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The changing ambassador landscape

Canon Australia has reset its ambassador program with three new photographers, ending the decade-long Canon Masters program.

L-R: New Canon Ambassadors, Jarrad Seng, James Simmons, and Kate Cornish.

The new Canon ambassadors are Perth photographer, Jarrad Seng, who became semi-famous in 2013 for a viral prank impersonating US DJ, Steve Aoki, and appeared in reality TV show, Australian Survivor; freelance cinematographer, Kate Cornish; and award-winning wedding photographer, James Simmons.

There was no official announcement regarding the termination of the Canon Masters program; at some stage the microsite was quietly scrubbed. It possibly ended a year ago during Canon’s scaling down of programs, or even petered out before then. Regardless there is now a fresh, albeit much smaller, ambassador program in its place.

The end of Canon Masters, established in 2010 as the EOS Masters, ties in with a broader industry shift – a changing of the guard from experts to influencers.

Brands are preferring social media-types whose role is to enthuse attractively, with carefully researched hash tags, about the gear they’ve likely been given as payment. While they coexist with ‘traditional’ brand ambassadors, the times are a’changin’.

Yet according to the Photo Review Australia annual reader survey, the paltry influence ambassadors have had on photography enthusiast buying is actually in decline. In 2021, only 10 percent of Photo Review readers – these are mainly keen, gear-buying enthusiasts – found brand ambassadors an important information source for buying advice. This was down from 15 percent in 2017. Likewise, only seven percent trust social media for buying advice. In both surveys, ambassadors were the third least reliable source of information. whereas expert reviews and magazines are most trusted.

While social media influencers are flavour of the month with some camera distributors, they rank miserably with the target market for photo gear – keen enthusiasts. Even brand ambassadors have more credibility! (Source: Photo Review Australia)

The photo companies marketing programs seem fixated on influencers, so much so that some decision-makers are giving them priority over editorial generated by expert reviewers. One senior marketing communications manager Inside Imaging spoke to recently explained that ‘KOLs (‘Key Opinion Leaders’) and influencers’ are provided sample/review products upon request, because this had delivered ‘tremendous traction for us.’ Online and magazine reviews are lower on the order of priority when it comes to getting access to products for review.

While Canon’s new ambassadors are a new take on endorsement, the new program is a far cry from the authority of the Canon Masters, who represented excellence in their craft. The Canon Masters reached a peak of sophistication with the National Geographic TV series, Tales By Light. Season One consisted of six episodes following a different Australian Canon Master as they went to work their craft in the field.

When they weren’t starring in TV programs, the Masters represented Canon at major national events, created branded content, and undertook other promotional initiatives. The Canon Masters was perhaps the gold standard for this kind of endorsement marketing.

By comparison, Sony Australia has had the same four Digital Imaging Ambassadors listed on its website since 2016, and Nikon Australia the same seven photographers over that this period. No recent press releases or announcements about ambassador-related collaborations or projects have landed in the e-mail in-tray for years. These programs are as moribund as Monty Python’s parrot.

The social media influencers, however, have prospered and multiplied.

Sony Australia has nurtured a new community through its 40 ‘Digital Imaging Advocates’, established in 2018. They aren’t quite ambassadors but are, well, folks ‘advocating’ for Sony products and hired as ‘independent contractors’. Sony states some Advocates receive no financial compensation and may be given ‘non-monetary benefits’ like free gear, whereas others may be a paid cash money. The advocates run events via Sony Scene, and plug products through social media posts.

Nikon Australia has 20 ‘Z Creators’ busily posting landscape pictures to Instagram, with captions packed with gear info and hashtags like ‘#NikonAustralia #z6 #ZSeriesAU #MyNikonLife #Zcreators’. Nikon’s Z Creators are also independent contractors, with arrangements most likely similar to the Sony Advocates.

The beauty of this social media advertising is that lines are blurred between an authentic post and an advert. This is amplified thanks to not-for-profit camera fanpersons creating even more (free) noise by publishing similar posts ‘shot with…[Canon camera and lens]’.

But does it really work in selling cameras? There’s a famous saying attributed to the founder of Macy’s department stores: ‘Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.’

When it comes to social media influencers, ‘traction’ might be nice, but how many extra sales are they generating?

One Comment

  1. Robert Robert July 7, 2021

    Hi Will.

    Influencers have absolutely no influence on my purchasing decisions. Working professionals do. The old ambassadors programs have “influenced” me in what brands to invest in for over 30 years. Admittedly I’m not just starting out, more of an old fart. Nevertheless I do regularly update my gear, spending over $20K moving to mirrorless so far this year.

    — Robert.

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