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The impact of real photography versus stock when communicating to clients

Steve Bamburak, Associate Creative Director

Something strange happened in 1999 and it certainly wasn’t the fall of civilization due to Y2K. While Bill Clinton faced and defeated impeachment charges, Jesse Ventura was sworn in as Governor of Minnesota, and the earth’s population crested 6 billion, something quietly and thoroughly changed the face of advertising forever.

With the rise of internet usage, the need for great photography exploded. Companies were scrambling to create professional looking websites that would position themselves as cutting edge in the marketplace and stock photography companies moved their CD libraries online to cash in on the opportunity (meet the demand). The proliferation of stock photography on the internet exploded. Why bother scheduling, setting up and paying for a traditional photo-shoot when you can just go online, find a bunch of well composed stock shots and rent them for a while. Options are available.

Why indeed. In business, time and money are everything, and opportunities exist for those who can make your process better, faster or cheaper. You need a photo of a call centre representative? Got it. Trucker smiling as he pulls onto the highway? Yup. Two business people closing the deal in Toyko? Bingo. The same stock photography which had previously been used as a support element in marketing tactics had now become the key visual, and when you consider the size of some of the websites in the 2000s, you could understand why a photo-shoot for a hundred plus pages was cost and time prohibitive.

The world turned.

Somewhere along the line we all got a little more educated and lot more wary. We began to notice the same smiling brown-haired girl in advertisements for the local car dealerships, online universities, dating websites and music festivals. Spam websites legitimized their false claims with the same carefully chosen images that you picked to speak directly to your clients. Nearly 2 million Americans fall victim to online scams every year, so it’s not surprising that we’ve all started to be a little less trusting of photography that appears inauthentic. The psychological association with stock photography in the last decade has moved from “they look professional” to “they look phony,” and you don’t want to be caught on the wrong side of that line.

Real, authentic photography can go a long way in capturing your brand’s unique personality and promise. In the last year, 6P Marketing has shot more new photography for our clients than in the last five years combined, and the need is always born of a desire for authenticity. By creating accurate representation of our clients’ brands, we can create a better alignment between the online “story” and the offline “reality”.

Only your factory looks like your factory.

Only your office looks like your office.

Your product is unique.

And so is your team.

Even on a limited budget these photos can be captured at a relatively low cost. Digital photography is virtually instantaneous, and when taken by a professional, (or an experienced amateur) can be incredibly effective in representing the best of your company. Further, a professional marketing team can find the correct balance between authentic photography and supporting stock photography in your communications, and then unite all brand elements (copy, tone, manner and structure) to tell a consistent and cohesive story.

In a world where speed is everything, and first impressions are made in 15 seconds or less, take a few moments to consider whether your brand is better supported by stock photos, or by photography that is authentic and accurate.

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