Six Tips for Stock Image Success

Originally Published in Target Marketing’s Tipline E-Newsletter
by Britt Brouse
Jan 9, 2008

After decades of use, the 1970s inspirational office poster that says, “Hang in There, Baby!” and shows a very serious little kitty hanging by its paws is a completely exhausted image. We’ve seen the poster re-imagined with different cats on tree branches, jungle gyms, building ledges—you name it.

With the advent of stock photography and illustration Web sites, marketers need to keep the above example in mind and be wary of making trite or obvious choices in their campaigns. Steve Penn, CEO and executive creative director of Minneapolis-based direct response firm Penn Garritano, also recommends the following best practices for marketers to successfully incorporate stock images in their direct response campaigns.

1. Search smart.

When searching for images on stock sites, “You have to resist your temptation to do the thing that sounds most intuitive. There’s a story or concept that’s at play, and I want to tap into the emotion rather than the labels.” For example, if you are creating a campaign for brake lights, Penn recommends searching for the word “safety.” He reasons, “We don’t sell toothpaste in this business, we sell nice smiles.” It also helps to further narrow your search with the filters, menus and dialog boxes available on each site.

2. Take the image one step further.

“Stock photography is stock for a reason—it’s because everybody is looking for that same kind of image. The question is what are you doing with that image?” Penn says. He encourages his art directors to use Adobe Photoshop, Lightbox and all the tools available to them to manipulate the image—make it sepia or black and white, or crop it—so that it doesn’t look like the same stock image everyone else used.

3. Don’t be banal.

Penn says he sees the most clichéd imagery in the B-to-B and technology sectors. “I want to talk about partnership and what’s the first thing I see? A couple of guys shaking hands,” he laughs. Even if the idea or product is complex, dig deeper than mindless images such as futuristic-looking pieces of computer equipment or smiling customer service representatives in headsets.

4. Avoid overdone political correctness.

When clients want to show a diverse group of people, sometimes meeting this requirement can make an image look stiff. In the case of showing diversity, try to compromise with your client. “You can be representative without having to be too politically correct,” Penn says. Try to find a happy medium where if one particular race is not represented the idea of diversity is still apparent.

5. Subscribe or sign up for package deals.

If you are going to purchase a lot of images, it is more cost-effective to subscribe to or cut a deal with stock houses. “You can sign up for a service where you get access to a thousand images for a set price for a year and they’re yours to use however you want. We just did that for a major financial client,” Penn says.

6. If stock doesn’t fit, do a shoot.

“We rarely do photo shoots anymore,” Penn says. “We did one recently where we were working with a health club and needed to find a representative of the demographic that we couldn’t find in stock.” He explains that the models on the stock sites were not believable as members of the local fitness club. He wanted to show real people, not beautiful people, and says that shooting actual members on location was the right way to go.

The next time you visit a stock Web site, remember to think conceptually and take the image beyond its original format to get the most out of your purchases. “If you’re going to take the time, energy and money to get a stock image, use it smartly. It’s just another one of the tools; it’s not something to slap in the space that’s being held ‘For Placement Only’ by an art director,” Penn concludes.

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