Building experiences, not buying ads

Behind Canon’s decision to move media to Leos: We want to build experiences, not buy ads

By Rosie Baker | 2 October 2015

As of last week, Leo Burnett Sydney took over Canon’s $11 million media account. The agency has been Canon’s creative partner for 15 years, but will now work on both sides of the business.

Canon moved the account out of MediaCom Sydney without a pitch. It’s the second major client to do so, following Diageo which consolidated its creative, digital, PR and media with Leo Burnett just over a year ago.

For MediaCom, Canon is the latest in a handful of accounts the agency has lost this year following the reporting issues that emerged at the end of last year. But this, Canon marketing director Jason McLean claims, is not the reason Canon moved its business.

Leo’s previous shift to take on Diageo’s entire roster, including media, was the catalyst, he says.

“Irrespective of what was going on at MediaCom, there was never any dramas, no issues with us. The reality was there was a big disconnect between the creative [and media],” he said.

What it springs from is the need for Canon to change their business and the way it connects with people, beyond the path to purchase. It wants to focus its communications and marketing effort on creating experiences for people – not just buying media to run ads.

“I think the reason we changed the way we do business is because consumers have changed. I don’t know if that sounds really simplistic but it’s the truth of it,” he said.

“So for us to stay relevant, we had to do things differently and one of those things we had to do differently was understand how to connect with consumers. With traditional media models, there’s nothing wrong with the mass approach but most people use our products for a passion.”

Leos has been Canon’s creative agency for 15 years, so understands the brand’s approach and over that time has been evolving the brand’s communications to a more experiential point. It wants to move away from advertising its cameras as piece of machinery like other consumer technology products do, and do “things that no one expects”.

Activities such as Canon’s multimillion-dollar sponsorship of Sydney’s Vivid festival are a case in point, says McLean. The brand hosted walking tours, and had a team of Canon advisors helping people to take better photos – whether they were using Canon equipment or not.

“It’s not a heavy branded exercise; we weren’t trying to sell anything. I didn’t push anything on them. It’s purely the experience of the Canon brand. The level of investment is huge,” he said.

“If you think about the old style of brand love, it could be really nice advertising or doing something for charity, but for me, [with an experience] every single person we interacted with at some point if they go to buy a camera Canon is going to be closer to mind.”

The brand also has a team called Canon Collective whose role is to create small scale events for up to 20 people, designed to do the same thing but on a smaller scale throughout the year. McLean is very laissez-faire when it comes to measuring the KPIs of that kind of activity, and about overtly branding the activity Canon does roll out.

The brand partnered with National Geographic for a content series called Tales by Light, and McLean was reticent to have the brand anywhere overt.


“The National Geographic GM was forcing him to put the brand in there. [Jason] didn’t want it because he was trying to deliver this authentic experience, and brands that are doing that are standing out,” adds Pete Bosilkovski, CEO of Leo Burnett.

In a similar vein, it bought photography studio Sun Studios in Sydney’s Alexandria which it makes available to professional photographers. That space is also not overtly Canon branded.

The decision to roll creative and media into one will be seen by many as a cost efficiency measure, but that, says McLean, is not the case either. The efficiency comes in having one team working across media and creative to drive a more holistic strategy, but he believes that the brand’s marketing and media spend is increasing if anything. What’s changing is the allocation of where it’s going is moving more from bought media to experiences. It’s not split by channel but by what objective Canon wants to achieve.

At Leos, Canon now has a dedicated team that spans creative, digital and media, and part of the appeal is that it can have the conversation around all aspects of its brand and messaging with one team rather than across a creative agency, and then separately with a media agency.

Leos is pushing the full-service relationship because clients, according to Bosilkovski, are frustrated with the herd mentality and group deals that that they’re exposed to at traditional media agencies, which means a brand’s strategy is dictated by the agency’s strategy – not what’s best for the brand.

“The consumer has changed but so has the role of the client and the traditional relationship with media agencies [has changed]. The reason Leos will keep doing [media for clients] is because we don’t earn commission, so all e care about is getting the best product. I don’t have a revenue agenda,” says Bosilkovski.

“I’m hearing a lot from senior marketers is that there’s this wall, and they can’t get [something] because of these group deals that happen, but they want the focus on their business [not group negotiations].”

Leos is not the only creative agency pushing into media. McCann has also done similar and M&C Saatchi is making media plays too. Likewise, media agencies are moving into traditional creative territory. UM calls itself a creative connections agency, and Ikon merged with Moon earlier this year to become a full-service shop.