How to select the PERFECT IMAGE to degrade your brand: aka Knucklehead Syndrome

by | Sep 21, 2015

Today, I received yet another e-blast from a company using this image:
This time, it was used by a business consulting company. Ironically, just last week I noticed this same image on a South African Pharmaceutical company’s website:

OK, I have to ask: What do you (those of you who would willy-nilly use this stock photo) think are the messages your audiences are getting from this photo?

A: Our diverse staff work in a modern, spotless office with a very shiny conference table, enjoying a million dollar view of this (conveniently nondescript) city. We all drink coffee and wear either white or powder blue shirts, and enjoy snuggling up to share a laptop while our middle-aged white man (who is clean cut and well-groomed in spite of his neatly trimmed 5 o’clock shadow which he has because he works long hours out of unwavering commitment to clients) explains why he has a pile of papers in front of him. Our could-possibly-be-ethnic woman often uses her pen to point to a spot on the screen because she is very engaged and wants to be sure we are all looking at the right place. That’s how committed she is.
B. We are too lazy or cheap to use a better, more appropriate photo.
C. We are so unprofessional that we actually don’t realize this photo is making people role their eyes.

D. We are a bunch of knuckleheads.
You decide.

We call it “attack of the generic,” the professional, politically correct, work-together image. It’s so generic that if you do a Google Search of “Generic business people stock photo,” it’s on the first page – along with this one:

Even worse – the generic “professional staff that includes a woman” photo:

(The image is appropriately named: stock-photo-portrait-of-smiling-multiracial-business-team-in-office)

So if I were to send you an email with that photo, would you think, wow, they are so totally diverse and cool!? Of course not. You’d get a good laugh out of it, roll your eyes and call us a bunch of knuckleheads!
Why even use a photo?
There are lots of reasons.
Most rarely, photos are used to illustrate. That’s primarily for text books.

Often photos are used to sell a product. Take a shot for a restaurant to use in its social media and marketing for example: a simple photo of an extraordinary dish isn’t enough. In fact people respond with unconscious sensory reactions to food photography. They don’t look at the photo and think, wow, that dish has lots of great ingredients. They respond with a strong desire based on aesthetics – lighting, colors, composition. A colorful stack of vegetables drizzled with creamy sauce, glistening from golden olive oil, accompanying a creatively stacked threesome of juicy lamb chops and a half glass glass of white whine evokes an emotional and physical reaction – and that is what sells. Some of the most famous chefs in the world do not allow photography of their food for this reason. They don’t want people posting an awful cell photo of their extraordinary dishes.

Martha Stewart provides us with the absolute best example. She was heavily bashed through social media – which lead to traditional media – for posting pictures of her food that basically made people want to puke. Unfortunately she has since taken down the lovely photos and the nasty- and often, funny- responses.

The absolute best was her “Iceberg wedge with homemade Russian dressing. Perfect salad for the onion soup lunch.” I’m gonna look for a source for this so stay tuned.

The same goes for any product or company. You are trying to MARKET YOUR BRAND. Photos are a critical part of that. Just using a photo because you need one in the space is never good enough. It can hurt more than help and there are many other design alternatives.
Before you use a photo, ask yourself:

  • What am I trying to accomplish with this photo?
  • Is a photo the best way to accomplish that?
  • How will this photo make (each of) my demographics feel?
  • Is this photo overused?
  • Will it call to mind another brand?
  • What does the image, on its own, say and is that consistent with my brand?
    …and lastly (and most importantly),
  • Can I hear Jami’s voice in my head saying: Don’t do it, knucklehead!

If part of your brand is diversity and you’d like to show that, then perhaps hire a professional to come in and do a photoshoot expressing that in a less obvious way, and then smartly incorporate into an overall concept. Or, show that diversity in other ways – there are endless options.

Legitimacy and relevance are two strong influencers, especially in the millennial world, where someone can put up a post (like this) and use you as an example (note, I didn’t use your names but you know who you are!). The spread and reach of a social media post can be your best friend or worst enemy. Unfortunately you just can’t “take back” a bad post, as hard as you may try. And a few “Likes” from your most dedicated followers isn’t the ruler by which to measure success. Select marketing strategies and words and images with all this in mind at all times.

Impressions matter. If your company is accepting mediocre marketing for itself then it is mediocre. So, if the response you are looking for is an eye-roll, then you’re dead-on using pitifully generic stock photos or unprofessional product photos. If not, bring in professionals. We know how to accomplish the marketing goal, get results and build brand equity ‘cuz, well, that’s what we do – all day, every day.

YES, I am back on my soapbox… I can’t help it. I’m part Italian.
You check out some of our photography in our portfolio.
More on branding here.