Hiring Celebrities to promote your product is nothing new, in fact many would say it’s even more prevalent today with influencers and Instagram.
The golden age of television was no different, which is part of the reason why I love old commercials. They show us the influencers of the time, and as you’ll learn, whoever they hired had to suit the audience they were selling to, and the product they were promoting.
One of the companies that knew that the most was Polaroid. Sometimes the celebrity embodied the product, sometimes they were the product.
First up, here’s a group of well known actors you might recognize.
The Muppets need no introduction of course, and here we see them celebrating Miss Piggy’s birthday just before they go on stage. What may need an introduction is this, the Time Zero One Step Camera. An upgraded, or possibly just repainted One Step to compliment the Time Zero Super Color Film that Polaroid heavily promoted in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It seems odd, but this was a Polaroid film that had you seeing the image in seconds rather than minutes. Not even Fujifilm Instax can claim that in 2020. The colors were punchy, rich, and that’s likely why they chose The Muppets as their spokespuppets. A super easy way to showcase a lot of different colours in one image.
Here’s another Time Zero Commercial, starring James Garner and Mariette Hartley
James Garner was known for The Rockford Files, and the Great Escape, and also later appearances, such as The Notebook and Space Cowboys.
Mariette Hartley was also accomplished in her career, though I have to admit, other than Encino Man, I don’t recognize any of them.
This isn’t the only commercial with this on screen couple either, they would be in many Polaroid commercials spanning years. They also promoted Sun Cameras, and here’s Hartley promoting the Amigo with Kermit.
These two had a great little back and forth with playful banter. Garner was the informer and Hartley was the model and critic. This relationship dynamic was, and still is a popular one and normally I’m annoyed at the stereotype of the tech loving guy and the woman who rolls her eyes at him, but this was cute and Garner dished as much as he took.
In fact, their on screen chemistry was so convincing that it was assumed by the public they were married, or at least, having an affair. To the point where Hartley wore a t-shirt saying “I am not Mrs. Garner” and had similar shirts made for her husband, and child. I can only imagine all the extra publicity was good for Polaroid.
Next, we go back a few years and take a look at Candice Bergen with a Polaroid Pronto. The Pronto came with a suggested retail price of $66 USD in 1976 money, or $300 by today’s standards. This was meant to be an inexpensive alternative to the folding SX-70.
Now, I know Candice Bergen from TV’s Murphy Brown, but this is before then, and she’s already an accomplished actress by this time.
The Pronto was one of many automatic integral film cameras released by Polaroid in the mid to late 70s designed for the average consumer. Polaroid creator Edwin Land didn’t like the idea of making plastic toy like cameras, and preferred the sophistication and elegance of the SX-70, of course, we know that eventually he was persuaded. You can tell by the commercials for the SX-70 they were playing to a different audience.
Ever seen an actor and you’re like, I know that guy, but can’t name a single movie or TV appearance? That’s Laurence Olivier to me. Here he is promoting the original Polaroid SX-70.
While this commercial looks rather dull, watching someone on TV, load a camera, add a flash and take a photo in real time was nothing short of magic.
The Original SX-70 was an amazing feat in technology, both with the film and the camera. It was common to hear people refer to it as doing the impossible; an absolute one step photography. Up until the SX-70, instant film was limited to peel apart, and the release of this camera in 1972 was also the world premiere of integral instant film. No longer are the chemicals sandwiched between paper, but in a contained pack at the bottom of the frame that burst and spread when ejected, followed by an orchestra of time release chemicals and dozens of micro thin layers within the film. Edwin Land, inventor of the Polaroid, still wasn’t satisfied until they figured out a way to get that camera into a jacket pocket. I guess he figured, what’s the point of an instant camera, if you cannot also, access it in an instant.
Considering they went through all that trouble, I find it funny that several years later they would upgrade the SX-70 with a sonar based auto focusing system. That basically threw the claim of making it fit in your pocket, right out the window, especially if you were adding a flash bar.
But this was the race to auto focus and a lot of companies tried cutting corners to get there first by sacrificing form factor. A good example of that is the Pentax ME F.
They kept that super snooty level of sophistication in their marketing though.
Another Thespian I’m sure many of us recognize but can’t quite pinpoint is Christopher Plummer. I was like, man, this guy looks so familiar, so I took a deep dive into his IMDB and then it hit me. Star Trek VI.
As you have seen so far, Polaroid was all about the innovation. Edwin Land and his company were constantly looking to create the next great consumer product. This didn’t always work out though. A great example of that is Polavision. I know I know, Pola-what? Polavision was, in a nutshell, the home movie version of the instant photo. The idea was you shot your video with one of these cassettes, then could immediately plug it into a special viewing screen and watch it right away. No transferring of film, no developing. And who better to promote the idea of instant home movies than White Christmas star Danny Kaye.
Looked great, but between no sound, an ISO of just 40, and larger price tag than Super 8, Polavision was a huge flop.
This wouldn’t be the last mistake Polaroid would make. Here’s another example of that.
Jumping forward to the early 90s, the company started doing a lot less innovation and a lot more scrambling for ideas. One of those was the Polaroid Captiva.
I remember Sinbad from the television series A Different World.
The Captiva had smaller instant photos, and held onto them while you were able to keep shooting.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, it was another flop. This format is no longer available with no plans of being reintroduced by the current manufacturer of Polaroid.
Jumping a few more years ahead to 1997, we have this minute long Polaroid commercial with a big reveal at the end. I’ve shortened the commercial for review purposes but I didn’t take anything crucial out.
The Spice Cam was, as you’ve gathered, a Spice Girls endorsed Polaroid 600 camera. Along with the 60 second ad you just saw, each Spice Girl had their own 10 second spot, all in promotion of Polaroid’s new 600 Extreme film.
Baby & Scary Spice promoted the extreme matte film you could draw on. Ginger & Sporty promoted Fast Color Gloss Film. And Posh Spice promoted monochrome.
Before the cameras were even made though, Polaroid had issues.
“Polaroid had just placed an order with a company for a set of mould tools.” Says Steve Baker, IT director of Ak-U-Rite, a tooling company. “That company was subsequently unable to fulfill the contract, and we were involved in a critical recovery exercise to pull out all the stops and meet a revised schedule.” Ak-U-Rite had to enlist further help, because, as Baker says “As the job progressed we found we were being asked to incorporate design changes. Some of these were even requested after we had started cutting metal”
In the book “What Would the Spice Girls Do” by Lauren Bravo, Mel B is quoted telling her mother “It’s great, because you can take rude photos without the chemist seeing!” when referring to the Spice Cam. I guess we’ll never know what the nuns saw that day.
You can imagine the Spice Cam was always meant to be a flash in the pan, and never outlive the popularity of the Space Girls themselves, but if you really really wanna find one, you can check eBay.
And this has been a look at Celebrities Selling Polaroid, I hope you enjoyed this nostalgic trip with me. I know I didn’t catch them all by a long shot so be sure and let me know which commercials I missed in the comments section.
This was a fun look at Polaroid commercials for me. This assignment actually started out as a catch all Celebrities Selling Cameras but I found so many for Polaroid, I made this video instead. If you would like to see Celebrities selling other cameras, let me know.
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