Get the skinny on stock photography

Anything is possible
Anything is possible

Whether you're getting ready to launch your first product or refresh your existing campaign, knowing a few things about purchasing creative imagery will go far in protecting the identity of your brand.

Advancements over the past decade in original photography, set design, after-effects and computer-generated imagery (CGI) have made it possible to realize much bigger ideas conceptually and to capture and communicate, in life-like detail, the true essence of a brand's promise.

Why is this important to you?

Because if you continue to accept the old habit of utilizing stock photography as your lead brand visual, you're doomed from the start.

Now that stock houses are online—, and, to name the biggest—millions of images are floating around out there, tempting you with their relative affordability and availability.

With a click of a button, you can “own” these images in any one of three ways, but there are pitfalls associated with each. Here's what you need to know:

1.   “Royalty free”

The cheapest and often the most attractive way for marketers to obtain stock photos. The photos may be high quality but remember, “royalty free” means anyone can use these images for anything—from antihistamine to antifreeze—so beware.

2.   “Rights managed”

Costs are still reasonable with this option, but at least you can limit the exposure of the images you buy. However, similar images from the same photographer, and sometimes from the same photo shoot, can be sold to anyone—even a competitor.

3.  “Rights managed with exclusive rights”

This will cost you (often more than when conducting an actual photo shoot) but it gets you exclusivity to the image for as long as you are willing to pay. The catch is that the exclusivity is usually limited to the pharmaceutical industry. Meaning, you could very well still see your lead brand visual on a billboard for an insurance company or a state university. And you'd be surprised how often that happens.

A widespread notion in our industry is that there's “no such thing as an original idea.” Not true. Here are some tips to consider:

  • Do a thorough brand audit (and not just in your category).
  • Insist on background checks for the art you purchase.
  • Choose a photo shoot over stock photography.
  • Alter the image in some way to make it unique.
  • Consider combining photography with CGI.

It's amazing how technology has transformed our industry and continues to shape and improve creative solutions. Together with your agency partner, you can ensure your brand imagery is not only high quality, but original and ownable.

When looking to launch with a truly unique and powerful brand image, regardless of the size of your budget, with the tools available today, just about anything is possible.

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