Archive for March, 2011

One stock photo and some bad judgement add up to a PR disaster with this 9/11 ad

Truth be told, he was NOT there.
Truth be told, he was NOT there.

The ad shown here suddenly turned into one huge PR disaster for New York ad agency Barker/DZP and it all could have been avoided had they just ponied up to hire a professional photographer to create an original image for the ad.

Released last week, the ad depicts a New York City Firefighter holding a photo from the 9/11 disaster along with a statement, “I WAS THERE”. Nevermind the fact that the ad itself was in poor taste from the start using 9/11 visuals to promote the commercial interests of a New York City law firm. The ad agency chose to buy stock photography to illustrate the ad and that is where the campaign blew up in their faces.

The model in the stock photo they chose turned out to be an actual New York City Firefighter however, he wasn’t on the force at the time of 9/11 not having joined the FDNY until 2004. Further, in the original photo the model had been holding a Firefighter’s helmet which the ad agency replaced with a photo of the 9/11 tragedy. More poor judgement aimed at tugging the heartstrings and leveraging the 9/11 disaster.

After outrage from many who saw the ad and a threatened lawsuit from the model in the photo Barker/DZP pulled the ad and has voluntarily withdrawn from the assignment. That is one huge price to pay in bad PR, lost future business, damaged reputation and just plain old public embarrassment not only for the ad agency but for the client as well.

The sad thing is that the entire expensive PR bungle could have been avoided if only they had hired a professional photographer to create an original and authentic image for the ad.

If the ad agency had expended a bit more energy and budget on finding an actual 9/11 responder for their model (maybe one of the law firms clients?) then hired a photographer to create the photo the ad might have succeeded for their client. At the very least it would not have created this quagmire of public embarrassment and the damage that will certainly linger as a result.

In the end the little bit of money (and effort) saved by the ad agency through purchasing stock photography instead of creating original art is probably looking mighty expensive to them about now. Sometimes, you get what you pay for…

Why that fabulous $1 microstock photo you just bought isn't such a great deal after all…

Stock image of business peopleSo how easy was that? You found just the right photo to put the finishing touch on your current project, but was it really a wise choice? Who can resist the allure of $1 stock photos you can buy from the comfort of your office? Well maybe you should. Maybe you really, really should because with that pocket change price and royalty free agreement comes some other costs you may not be thinking of.

Here is a list of some things the hired professional photographer brings to the table but you toss out the door when purchasing microstock.

  • Exclusivity
  • Community recognition
  • Photo quality
  • Campaign building
  • Unique style
  • Branding opportunity

Over used photo, example #1Over used photo, example #2Over used photo, example #3Over used photo, example #4Over used photo, example #5Over used photo, example #6Over used photo, example #7Over used photo, example #8Over used photo, example #9Each of these concessions from using stock photography could easily be a discussion on their own but here I want to focus on the most obvious from that list, exclusivity. Say goodbye to your campaign or promotion carrying any feel of exclusivity. Let me give you an example.

The image shown at the top of this post is a microstock photo. Yes, I bought it and have legal right to use it as I see fit. It is a nice image that could have many uses. The subjects are young, warm, friendly, professional, attractive etc. It might be just perfect for the ad or website you are working on and just a buck to boot! However…

Using an online image search tool I was able to find that this exact image is in use on nearly 300 websites right NOW! These aren’t little sidebar thumbnails either but featured visuals. Not so special now is it? All of a sudden your project is headed towards the ordinary, looking like everyone elses.

The screen shots shown running down the right side of this post are all real and currently live websites using this photo. They are not mock-ups or fakes for the sake of this post. They only took a few minutes to find.

Add to this the fact that in large part stock photography is general. By that I mean, the less specific an image is the more potential it has for sales. So, the most successful stock images are frequently those which are most ordinary. The location could be anywhere. The people could be anyone. The industry could be anything. In the end, the image you convey just isn’t all that special. Will that speak to your target audience? Will it instill confidence when they see the same photo in another place for something completely different? Maybe even something you would NOT want to be associated with even by accident?

All too often I feel as though the viewing (buying) public is not given the credit they are due. I believe that most people have a innate sense of when something is genuine or not. It doesn’t matter if they’ve seen the stock image repeated in other places or not they simply know it isn’t original or organic if you will. Beyond the question of exclusivity, it sends a message that just might not be the message you really want them to get.

As a commercial photographer you might assume it is natural for me to condemn microstock (unless I am participating, which is another discussion all together). But you might be surprised to hear that I actually have purchased microstock photography. It is a valuable and strong industry that can not be ignored. The product it offers does have a place.

What I hope to help you see here is that there is more to consider than simply the fact that you saved a few bucks on the photo. With that savings come a variety of things you are giving up and maybe, just maybe, that is NOT the best choice for your business or that of your clients.