The client wants to use stock photography.

20 Apr

Danish Model, Jesper Bruun, is the Damon Albarn of stock photography. Reportedly he features in more ads than anyone on the planet. This photographer sets out to meet Bruun and find out how one man’s face can represent so many brands.


I’ve always felt pretty miserable for the models of stock photography. One minute you’re posing for the camera, huddled up to your fictional partner in a romantic sunset scene involving a merino blanket and a white sand beach. The next minute you’re a Viagra ad.

Stock photography is perhaps a necessary evil given the oft-rumoured ‘state of the economy’. But is it good for your brand?

I’ve noticed something inexperienced clients will drive for in the production process is to look and sound ‘more like an ad’. It’s why they’ll insist on wrapping up a perfectly interesting piece of writing with an overused call to action, or why they prefer a voiceover artist that can provide ‘unnaturally enthused’.

Truth is, it’s not hard to make an ad that looks and sounds like an ad. The secret recipe has been leaked. The blueprint is on the wall in the foyer. But the resulting work tends to be less a piece of communication than it is a piece of wallpaper.

Sometimes even harder than finding an original insight is bringing it to life in a way that looks and sounds engaging, original and not at all like the competitor’s brand. Conventional and original are, most of the time, polar forces.

I worry that stock photography appeals to inexperienced clients for a very specific reason, and it’s not cost. It’s because a piece of work will inevitably wind up looking exactly like everyone else’s ads. Once this ad seems suitably generic, they feel as if they have succeeded at the process of advertising.

I’ve heard clients refer to this kind of work as ‘safe’.

But I can’t think of anything more reckless for a brand than to be unremarkable.

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One Response to “The client wants to use stock photography.”

  1. Oliver April 23, 2012 at 11:13 am #

    I agree, stock photography is a symptom of professionalitis, a debilitating disease that gives clients the desire to create something that conforms precisely to their idea of advertising. The problem as Seth Godin so eloquently put it, is that in a sea of black and white cows, a purple one would get all the attention. I’ve created plenty of good work only to have the client say it’s too risky, naturally I disagree, it’s not a risk if the alternative is certain to be ignored, and that’s the fate of almost all professional marketing I see these days.

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