Entering the world of photography, I decided I was not willing to shoot the same look over and over – such as chain portrait studios tend to do. I believed each subject and client was unique and deserved “special treatment.” This thinking seems to go against the grain. Schools and lighting books teach students to photograph their successful lighting set up and then use that exact same set up over and over. I’ve even had photographer’s consultants tell me I need to focus on ONLY ONE style, that people will come to me because they want that look and lack the creativity to conceive something completely original. Nonsense! Creative people create original work.
Today creativity is taking a backseat to economics, yet at no time has it been more important. In 1998, Jay Conrad Levinson wrote some intensely prophetic words in “Guerrilla Marketing.” He predicted that in the future “Your product or service will often be considered exactly the same as that of your competitors. This is because an enormous influx of marketing will create mass confusion and the perception that all offerings are created equal.”
Today’s marketing noise has reached levels I doubt even Levinson could foresee when he authored those words. Blogs, YouTube, MySpace and other social media have created an environment where anyone can shout their marketing message. I also doubt Levinson could have foreseen just how homogenized and “average” the overall marketing images would become. Crowdsourcing is the new buzz and stock photo websites known as microstock have thrown the door open wide to anyone with a camera and the ability to copy the images of others. Even the most professional of these images suffer from a major drawback. Just as anyone can contribute to microstock, anyone with a dollar or two in their pocket can also license the images.
Levinson also estimated that the individual is subjected to 2,700 marketing messages each day. That number is far greater today. Obviously marketing that doesn’t distinguish you from the crowd is wasted! Many of the more popular microstock images have been licensed 100,000 times or more! This is compounded by the fact the successful images are copied by many of the other microstock photographers. Add an infinite number of nearly identical variations to the image and those who use it blend right into the faceless crowd.
In 2009 many of the magazines vanished from the racks and a number of businesses folded. While the economy made a convenient scapegoat, there was another factor. Many cut back significantly on their marketing and image quality. Before the news magazines started to vanish from the shelves, I notice how the covers were all starting to look the same. One week each of the major news magazines had remarkably similar pictures of money on white backgrounds for their covers. Despite the message the cover intended to portray, there was another message that was louder. They were the same as their competitors… and now many of them are gone.
Walking through the malls I am seeing a remarkable sameness and lack of quality creeping into the product images. I cringed at the boxes of some rather expensive exercise equipment. The models were anything but attractive, the lighting was bad and the color was as far off as it could get and still appear to be a skin tone. A sameness appeared on the packaging of many types of goods, and some even used stock photos I recognized from other uses. Even Walmart used a microstock photo to advertise their own portrait studio!
Stock photography can be good and it does have a place. But it shouldn’t ever be used as a part of your corporate image and branding, or when you need to be distinctive. Any form of marketing costs money. In a difficult economy with marketing noise at unimagined levels, you can’t afford to spend money to become a part of the faceless crowd.
Trends should be created, not followed. Escape the crowd. Demand images that are as unique as you are. Dare to be different and the world will beat down your door!
Note: company names have been removed from the example image below. This is not an attack on the images themselves, or any company. It is to illustrate the need to be unique.