Creative brand collaborations surprise and delight consumers with unusual pairings for products and experience, with the leading partnerships often creating new markets for the brands involved.
A recently announced collaboration from Retrospekt, a vintage tech refurbishing company, utilizes two well-known heritage brands, the United States Postal Service and Polaroid, the once-defunct (but now thriving) instant camera maker. The collaboration features the three R’s of the current pop culture zeitgeist: Retro, Recycle and Restore, while tapping into the craze for collectibles as a bonus factor.
Retro, Recycle, Restore
Retrospekt specializes in reviving and refurbishing retro-tech products for a new generation. On its website, Retrospekt sums up its raison d’etre as follows:
In an increasingly digital world, the magic of analog is increasingly enchanting. It is comforting. Comforting to take a break from the excess of consumption convenience has allowed. Comforting to step back and engage in a more tactile and deliberate experience.
These products, that still prove to be so useful and enjoyable, should not be haphazardly discarded. Left to decay (or never decay, because of plastic) in some landfill. We give them a new life. Faithfully restoring each item to give you a product that performs like it was meant to right out of the box. A true experience that refuses to be pushed out by the whims of the latest technological trend.
The Polaroid 600 USPS instant film camera produced by RetroSpekt is officially licensed by both Polaroid and the United States Postal Service and uses Polaroid 600 film (sold separately). Each camera features refurbished internal parts taken from vintage Polaroid 600 instant cameras dating back to the 1980s and 1990s. Retrospekt has restored the cameras to function as if new, and packages them in freshly molded plastic exteriors featuring an exclusive new USPS design. Using the original camera hardware offers an authentic instant film experience while reducing some of the waste associated with manufacturing new products.
What makes this collaboration so interesting is how it joins two heritage brands that are both somewhat archaic yet still culturally relevant and supported by millions.
The original Polaroid Corporation was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1937. The Boston Globe described it as a “juggernaut of innovation” and “the Apple of its time.” But in the 1980s with the advent of video brought about a relative decline in interest in film, and Polaroid’s sales began to drop off. Over the next two decades, as the world embraced digital technology, Polaroid attempted to market digital and video cameras, but the company was unable to differentiate its products in a crowded market. In 2001 Polaroid Corporation declared bankruptcy, and the brand was sold several times in the years that followed to companies that exploited the recognizable Polaroid name for cheap, mass-market consumer electronics.
In 2017, Polaroid was acquired by a European investor with a bigger vision: to bring the original instant film brand back to life, and we’ve since seen a revival for the brand with the new Polaroid Now cameras and frequent collaborations keeping Polaroid front of mind among young consumers, such as the recent fashion partnership with Lacoste.
The United States Postal Service traces its roots to 1775 and the Second Continental Congress, when Benjamin Franklin was appointed as the first postmaster general. The service has seen its share of struggles over the past two decades with the advent of the internet, email and social media, which intensified in 2020 amid a funding crisis that drew widespread calls to save the Postal Service. Thus, credit to the smart marketers at USPS headquarters in Washington D.C. who are developing brand collabs to keep the organization relevant to Gen Z consumers.
In the world of trendy brand collaborations, the United States Postal Service seems an idiosyncratic choice, yet it boasts a brand with a long and storied history, while the more recent controversy over its financial woes has caused young consumers to embrace the institution and collabs that can serve as a badge of support.
A recent example: In March 2019, the retailer Forever 21 launched an officially licensed USPS apparel line. The collection featured a hip and youthful take on vintage Postal Service logos and designs from the 1970s through the 1990s, providing consumers with a retro vibe. According to Amity Kirby, licensing director at USPS, the collab was a huge hit and sold out quickly.
Steven Ekstract is Managing Director of Global Licensing Advisors, a consultancy that provides companies with insight and strategic direction to succeed in the $300 billion a year licensing business. Ekstract is the founder and former Publisher of License Global magazine, the leading information source for the consumer licensing business. He can be reached at Steven@globallicensingadvisors.com.