Canon’s Storytelling Misfires


The battle between smartphones and traditional camera brands has been a war of attrition, but the world seems to now realise that they both serve a different purpose. We carry our smartphones with us everywhere and can snap a photo or video easily, and it’ll probably do the job just fine. DSLRs, on the other hand, are more powerful tools at getting a great shot in any given circumstance.

However, in its latest campaign Canon is choosing to focus on stories of its consumers rather than than dwelling on the technological specifications of its gear that set it apart from its competitors.

This is an significant move for the brand, considering its main point of differentiation from every other camera in the market is the quality of its sensors, glass, bodies and its research & development efforts. General opinion in photography circles is that Nikon and Sony, Canon’s main competitors, are advancing ahead when it comes to what some would call the geek details, whilst Canon are stagnating.

Canon’s “Director” advert from its See Impossible campaign.

Storytelling is nothing new when it comes to advertising products that perhaps aren’t the easiest for consumers to understand. We are able to process stories better than numbers and statistics. The narrative and flow of events stick in our minds for longer and can achieve much higher levels of emotional resonance. Stories are relatable and we can each attach our own form of meaning to them.


Why then do these adverts fail on almost every level? Canon has even gone to the effort of creating an interactive See Impossible microsite/hub that shows how big businesses and consumers alike can use these products in different ways. Here’s what Michael Duffett, VP General Manager of Marketing at Canon has to say about the new direction:

“We’re going to use it as a messaging vehicle, but we’re also going to use it internally to organize and marshal our resources in a way that’s much more customer-centric than just strictly approaching everything from a product viewpoint that we’ve done over the years. Our current web properties do a great job of talking about the specific product, but nowhere do we have a really good place to say a particular company or a particular photographer are using our solutions.”

Canon’s “Author” advert from its See Impossible campaign.

This campaign proves that storytelling isn’t a one size fits all solution for every brand. Technology companies and those that purport to be at the forefront of innovation often face tough criticism from onlookers when their advertising reflects a shift away from their core and founding principles.

A brand like Canon is in an industry where technological specification is key and consumers use its products to create and construct their own highly individual stories. Fans were hopeful (some even convinced) that a countdown clock posted last weekend that ticked down to the launch of the campaign was for a long-awaited, big, new product announcement, but it didn’t turn out that way.

Canon’s romanticising of its products worked perfectly when the world still saw imaging technology as a gift from the future; it’s now a tool that consumers expect to continually improve. Clichéd, overproduced and downright contrived adverts that misunderstand both its audience and its market may point towards a more fundamental problem in Canon’s long-term strategy.

Sure, Canon needs to encourage people to buy its products and show them new ways it can use them, but by telling these stories it could be writing its final chapter.


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