Trash your stock photo books: real is better than fake
In his excellent Freaking Marketing blog, Robert Rosenthal fires a great salvo: Fight the Real Enemy: Stock Photography. "Stock photography," he says, "is one of the biggest contributors to mediocrity in our industry."
The industry he's talking about is marketing, not specifically fundraising, but the truth applies to us too:
People who pull together concepts by rifling through stock photo books take an ass-backwards approach to creative development. We're supposed to start with an idea -- then figure out how to properly pull it off. We shouldn't begin with an image that needs an excuse to be used.
It's even more important in fundraising to stay away from stock photos. Because for fundraising to work, it has to be perceived as "real." And stock photography is inherently fake. It's set up, lighted, framed, and shot in ways that never happen in real life. The people are unusually photogenic and dressed in clothes that perfectly accent their features and look just right in their surroundings. These shots are so fundamentally different from real photos of real people, anyone can spot them as fakes.
You might as well put a big red label on your material that says NOT REAL.
And if seeming fake is bad, being fake is worse. If there's a stock house out there that sells real or real-looking photos, they're still not the real people and situations your organization is involved with. Unless you're okay with lying to your donors, you can't say, "This is a hungry child in the area where we're at work," or "Here's the family your generosity helped last Christmas."
Finally, there's the embarrassing situation that sometimes happens with stock: certain images get used again and again, with the same models showing up in print and on the web in unrelated -- even competing -- messages. Read about the "Everywhere Girl," who appeared in marketing for both Dell and Gateway, as well as a boatload of other ads and websites. Funny, but embarrassing.
So please: splurge on real photography. It's worth it.