What has become of advertising?

Posted: October 5, 2014

I could not believe my eyes when I opened my New York Times this morning and saw this:

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It’s an expensive double page ad for Canon.

Now, the fact that Canon thought it was worthwhile buying this space to convey one of the oldest clichés in advertising – they don’t believe in ‘It can’t be done’ without ever saying what “it” is – was not my major complaint.

My complaint is the writing.

To sum up this vacuous notion that Canon is a company that never accepts defeat, it manages, first, to be insulting, telling the reader, “We don’t see what you see.” Yeah, that makes sense – tell your potential customers they are not as smart as you. Nice.

But the major offense is the theme line at the bottom of the ad: AT CANNON, WE SEE IMPOSSIBLE.

Think about that for a moment. Does it even makes sense? Is it even English? Maybe it does and maybe it is but it certainly does not mean what Canon thinks it means.

If you see impossible (shouldn’t it be ‘the’ impossible?) it means you acknowledge the existence of impossible. The very opposite to what Canon thinks it is saying.

They think they are saying that with Canon anything’s possible. They are not. And there have been so many variations on “See what’s possible” in corporate advertising to recycle this cliche but get it wrong is amazing.

This ad was written, I assume, by someone whose job title is writer. It was approved by someone whose job title is Creative Director. It was approved by someone at Canon who felt this message merited two whole pages even though the only visual element is a giant version of the Canon logo.

See impossible? I think I just did.

17 Comments

  1. Rob K

    October 5, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    Having worked with Canon as a client for a short period, I ca assure you this is not unusual and probably the result of a creative team having been beaten down by a client that has little appreciation for advertising.

  2. Dave

    October 5, 2014 at 3:57 pm

    Not an uncommon occurrence as we all know Rob. But for a client with “little appreciation for advertising” they certainly meant to get noticed. But the ad is wasted by total lack of meaningful content.

  3. Rob K

    October 5, 2014 at 4:14 pm

    Agreed.

  4. Dave

    October 5, 2014 at 4:55 pm

    So it seems this is meant to be a “teaser” – there’s a URL that takes you to a countdown, presumably for a new product launch.

    There is a phrase in photography “Impossible Colors” which could relate to a new camera, I suppose.

    But it still sucks!

  5. Tom

    October 6, 2014 at 2:57 am

    I agree to the part about the sentence “We see impossible.”
    However, I do not agree concerning the first complaint. “We don’t see, what you see.” rfers to the parts above this sentence. So it is not directed towards the customers but towards the “peanut gallery, the so-called experts, the good enoughs…” etc.
    So, bad writing is one thing, bad reading another…

  6. Lawrence

    October 6, 2014 at 8:44 am

    Except it doesn’t insult the reader.

    THIS MESSAGE GOES OUT TO FEAR, DOUBT, LOGIC AND REASON.

    i.e. the message does not go out to the reader.

  7. Dave

    October 6, 2014 at 9:07 am

    I take your point guys…but I think I would have said “We don’t see what they see.”

    If I read an ad that says “you” – I naturally think it means me. As do most readers I would think.

    But as I said…my lesser complaint.

    Oh and I have deleted one more comment for simply calling me a moron for writing about advertising at all. Needless the say the writer did not use a real name!

  8. frank

    October 6, 2014 at 2:56 pm

    it works …. envy?

  9. Dave

    October 6, 2014 at 3:01 pm

    Envy?Jesus Christ…you must be kidding. It’s one of the oldest ideas in advertising done badly. What’s to envy? I could write rings around whoever created this piece of crap…and that’s not ego just fact.

  10. Dave

    October 6, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    Good grief…I just read a comment on another site that related this piece of junk to Apple’s Think Different ad. Really? While Apple may have played loose with grammar, I did understand what they were saying. And celebrating the special people who typified Apple’s suggestion was a damn sight more appealing that listing all the negative “peanut-gallery” types – groupings that nobody of course would ever admit to being part of even if they are! Think Different had substance…this is cliched bullshit. No matter what great new product it is meant to precede.

  11. thuper

    October 6, 2014 at 6:52 pm

    You make a good argument here. David Ogilvy would agree with you, and Paul Rand would pan the logo-that-isn’t. But they haven’t been to that super amazing company townhall about getting out of the box with the social prosumer audience, have they? Let me tell you, it was literally, literally, literally inspirational. The mediocrity of the Millennials is just sprouting legs, my friend. Meet me over at the 72dpi JPEG giclées. I’ll bring the matches.

  12. Dave

    October 6, 2014 at 7:38 pm

    It’s true, David Ogilvy would cringe at much of what passes for writing these days. He’d also recognize many of the ideas from the first time they were used!

  13. thuper

    October 7, 2014 at 9:28 am

    And the follow-up from Canon today: “There’s more to the image than anyone thought possible.” This keeps getting worse.

  14. Dave

    October 7, 2014 at 10:11 am

    3D printer seems to be the most common speculation. If the product, whatever it is, is a major development then all the badly crafted ads that led up to it will be forgotten. And the downward spiral of what is considered good keeps on descending.

  15. thuper

    October 7, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    There is no product coming. The great countdown is to the launch of seeimpossible.usa.canon.com. It’s a revolutionary new online interactive social marketing vision initiative. You can rotate a 6-sided cube in three dimensions, and then click on one of the 4 sides that do something. I chose to click on the 2 sides that do nothing. It’s literally amazing.

  16. Dave

    October 7, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    Ha! Nothing impossible to see there. That’s the problem with big build-ups…there’d better be something real at the end of them! Getting to spin a cube left or right does not quite add up to impossible…well, not for me at least.

    Back to the days of slow loading, gimmicky web sites. Just what we need. Specially when the cliched writing continues: “Create Your Vision”? Oh dear, oh dear. If this is not the proverbial long run for a short slide I don’t know what is!

  17. Studio Maven

    October 7, 2014 at 4:56 pm

    My late professor father once took a whole pile of students work, threw it in the garbage in front of everyone and exclaimed they could sue their high schools for malpractice. What passes for writing, coupled with a lack of imagination today is appalling. “Journalism” is but a joke with a few exceptions. Could you imagine going into hock for $100K on your kids’ education and this kind of stuff is the result?

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