Stock photo usage is okay during months that don’t have Tuesdays in them

I’m so glad someone else noticed:



Who are these young, happy, pretty, multi-cultural people with great teeth and even better hair who hang out with notebook computers in sleek and modern conference rooms on B2B company Web sites all over the world?


Why not just use real people on your site? How innovative! Use real employees in a real conference room to represent your employees in a conference room! Damn. Why didn’t we think of that? And use your real customers too.

(From Web Ink Now, Who the hell ARE these people?)


Stock photography has its purposes. But among those purposes is not “show something real.”


Stock photos are inherently and obviously fake. Nobody is fooled by them. They only work in situations where fake is expected, where it’s better for images to be beautiful than realistic.


I can’t dream up a type of fundraising or nonprofit marketing where that would be the case.


(In fact, I have a hunch that there are precious few situations like that in any field any more.)


A not-so-technically-great real photo is better than a superb, but fake, stock photo. Every time.


Comments

8 responses to “Stock photo usage is okay during months that don’t have Tuesdays in them”

  1. Actually, it’s not as simple as this. Reactions to photos depend on the audience you are targeting.
    Take Generation Y (or Generation G or millennials depending on which definition you prefer) as an example. It’s well researched that this group of younger adults prefers reality as they are more socially aware than any generation which has come before them.
    However, they are also more obsessed by celebrity than any other generation which has come before. Do we think a candid, ‘real’ shot of a charity’s celebrity patron is going to be better than a more formal one? (if you could get the celebrity to agree to the former in the first place)
    If we are targeting baby-boomers, we need to appreciate their needs (generally) for a professional approach in our communications. Again, research has shown that they won’t respond as well to less formal materials or those which look ‘rough’ or ‘raw’. This will inevitably include the images.
    Secondly, and this might sound terminally dull, but employees have rights (at least in the EU, sorry, I’m not familiar with rules elsewhere) regarding the use of their images. Sometimes this can make using ‘real’ people a little tougher.
    I have a true story to illustrate.
    As a younger marketer I wanted to create a campaign which used images of real people doing real things so I shot my team and others in our conference rooms, on the phones etc. I thought this would be great for the recipients as they would see ‘us’ – the people they dealt with day to day.
    Upsides:
    1) we all had fun and it was a good team bonding thing to do.
    2) we didn’t pay any model fees, usage fees or royalties and could use the images across a range of media
    3) we did get some positive feedback on the campaign imagery
    Downsides:
    1) it’s VERY difficult to tell ugly Steve from the helpline that we won’t be needing him in shot. Sorry if this upsets anyone but humans are shallower than we would like to think when it comes to what we find appealing (or at least not disturbing) to look at. And each generation of people have yet another different view from other generations.
    2) one of the ‘stars’ left the company under less than positive circumstances and demanded under law to have their images removed from the materials. We had not jumped through all the ‘waiver of rights’ loopholes at the time and so had to meet the request. This cost us time and money.
    Shoot real images by all means but remember that, just is in every other aspect of effective communications, your target audience’s hooks and triggers should drive the approach, not us.
    It’s therefore more accurate to say that not-so-technically great real photos are better than a superb, but fake, stock photo SOME of the time.

  2. Actually, it’s not as simple as this. Reactions to photos depend on the audience you are targeting.
    Take Generation Y (or Generation G or millennials depending on which definition you prefer) as an example. It’s well researched that this group of younger adults prefers reality as they are more socially aware than any generation which has come before them.
    However, they are also more obsessed by celebrity than any other generation which has come before. Do we think a candid, ‘real’ shot of a charity’s celebrity patron is going to be better than a more formal one? (if you could get the celebrity to agree to the former in the first place)
    If we are targeting baby-boomers, we need to appreciate their needs (generally) for a professional approach in our communications. Again, research has shown that they won’t respond as well to less formal materials or those which look ‘rough’ or ‘raw’. This will inevitably include the images.
    Secondly, and this might sound terminally dull, but employees have rights (at least in the EU, sorry, I’m not familiar with rules elsewhere) regarding the use of their images. Sometimes this can make using ‘real’ people a little tougher.
    I have a true story to illustrate.
    As a younger marketer I wanted to create a campaign which used images of real people doing real things so I shot my team and others in our conference rooms, on the phones etc. I thought this would be great for the recipients as they would see ‘us’ – the people they dealt with day to day.
    Upsides:
    1) we all had fun and it was a good team bonding thing to do.
    2) we didn’t pay any model fees, usage fees or royalties and could use the images across a range of media
    3) we did get some positive feedback on the campaign imagery
    Downsides:
    1) it’s VERY difficult to tell ugly Steve from the helpline that we won’t be needing him in shot. Sorry if this upsets anyone but humans are shallower than we would like to think when it comes to what we find appealing (or at least not disturbing) to look at. And each generation of people have yet another different view from other generations.
    2) one of the ‘stars’ left the company under less than positive circumstances and demanded under law to have their images removed from the materials. We had not jumped through all the ‘waiver of rights’ loopholes at the time and so had to meet the request. This cost us time and money.
    Shoot real images by all means but remember that, just is in every other aspect of effective communications, your target audience’s hooks and triggers should drive the approach, not us.
    It’s therefore more accurate to say that not-so-technically great real photos are better than a superb, but fake, stock photo SOME of the time.

  3. There’s even less of a reason to use stock photos that don’t support your message effectively given the widespread use of digital cameras (with which to take your own reasonably good photos) and photo sharing sites like Flickr.com.
    With over 3 billion photos on that site alone, surely most nonprofits can find one or two that work well.
    Of course, you need to adhere to the copyright/creative commons usage requirements of the photos. But even if you come across an ‘all rights reserved’ image, I’ve found that nonprofits are seldom turned down if they ask for permission to use the photo.

  4. There’s even less of a reason to use stock photos that don’t support your message effectively given the widespread use of digital cameras (with which to take your own reasonably good photos) and photo sharing sites like Flickr.com.
    With over 3 billion photos on that site alone, surely most nonprofits can find one or two that work well.
    Of course, you need to adhere to the copyright/creative commons usage requirements of the photos. But even if you come across an ‘all rights reserved’ image, I’ve found that nonprofits are seldom turned down if they ask for permission to use the photo.

  5. Stock photography is one of my biggest pet peeves. There’s a billboard advertising a church that I pass regularly on the highway that irks me every time. There are several separate photos: the pastor is the real guy but the rest are stock pictures. You’re right on, I’m not fooled by it and I doubt anyone else is. (Even if I hadn’t seen one of them on istockphoto, it’s pretty obvious.)
    Kevin makes some good points about waivers and privacy issues. However to one of his other comments, stock photography is not the same thing as professional quality photography. Images of the real deal don’t have to look raw or rough.

  6. Stock photography is one of my biggest pet peeves. There’s a billboard advertising a church that I pass regularly on the highway that irks me every time. There are several separate photos: the pastor is the real guy but the rest are stock pictures. You’re right on, I’m not fooled by it and I doubt anyone else is. (Even if I hadn’t seen one of them on istockphoto, it’s pretty obvious.)
    Kevin makes some good points about waivers and privacy issues. However to one of his other comments, stock photography is not the same thing as professional quality photography. Images of the real deal don’t have to look raw or rough.

  7. While I generally agree with your views on stock photos, I can say that there are situations in the non-profit sector where using them is very much necessary. Working in fundraising for a large domestic violence organization, the saftey and confidentiality of clients is our first priority. We are legally obliagted to protect them and their identity. No photo for a brochure or website is worth putting the lives of mothers, children, and even the eldery whom we serve at risk. So while I do think real is better most of the time, the use of stock photos for some organizations allows us to actually save lives.

  8. While I generally agree with your views on stock photos, I can say that there are situations in the non-profit sector where using them is very much necessary. Working in fundraising for a large domestic violence organization, the saftey and confidentiality of clients is our first priority. We are legally obliagted to protect them and their identity. No photo for a brochure or website is worth putting the lives of mothers, children, and even the eldery whom we serve at risk. So while I do think real is better most of the time, the use of stock photos for some organizations allows us to actually save lives.

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Jeff BrooksJeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 35 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com. More.


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The future of fundraising is not about social media, online video, or SEM. It’s not about any technology, medium, or technique. It’s about donors. If you need to raise funds from donors, you need to study them, respect them, and build everything you do around them. And the future? It’s already here. More.

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Jeff Brooks has been serving the nonprofit community for more than 30 years and blogging about it since 2005. He considers fundraising the most noble of pursuits and hopes you’ll join him in that opinion. You can reach him at jeff [at] jeff-brooks [dot] com.

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