Lofty Ideas, Poor Execution — How to Not Market a Camera Brand

It might be the most commented post ever on DP Review, and even Canon gets its fair share of malice and rancor on it’s own marketing platform. Not undeserved, Canon. Go figure why the world’s leader in digital imaging allows comments on a See Impossible: Beyond Photography, Director promotion video. A marketing campaign out of control: it’s not only geeks that feel deceived.

See Impossible obviously is a cult-like ad created by ingenious advertisement geeks — who lost control over the whole process. The cryptic ad raised high expectations. All that was delivered was a kind of fuzzy Canon rebranding. Now the negative campaign goes viral. And Canon U.S.A. just watches in lockdown, seemingly unable to act. Hell blame the strictly hierarchical structure of a huge organization to not being able to act with quick and proactive damage control.

Right, the ad focuses on people, not products. This human touch is nice. The more customer-centric ad is about using Canon solutions. The new See Impossible campaign with its interactive microsite will also include efforts in print, digital and live events. In the end, however, the customer uses money to buy products, and not ideas.

See Impossible marketing campaign -- good intentions, poorly executed
See Impossible marketing campaign — good intentions, poorly executed

The competition builds compact cameras than can practically see in the dark. Now that’s See Impossible, Canon. 4K, amazing dynamic range, state of the art EVFs. Isn’t that See Impossible, Canon? Innovation, thinking forward, daring to bend the rules. That’s See Impossible, Canon. People buy Sony, Panasonic, Olympus, even Samsung. People move on to Apple, GoPro, apps. But Canon makes a great ad. Creating hype for nothing.

The limited edition Stella McCartney Canon camera bag
The limited edition Stella McCartney Canon camera bag
Fire the marketing firm Grey New York for a starter. Then get your act together. Building good cameras and optics that are reliable performers and do the job aren’t enough anymore in this highly dynamic market. If you make ads like Apple and want to sell solutions like Apple, then better deliver.

It’s obvious, Canon is no longer focused on the digital imaging market. It’s a bit of everything. Office equipment, healthcare technologies, industrial, printing and, well, consumer products. The camera division still lives in the past and on its heritage. Great selection of lenses, solid cameras. Just how hard is it to get off one’s corporate butt and compete again? Survival of the fittest, right, doesn’t seem to apply to a Japanese conglomerate.

Or go the Leica way, more limited edition Stella McCartney bags and the likes please. Just don’t promise what you can’t deliver.

Oh, and in case you didn’t know it by now, that video Canon See Impossible refers to was shot with a Sony camera…

  • Yesterday, like everyone on this planet, I was pissed at Canon for this terrible offensive marketing error. But today it’s like pre-divorce cold flat non-emotion. If I had few extra bucks on me right now, I’d throw away all my Canon gear from the windows and switch to something else. Canon really upset us again. This custom practice has reached it’s final point. Canon, fck you!

  • Premise: I’m not a Canon user. When I saw the viral ad from Canon, a couple of days ago, I felt it would have been just smoke. When the impossible reality was revealed I really felt sorry for all Canon users who were dreaming, wishing, asking for some long awaited jaw dropping product: an impossible 35mm camera with small lenses, a super megapixel size sensor, a new tech available who would somehow change the shooting experience and image quality. I felt sorry because a lot of photographers believed in their dreams, but then the morning came and they woke up.
    This ad was a failure.
    It gathered the attention of the web and of whole photography world, just to show nothing.
    Gathering the attention of people is only the first (right) step: then you have to amaze people with a product.
    Like an illusionist on the stage showing a top hat. The sound of drums reach the climax. The crowd holds its breath. The guy reveals what’s inside his wizard’s hat: no doves, no rabbits. Anything. Silence. The curtain falls.
    I only hope Canon didn’t waste a lot of money brain storming this ad and making it.

  • Liam

    Let’s be fair, Nikon did the same smoke and mirror routine (“Pure Photography”) with the introduction of the Dƒ and Leica (“Mini M”) for one of its compacts. But they did introduce something, albeit not what was anticipated. Canon might be beyond the Point of No Return and Nikon following in its heels. Adapt or perish….

    Personally, I’ve been a Nikon shooter from film days and recently sold off all my Nikon bodies and AF lenses because I tired of the weight of the kit. Do I need 5, 6 or 10 FPS? No. Do I shoot 4k video? Nope. Can the present generation of OEM glass stand up to high-fez sensors? Few. Do I want to upgrade my present collection? No more.

    Others I know are in the process of doing the same. CaNikon seem oblivious to this reality ion the face of ever-improving compacts (Ricoh GR and Sigma DP 2/3 come to mind), the march of Sony/Fujifilm and even the iPhone.

  • I kind of liked the Pure Photography campaign. Low key, discreet, certainly not loud and bold.

    See Impossible is shouting for attention.

    At least to me, this Pure Photography gives me all I need for most of my work. Video? Using different tools. Lightning fast AF? Am mostly using manual these days…

    Photography today is first and foremost about finding one’s way through the myriad of cameras and gear available. Each to their own. That’s the beauty and at the same time the big challenge of today’s digital photography.

  • Liam

    But ‘Pure Photography’ was another psych-out nonetheless. I was a D700 shooter, having added a MF screen and wild rumors abounded of hybrid screens and focus peaking with the Dƒ. All BS in the end and I sold it off since a D800/810 wasn’t my thing. Don’t need 36 MP files. Or 3 pounds around my neck. Waiting for the next iteration of Sony E mounts to use my Leica R, Zeiss and Nikon glass on.

  • One More Thought

    First the rumors of MF screen, focus peaking, etc…were all rumors and Nikon never promised any of that.

    Second, the biggest problem with the Df was the price. If Nikon had released it at least $500 cheaper, then it’s an entirely different conversation. If Nikon releases it for $2000 or less, then Nikon is called a genius.

    The Df is a great camera in its own right, but now that the D750 is out, Nikon really needs to lower the price of the Df.

  • what are you waiting for?

    On my A7R I use E-mount lenses too, but most of the time Leica-M, Leica-R, Nikkor T/S, Canon ZE T/S, Voigtlander and Zeiss (including the new OTUS 1.4/85) and an Petzval 85mm is coming next week.

    What do you want more?

  • T N Args

    So glad I sold all my Canon gear last November and got a Panasonic GX7 with stunning prime lenses. Can’t stop laughing when I read all the DSLR luddites pretending that the only important thing about an image is the minimum possible depth of field, i.e. trying to make almost all of the image blurry. Self-serving nonsense.

    One always wonders when is the day that Canon will shake the world with a massive photography innovation…. and we wait for year, after year, after year……

    Time’s up!

  • Liam

    Points all well taken.
    But compatibility with (very) old glass was deliberately engineered in to allow old F lenses back to 1959 (a first for digital), so the rumors and expectations were reasonably raised and further still by the slick ‘Pure Photography’ campaign (well-done spots). Alas, a missed opportunity by Nikon to go that extra small step with interchangeable focusing screens optimized for MF. The Dƒ, while a touch cramped for larger hands, is a nice camera and will surely drop in price by Christmas especially, as you note as well, with the arrival of the D750.

  • Liam

    I will wait for the next iteration, hopefully 24 MP or better, without an AA filter but with electronic first shutter. In the meantime, as I already have the Novoflex adapters, I’ll rent the a7 as needed for the task.

  • Dillan

    I can’t defend Canon for their let-down ad campaign, but I can defend their camera division.”Building good cameras and optics that are reliable performers and do the job aren’t enough anymore in this highly dynamic market,” you state. Isn’t that what we all really need from a camera manufacturer? If what we really wanted was glamour and flash, wouldn’t we all be carrying new Leicas? Canon got to the position it is in today by building good, reliable cameras and a wide range of decent, workhorse lenses to mate to them. If Canon today is in trouble it’s because the entire industry is in trouble.

    Canon’s greatest flaw, it seems, is that it’s making cameras and lenses, not hand held computers which also happen to have phone and internet connectivity and a crappy camera thrown in as an after-thought. Smart phones have gutted the point and shoot segment of the market not because they’re good at taking photos, but because they’re terribly convenient. This development has hurt all camera manufacturers, and some are in deeper trouble than others.

    Compared to other camera manufacturers, Canon is certainly holding its own. I do not understand the hue and cry over the lack of a 36mp sensor from Canon. I don’t need that. Just how big does a person need to print? Magazines don’t need 36mp. Newspapers don’t need it. Most of what is published these days goes on the internet anyway, and I’d argue that you don’t need more than 4mp for the internet. Other than the lack of a 36mp sensor, I’d say that Canon has the most complete camera and lens line up on offer today. If I’m wrong, please tell me what they are lacking.

    Of course, this is just and opinion, and everyone has one of those. My argument means nothing. People will cry about the apparent lack of megapixels from Canon cameras and I can’t do anything to change that. Yes, their marketing campaign didn’t help, but heck, it’s just marketing. It’s just noise that all of us routinely ignore anyway. So this time it caught a lot of attention. That is what marketing is supposed to do, isn’t it?

  • The See Impossible marketing attempt isn’t aimed at geeks and nerds photography enthusiasts, its target is the broad market for whom Canon still is the epitome of the camera per se. That broad market accounts for a broader market share than us aficionados. Nevertheless, photography is always about vision, about visionaries, about the right tools to translate vision into “reality.” I guess that’s where many people feel let down. The industry’s “visionaries” offer lighter, more versatile gear with spectacular optics, yet the brightest news from Canon’s digital imaging department in recent years has been Dual Pixel autofocus. You can rest on your laurels only for that long.