Challenger to Watch: Instax

For revitalising print

Anyone who has a keen eye on the eatbigfish Instagram will have noticed that we’re quite the fans of this brand around the eatbigfish office (Luke, our Instagrammer and resident photographer, in particular).

But this isn't the story of a young upstart brand grabbing attention, in fact the Instax brand isn’t new by any stretch of the imagination – it was launched in 1999 by Fujifilm as the challenger to the big name in instant photography, Polaroid.

Then in the 2000’s digital photography ate the film category, and in 2008 Polaroid ­­ceased production of its instant film entirely.     

For a whole new generation this type of photography is seen as fresh and fun

Despite a massive plummet in sales to 10% of its peak, Fujifilm held its nerve, and, as a result, the risk to maintain a continual presence in a dying category meant they were able to react when new opportunity arose.

In 2009 some keen-eyed members of the Fujifilm team noticed a glimmer of hope – young people in Japan, South Korea and China were embracing the Instax format.

For a whole new generation this type of photography is seen as fresh and fun - so the Fujifilm innovation team leaned into that audience, launching “the cutest camera in the world”, the Instax Mini 8, in 2012.

 The Instax Mini 8

The Instax Mini 8

Fast forward five years and the rest of the world has caught up with the trendsetters by discovering (or falling back in love with) the joy of analog.

With camera phones effectively killing the market for consumer digital, print is finding its groove. With 6 million cameras sold worldwide in 2016, global sales of Instax cameras now exceed Fuji’s digital output, and Instax sales are estimated to top 7.5 million in 2017.

A commitment to continued innovation and leading the category seems to be the key to its momentum.

Instant photo fans can now own five types of Instax camera (including the very grown up looking Mini 90) and film in multiple formats – the original mini, new square and wide formats, a monochrome version, and 'Deco' film with coloured or patterned borders.

Towards the end of last year Instax also expanded its range and reach by launching the Instax Share SP-2 and SP-3  – addictive smartphone printers that print your phone snaps onto Instax film - bridging the ‘either/or’ gap between print and digital, and perfect for framing (or populating the office noticeboard…).

 The Instax Share SP-2 Printer

The Instax Share SP-2 Printer

With brands like Lomography helping grow the category by manufacturing its own cameras to use Instax film, Fujifilm both leads, and is central to, the success of this resurgent category.

But will the much heralded rebirth of Polaroid Originals (a rebranded Impossible Project) make a dent in its share by winning over the trendsetters with their sell-out super covetable retro designs?

The challenge from its old rival has certainly begun.

In the US, PLR IP, the brand licensor and marketer for Polaroid instant cameras, has begun a trademark dispute over Instax's launch of a square format film, something that Fujifilm has brushed off with excellent shade, saying that, after being “unable to return to profitability through product sales”, Polaroid “now seeks to generate revenue from what remains of the Polaroid IP Portfolio.” 

Is Instax just reaping the rewards of category leadership because it held its nerve and didn’t give up on instant print when everyone else declared it dead? Can it increase loyalty through love of the brand, not just the love for the tech?

Whatever happens, prepare to see a glut of digital pictures of physical prints on your Instagram this year (if my feed is anything to go by) as the digital/analog/digital loop comes full circle.