Seeing the Impossible: 5 Questions with Canon USA’s Michael Duffett


Canon USA last week launched “See Impossible,” a new tagline and logo as part of a multi-year branding campaign.

Much in line with the industry shift towards “age of you” and human storytelling, the accompanying ads focus on the people, rather than the camera.

As Adweek noted, “Canon’s campaign centers around a new microsite, which houses a series of digital videos that highlight how customers use a range of products. One 45-second clip shows how an author used the technology to self-publish her book. Going forward, Canon will expand the site’s content to include submissions from consumers and clients.”

“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,” said Michael Duffett, VP and general manager of marketing at Canon USA.

brandchannel spoke with Duffett to get more of the strategy behind the new branding, positioning and campaign for the world’s 37th most valuable brand. [more]

brandchannel: The new Canon brand campaign marks a shift in your communications consistent with the current consumer-driven, “age of you” landscape.  Did you feel this shift in the brand was absolutely necessary to survive in the current landscape?

Duffett (at right): Absolutely. We know that in the current landscape consumers look to what a brand stands for beyond just the products they make. Canon See Impossible is a corporate brand platform that not only raises awareness of our innovation across industries, but grounds it under a consistent vision: to help our customers make their impossible, possible.  

Our expertise in imaging has already led the Company to innovate in unexpected areas—from printing solutions that empower writers to self-publish, to eyecare technology that is helping ophthalmologists see deep into the eye, to digital x-ray technology that enables doctors to diagnose patients earlier. By creating a consistent consumer-driven platform, and incorporating that into our internal structure, we are positioning the company for future innovation and growth.

bc: Can you speak to why the word “see” is so central to refreshed verbal identity of Canon?

Duffett: Everything we do at Canon is driven by the power of the image. The word “see” represents both our heritage and the core visual element within all our innovation.

bc: While the “See Impossible” campaign has drawn interest from a broader audience, it might be harder to engage your core audience, who focus (so to speak) on core product features and want groundbreaking innovation. How do you balance the two? And moving forward, how do you hope to message towards these die-hard fans who were perhaps expecting more from the countdown?

Duffett: This is a corporate brand effort designed to broaden awareness of the variety of businesses and solutions that Canon is engaged in. With Canon See Impossible we are making the commitment to never stop innovating across any of our businesses, including the photography products we have been historically known for. 

A major part of moving to a new consumer-focused strategy is to actively partner with our customers to help guide advancements in technology across the company.

We will continue to have campaigns specifically for our camera audience. “Bring It” is a powerful program built around content from our core users, championing their stories and demonstrating the power of DSLR quality images and video. Canon also introduced the EOS 7D Mark II DSLR camera at the Photokina imaging fair this year, changing the way users capture still images and video with a DSLR camera with high precision autofocus, accurate subject tracking and speed.

bc: The new microsite is almost devoid of the stunning imagery and photography we have come to expect from Canon branded content. Was this intentional as a kind of blank canvas for customers’ creativity? Can you speak to the absence of photography and imagery in your new visual identity?

Duffett: We purposely took a different approach for than some of our other sites. Because it is a brand site, not a photography site, we focused on telling lesser-known stories of customers who are already using Canon technology in innovative ways.  And we will continue to highlight those stories in a unique visual style that doesn’t rely completely on photography.

At Canon we continue to invest in imaging technologies, and the image is at the core of everything we do, but we continue to explore beyond the photograph. Detailed images of a retina from Canon eyecare technology or a large format image printed on almost any surface via the Océ Arizona 6100 printer platform are just two examples of how we’re using imaging to give our customers new possibilities.  

Over time, the site will be updated to highlight the latest real-life examples from each of the industries we’re in. Meanwhile the Bring It hub will continue as a platform for Canon’s core camera business, providing a blank canvas for the best customer creativity.

bc: How will this rebrand be felt from an internal culture perspective, and how will the collaborative spirit of the new positioning impact internal and external audiences?

Duffett: Canon See Impossible is not only a rallying cry to the world, but to ourselves. It’s a chance for greater collaboration across the business, opening up further new business opportunities and a call on all Canon employees to collaborate and help shape the future of the company. To ensure that Canon See Impossible is truly embedded in the organization, we have structured our business units into three pillars, reframed by what they are empowering customers to achieve: Solve; Create; Diagnose. 

A fourth pillar, Ignite, focuses on our Canon employees—how we serve them and how they serve customers. We’ve won awards for our service and support, based on a commitment to education and a willingness to provide solutions tailored to the specific needs of each customer. It embodies the consumer-driven ethos we’re implementing across the company. For that to be truly effective, we have to give our employees the same level of support and sense of possibility.