Case after case AGAINST the use of stock photos can be found on the internet from marketers to photographers; but cliched stock photos continue to make appearances on website after website and ad after ad. Are stock photos really so bad that they could be scaring away your customers?
Why Stock Photos Are Bad
Stock photos can be very cliched. The favorites seemed to be posed, costumed models smiling earnestly (I like to call them shiny happy people). As I said in my post about marketing buzzwords, cliches are bad. Cliches become so overused they lose their original meaning.
According to Beatrice Whelan in regards to stock photos:
…they often fail to make a connection with the target customer of the website. Many stock photos are very obviously that and for this reason the customer finds it hard to identify with them and therefore is less likely to trust the company of the website they are looking at and take that next step to becoming a customer. Someone visits your website wanting to know about you, your company and what you can do for them and instead they see is a lot of bought images of people that obviously don’t work there.
Psychological Impact of Cliches
It is suggested that cliches in stories and movies actually damage the story by causing disengagement and disrupting immersion.
According to Curiouser Institute:
Stories are experiential and to experience a story is to be in the story’s point of view (POV). You might say to experience a story you must be “inside the story”. It’s like the difference between watching a roller coaster from the line and experiencing it from the front seat. Inside the story we experience something very different from an observer or critic. In the story, events appears to be “happening” just like they do in our life. The characters appear to be making decisions based on the fictional world we are in. What happens next is based on their motivations, environments, past actions, etc. Just like us. Narratives and stories move through time. They are in a way one dimensional, moving from beginning to end and just like our own experiences, we can only guess what will happen next.
Cliches must, by their nature, destroy that cause and effect. With a cliche, we see the whole thing at once. Once we see what will happen with inevitability, we begin to realize that what is happening is not happening because of the characters and their choices and the actions of the fiction, but because of the pattern which we can not ignore any more. It doesn’t matter what the characters think or feel or do… X will happen now, then Y, then Z. No matter what. It takes away all cause and effect. Then we are outside of the movie, not experiencing it as we do life, in the now, but seeing it as a whole. We see that the movie is on tracks. And this destroys the magic of fiction. We have lost immersion. We can not be outside the movie and inside it at the same time usually.
Honestly, think back to a movie you’ve seen where you’ve been completely engrossed and then BANG, cliched movie moment. From that point on, you probably began to lose interest and your perception about the movie changed. You were not engrossed, and there wasn’t really anything compelling you to carry on your interest with the movie.
This can be applied to the use of stock photos. People lose interest when they see the cliched stock photos, because they are just that, cliched. If you’ve got the traditional group of diverse people on your about us page, people might just click away instead of reading the copy about what makes your company unique. If your image slider on your homepage includes a myriad of clichéd handshaking or hands holding the world, people might exit away before even getting the chance to know your company, because they’ve heard that “story” before.
Why Use Stock Photos?
Clients ask for it.
When everybody else is using them it makes it easy for other companies to want to use them, too, and even harder to dissuade them from jumping on the bandwagon.
Not all stock photography is bad. Purchasing stock photos can be a great idea when a client is on a budget or strict timeline. One has to remember though that pictures are there to communicate a specific message.
How to Effectively Use Stock Photos
- Carefully choose photos that are NOT cliched – They should look like they COULD have been taken for your specific needs. Inspect backgrounds, clothing, etc. to make sure they go with the country your company is located in.
- Avoid smiley happy people – Choose pictures that convey a message, and convey YOUR brand message. All of your photos should be consistent with your company and website style. Pick pictures from unique perspectives and that really pack a punch
- Photoshop is your friend – Sometimes using Photoshop to apply filters, modify backgrounds, etc. can do wonders in counteracting the stock photo blandness.
Some fantastic sources on the subject:
Ten Cliche Stock Photos That Make Your Company Look Stupid
Stop Using Stock Photography Cliches
Top 7 Most Cliche Stock Images Used in Web Design
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