of Safilo Group said,


'We consider this project an extraordinary opportunity for Polaroid ... to confirm its credibility and worthiness as a reference brand for the protection and improvement of eyesight.'


Safilo acquired the Polaroid eyewear business in 2012 for about €66m.  Polaroid had sold the eyewear business to StyleMark in 2007.


There is also a new company, Impossible, that makes the  £129 Instant Lab, which 'photographs a picture on your phone’s screen and converts it into a Polaroid print'.  Impossible also buys and refurbishes old Polaroid cameras (30,000 and counting in six months in 2014) and has re-started the old Polaroid film factory in The Netherlands. With $40m investment the company expected to sell 1.4m packs of Polaroid photo paper in 2014.


Thre's even an award winning documentary about the alomst-death of Polaroid instant film and one man's attempt to save it called, Time Zero. (Thnaks to nhc for bringing this to my attention).


Ironically Impossible does not appear to be a licensee of Polaroid. It sells refurbed Polaroid cameras and it makes 'Polaroid' film. But these do not bear the Polaroid logo and Polaroid itself actually sold in 2011 Fuji film and an instant camera rebadged as Polaroid rather than the film made by Impossible in Polaroid's old Netherlands film factory on superior quality grounds.


Florian Kap, one of the three founders of Impossible was not worried by the Fuji film competition in that he reckoned the Fuji film was so perfect it was almost like digital.  By contrast, the Impossible film, at least according to Polaroid CEO, Scott Hardy, has that 'artsy, surprise-me-with-how-it-develops' quality beloved of some photographers. 


And there is Polaroid Blipfoto - although I have yet to come across a link from the other Polaroid licensee family websites to it but there again I haven't seen links between any of them.


But it is interesting to see just how ubiquitous the Polaroid 'colorstripe' logo - developed in 1968 as packaging for Polaroid colour film - see here - is across all Polaroid licensees.


Criticism of Polaroid products


The Polaroid products do not always garner praise. In a caustic review of Polaroid's stall at CES 2013 this article from The Verge includes this assessment of an interchangeable lens camera powered by Android,


The casing was cheap, the software kept freezing, and the actual camera app just... didn't work. At all. "Where Polaroid promises a fun, inexpensive, easy-to-use compact system camera ‘for your mom,' what's actually on offer is a hollow, plastic, inoperative piece of landfill debris.


The same Verge article says of the UK ASDA marketing tie-up,


In 2012, Polaroid partnered with UK chain Asda, agreeing to slap its brand name on whatever random electronics the Walmart subsidiary chooses.


The article ends with biting critique of Polaroid suggesting that the once great company has been sliced and diced so many times that it no longer knows what it stands for chasing different demographics:  the 'hipster' market with Lady Gaga at the helm and then the "photo-happy moms" and now a return to hard copies and stores.


Quoting a New York Times article at the time of the first first bankruptcy  that opined "most experts predict that Polaroid will never emerge" the Verge article ends by asking: 'At what point do you say, do not resuscitate?'


But since 2013 the Pohlad investment and more recent product launches suggest that there is a growth and learning curve that is being climbed by Polaroid. There may also be a deliberate non-linking of the licensee family to avoid cross-contamination of the brand if individual projects sour.


Others are more optimistic including, Christopher Bonanos, author of the book, Instant: the Polaroid Story,


"I am rooting for them. These guys appear to understand what they have purchased. They appear to be better stewards. I would just love them to come up with, or hook up with, a great idea."

Selling Polaroid to Blipfoto Users


On January 2nd 2015 Blipfoto Ltd CEO, Joe Tree, explained the logic of the tie-up with Polaroid in glowing terms: Polaroid was iconic, the one we all grew up with, the original photo sharing network, a real leveler, fun, accessible, easy, and he saw it as critical to one of Blipfoto's missions.


He said,


'With Polaroid standing beside us, we are a huge step closer to our goal of being the place where the world tells its story.'


And added, as if aware of possible adverse reaction,


'We will continue to ensure that the community comes first.'


It's worth recalling that the CEO of any company takes his lead from the Board of Directors and conveys their strategy and priorities to staff, users etc. And in May 2015 it was the Board that agreed the licensing agreement with Polaroid.


At CES 2015 (a huge consumer electronics convention that was attended by 160,000 people in 2014) in Las Vegas there was great feedback about the tie-up and what was now Polaroid Blipfoto coming in. Joe Tree reported on his blip of 8th January,


Another incredible day for us. Everyone loves everything we're about and it's wonderful getting the chance to meet so many important people and tell them our story.


But there were also 208 comments on the Polaroid Blipfoto web page that announced the Polaroid licensing agreement entitled, 'Our exciting new chapter ...'.


I didn't read them all but there seemed to be about a 50/50 split between wholehearted and guarded optimism and scepticism, anger, and incomprehension. 


With hindsight and for many at the time the fit between Blipfoto's user community demographic, ethos, and camera ownership with the 2015 teen/millenial-oriented world of cheap and cute cameras and printers (with more expensive add-ons) looked almost non-existent. It was just baffling. Of all the camera brands why this one?


Despite the announcement asserting that,


“Polaroid is recognized around the world and is synonymous with the kind of fun and sharing that Blipfoto is all about.”


a lot of Blipfoto users were dangerously off message. And a few left the community on the strength of their unhappiness.


The Polaroid/Blipfoto Licensing Deal


Blipfoto Ltd's Resolution and Adopted Articles of Association of May 2014 and the 2014 Annual Return don't really tell us a lot abut the deal with Polaroid other than that Polaroid got a fully paid up share allocation of 85,534 convertible redeemable preference (CRP) shares, 'full voting rights' and that the amount 'paid per share' was £2.74 and they entitled the holder 'in respect of capital to a full participation in a distribution (including winding up)'.


The CRP shares in the 15 May 2015 allotment were to be fully credited as paid up in cash (9.10.2b) and 'rank pari passu [on an equal footing]' with all existing Ordinary shares (9.10.2c) (May 2014 Articles of Association).


On the face of it, it looks like Blipfoto Ltd paid for the licences granted to it by Polaroid with a share allocation with a face value of £234,000.


Polaroid (PLR IP Holdings) also got a non-voting observer on the Board of Directors named as the CEO of Polaroid, Scott Hardy.


A Licensing Agreement was drawn up but it is not a publicy-available document.


We don't know the details of what Blipfoto got from the deal but the footer on the Polaroid Blipfoto webpage gives a good idea of some of it. It says,


'Polaroid, Polaroid & Pixel, Polaroid Classic Border Logo and Polaroid Color Spectrum are trademarks of PLR IP Holdings, LLC, used under license.'


The footer at the bottom of the Polaroid web page includes the text,


Instantly recognizable. Instantly reassuring. The Polaroid Classic Border and Polaroid Color Spectrum logos let you know you've purchased a product that exemplifies the best qualities of our brand and that contribute to our rich heritage of quality and innovation.


Was that what Blipfoto Ltd was buying with shares given to Polaroid with a face vale of £234,000? Instant recognizability and reassurance that let's you know that what you're using or about to use exemplifies the best qualities of the Polaroid brand?


I personally think the branding works well - if you like the brand - across the different Blipfoto social media channels - from the website to the Android and iPhone apps. And to consumers already aware of the Polaroid brand I can see that the Polaroid Colour Spectrum  and 'color stripes' logo (developed from  a film packaging design of 1968) could act like a reassuring beacon that immediately makes  Blipfoto visible  in the swirling seas of Appland. 


And there was the joint launch at the CES 2015 Las Vegas Conference Center and maybe other joint marketing initiatives. Maybe there were other things too - access to the Polaroid customer base or such like. We don't know.


Looking back at the Polaroid website press release of 2nd January 2015 it's strange to see that Polaroid Blipfoto was being advertised 'a free online photo journal' that was ,'free to use and available to everyone - because life’s worth celebrating, every day.'


(The Polaroid press release of 6 January 2015 also announces Polaroid Blipfoto as part of Polaroid's stand at CES 2015).

Were there alternative brands?


My anecdotal knowledge of the Blipfoto community suggests Blipfoto users have invested heavily in quality DSLR cameras and lenses with ownership focused on Nikon and Canon.

Interestingly, the one hint at an evaluation of the Polaroid brand I have come across by John Gerzema on has this to say in relation to Canon

Polaroid “once was simply ‘magic’” but now it is “perceived as 35 percent less up-to-date and 23 percent less visionary than Canon.” Gerzema analyzed data from the BrandAsset Valuator, a massive brand database, to arrive at this conclusion.


Could Blipfoto Ltd have made a licensing deal elsewhere? As far as I can see Nikon does not license out its brand or trademarks and vigilantly protects its intellectual property rights. This appears to be the case with Canon too.


Perhaps Kodak might have been a contender but it's post-digital history is one of massive lay-offs, a foray into digital printers, aggressive patent litigation and finally the sale of many of its patents for $525m.


Kodak now focuses on providing packaging, functional printing, graphic communications and professional services to businesses throogh its Digital Printing & Enterprise and Graphics, Entertainment & Commercial Films divisions.


Next steps


At the turn of the year on January 1st 2015 everything was now dependent on the new Polaroid tie-up and the creation of a multi-channel platform  (website, Android and iPhone apps and links into Twitter and Facebook) delivering new users and delivering them fast.


Richard Branson was on the telly last night advertising a new show. He said words to the effect that there is a very narrow margin between business success and failure.


At some point in the two months that followed the announcement of the Polaroid Blipfoto tie-up that margin from being a highly successful startup business to being a company in catastrophic trouble was crossed.


Conclusions and Reinterpretation


(This section is now superseded by this blog entry)


When we take the foregoing analysis the Polaroid/Blipfoto tie-up does not look like an aggressive takeover by 'corporate America' or a 'sell out' by Blipfoto Ltd even though it was often seen as this by Blipfoto users.


 It was rather a licensing agreement that gave Polaroid some but by no means decisive influence in the affairs of Blipfoto Ltd - after all the Board observer did not have a vote and votes by shareholders only apply at Annual and Extraordinary meetings.


And the tie-up was embraced by the Board in as much as they approved it and it secured the definite prospect of a further, and large, round of investment in Blipfoto Ltd.


Without further information we don't really know what demographic Polaroid Blipfoto was going after except that the US market was key but in the broadest terms there seems to be a poor fit between the Blipfoto user demographic and ethos and that which was being targeted by many Polaroid products.


However, maybe that lack of fit didn't really matter. When we discount the licensing agreement as a 'takeover' by Polaroid it is much more likely that the Blipfoto rebranding was more about increasing the recognizability of the Blipfoto proposition to users across all age groups and was supposed to be the key that opened the US market and possibly other markets.


I've previously thought that Polaroid saw Blipfoto as a strategic partner or 'acquisition' (which it wasn't) but the facts that we now know don't support this view.  It seems that Polaroid was willing to sell licenses without seeking  product or marketing synergies between the different and diverse Polaroid licensees - maybe it was a more ad hoc process as long as a certain quality threshold was met. That's the view of some observers (see The Verge article earlier) although they would argue that even the quality thresholds were weak. (For much more detail here on the development and range of Polaroid's licensing activities and the way brand licensing works see the my blog, The Polaroid and Blipfoto Licensing Agreement).


It came as something to a revelation to me when I realised that the contemporary Polaroid is no corporate giant. My back-of-the-fag-packet calculation values it at $108m - a veritable corporate minnow - and it has a workforce of 'a few dozen staffers in a humdrum Minnetonka office building, its headquarters, and in Boston and New York City'.


So the Polaroid that emerged from the 2009 liquidation was a small operation, with tens of staff, a bankruptcy trust and a corporate shell that has been completely hollowed out. All it had was a brand that had to be reinvented and begin to attract some revenue. The story of Polaroid's transformation is briefly documented in a Gordon Brothers case study of the company they acquired with Hilco Global in 2009.


Gordon Brothers Group shifted Polaroid from a distribution model to a "license/royalty" business model and began aggressively securing global licensing agreements. Gordon Brothers Group initiated a raft of organizational enhancements to align with this new business model approach, including retaining the majority of Polaroid’s Minnesota-based licensing team and appointing the Executive Vice President & Director of Marketing from the acquired entity as CEO of Polaroid.


But if Polaroid's strategy was based on an ad hoc way of creating revenue from licensing deals and royalties why agree to take untradeable shares in lieu of cash, as happened in the Blipfoto Ltd deal?  Maybe this was just another new avenue Polaroid was interested to explore - a kind of weak joint-venture where Polaroid took a backseat observer role. Or maybe Blipfoto could not demonstrate a strong enough flow of potential royalty income to Polaroid to secure a deal without a share transfer.


For Polaroid there may have been an attraction in putting little bit of corporate skin in the game to explore what potential there might be in a social media licensing tie-up with potential marketing synergies between Polaroid licensed products and the growing user base of Polaroid Blipfoto. Although as far as I know Polaroid's modus operandi seems to not involve share holdings in licensees. It's strategy about licensing and not becoming a holding company.


Whatever the details of the case the Polaroid agreement with Blipfoto Ltd was a limited commitment, small scale, discreet and exploratory.


If the deal carried no opportunity cost for Polaroid - (ie if there wasn't another similar social media platform who was offering to pay cash for licenses) - it was a win-win situation for the company.  If Blipfoto went belly-up and as long as there wasn't a reputational taint to the affair Polaroid didn't really lose anything - some corporate time and maybe some lawyer fees. And if Blipfoto Ltd suddenly started to grow and gain capital value or revenues Polaroid was sitting pretty with it's convertible, redeemable preference share-holding, an inside view of how and why the company was succeeding, and possibly a growing stream of royalty income.


I've also tended to see the Blipfoto link to Polaroid as something to do with the founders' affection for the company but thinking about this futher and the train of events at Blipfoto it now seems more likely that the licensing agreement was a way of convincing investors to put more money into the company.


It signaled a certain arrival. 'Here we are', it seemed to say. 'Look at the potential growth our new branding is going to bring in. We're up there with an iconic American brand. It's take-off time. Billion dollar company here we come.' 


And that new investment was almost forthcoming - nine hundred thousand pounds' worth was on the table in Decembver 2014 . The share allotment was in place and a share price had been agreed. All that the company now needed was to produce the results and avoid an 'underperformance event' and the new investment would come.


Once we move away from seeing Polaroid as an 'aggressive acquirer' of Blipfoto Ltd the stress I have previously put on 'demographic fit' between Polaroid's other offerings and the Blipfoto Ltd offering also becomes much less important. It wasn't that Polaroid wanted Blipfoto and its particular model of client capture and those 'magic moments once a day' as I argued in this blog. It was that Blipfoto Ltd wanted a branding agreement with Polaroid. Blipfoto was the suitor not Polaroid.


If the initiative for that licensing deal came from Blipfoto Ltd and not Polaroid the picture is very different. The licensing deal was about gaining recognisibility, prominence and credibility for the Blipfoto Ltd 'product' in a rapidly expanding and crowded social media and photographic market place with a particular emphasis on the US market.


Polaroid were probably not that fussed if Blipfoto Ltd's activities led to cross selling opportunities to other Polaroid licensees as long as they were getting paid in shares and (possibly) royalties for the use of the license. And Blipftoto Ltd must have made an assessment that the Polaroid brand had a broad relevance and resonance to their target customers and that it would help encourage and translate initial website views into signed up customers.


I've also tended to think that either Polaroid identified Blipfoto Ltd as a partner or Blipfoto actively selected Polaroid from a range of potential licensing partners. But maybe Blipfoto Ltd just didn't have much choice in its quest for a licensing agreement. (What other relevant brand licenses were available?)


It may have been that Blipfoto Ltd's investors and Directors were pushing for a branding agreement as a quid pro quo for further investment in the company and instructed the management team to go out and find one that was relevant to the company's expansion plans vis a vis the US market. In this regard it is noteworthy that Blipfoto Ltd had appointed a Sales and Marketing senior manager in late 2013 to take forward Blipfoto's 'customer acquisition internationally as well as its marketing and PR activity'.