Last October, five relatively unknown filmmakers from around the country found themselves at a place they had probably only dreamed about—on the red carpet at New York’s Lincoln Center, sipping cocktails with Hollywood heavyweights like Ron Howard and Harvey Weinstein.
For these individuals, it was a chance to launch a career in film. But for Canon U.S.A., the marketer behind the event, it was proof that creativity, crowdsourcing and technology can all combine to create highly successful branding. The event was the culmination of an initiative called Project Imaginat10n, which was shepherded by Canon’s own Michelle Fernandez. “Canon believes we’re all creative,” says Fernandez, a 15-year veteran of the company who heads marketing for its imaging technologies and communications group. “We’re here as enablers to help you with your creative vision.”
Fernandez has long understood that digitally savvy consumers don’t merely want to be shown a new camera—they want to be shown how using that camera can unlock their own talents and perhaps even make them famous.
The Imaginat10n initiative began with a photo contest that invited photographers to submit images interpreting one of 10 themes (e.g., “relationship,” “obstacle”). Among 80,000 entrants, 91 individuals were selected.
Next, with instructions to use those photos as inspiration for their films, Project Imaginat10n put cameras into the hands of five famous people—among them, Jamie Foxx and Twitter co-founder Biz Stone—and opened another five slots to budding auteurs, whose submissions were chosen by a panel of judges including Howard.
Showing the “filmic journeys” on a screen at Lincoln Center, as Canon’s website explained, demonstrated that “anyone can sit in the director’s chair.” But there was another important goal. Digital cameras are losing ground to hipper, more socially connected gadgets. Last year, shipments of digital cameras tumbled 36 percent, including a 15 percent drop in higher-end equipment. This past summer, Canon dialed back its 2014 forecasts in both categories, acknowledging that consumers who wanted more powerful models had already bought them.
It was that challenging picture that Fernandez sought to brighten. “[It] was really an opportunity for us to show the difference in image quality, not just on the still side but also on the video side,” she explains.
Eliott Peck, vp, sales for the imaging technologies and communications group, says Fernandez’s work “really helps differentiate our brand and our company from competitors, and, at the end of the day, [the campaigns] absolutely do drive more sales.”
The campaign succeeded in generating more than 2.5 billion media impressions, in part because of promotions that targeted the fan bases of each of the celebrity directors involved, including former LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy and Marchesa co-founder Georgina Chapman.
What’s more, a certain splashy awards show—the movie industry’s biggest event of the year—brought added attention. Amy Tunick, president of Canon partner Grey Activation and PR, recalls that when Django Unchained snared the nomination for Best Picture at 2013’s Academy Awards, “Jamie Foxx ended up—unprompted—talking about Project Imaginat10n on the red carpet. You can’t really pay for that kind of thing.”
View the Brand Genius winner class of 2014:
Paul Crandell, GoPro | Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle | Michelle N. Fernandez, Canon USA | Camille M. Gibson, General Mills | Trudy Hardy, BMW of North America | Matt Jauchius, Nationwide | Quinn Kilbury, Newcastle Brown Ale | David Melançon, Benjamin Moore & Co. | Shane Smith, Vice | Dana White, UFC