Picture the scene; a big billboard, a catchy slogan, a product which -given the right circumstances the next time you’re shopping- you might actually consider buying. If only you hadn’t clocked the large picture alongside of an unusually photographic woman, probably Caucasian, flawless skin, with a set of pearly Hollywood whites to rival Julia Roberts, only nowhere near as engaging.

Yes ladies and gentleman. The plague of the generic stock photo strikes again.

Whether it’s a size 8 woman grinning obscenely over a plate of salad, spoon halfway to her lips (let’s hope she closes her mouth when she starts eating, that’s just bad manners), a cuddly family of 4 without a care in the world. Or the ‘professional’ clad in a high street suit, shot head on, adjusting his tie perhaps, with a knowing, confident smile. The result is the same.

We hasten to add that no real data was collected for this diagram, but we read somewhere that more people believe what you say when you use a Venn diagram...

We hasten to add that no real data was collected for this diagram, but we read somewhere that more people believe what you say when you use a Venn diagram…

Faceless.

Istock, Shutterstock, Dreamstime, all stepped in to fill a need. What was once a great idea that made image sourcing accessible, convenient and fast, has become a barrier between many brands and their customers.

While stock photos can be a godsend and provide photos for situations you simply couldn’t source yourself, there is a particular kind of image that is sorely overused. These images are boring, predictable and completely lack personality; as a result modern consumers have got so used to the tell-tale signs they can spot this stock imagery from a mile off. When they do, more often than not, they stop engaging. Move along now, no people here, no connection, just another (effectively) faceless company that wants your money.

For as long as marketing has existed, companies have added portrayals of what they consider to be the ‘ideal customer’ alongside their product. While that isn’t going to stop any time soon, the images must work harder. They are facing a set of consumers more cynical and more immune to their marketing messages than ever before.

When more brands than ever are trying to convince their customers of how very ‘real’ they are, that’s a problem. In order to have a relationship with a customer, a brand has to create a human connection. Putting a person next to your product seems like a good place to start and indeed it can be. But there is a huge disconnect between the growing wave of consumer sentiment for pictures of people who look like them and the reality of advertising, that is too often transfixed with the idea of perfection.

Perfect is boring.

People don’t relate to perfect, they relate to flaws. Think Georgia May Jagger and the famous gap and the wildly successful Dove ‘Real Beauty’ campaign. This goes far beyond the beauty and fashion industries.  It’s part of something much bigger; the much-discussed move towards the ‘human’ brand.

Company updates and articles from individuals, not the corporate they represent. Real conversation between company employees and customers on social channels, and real information about the people behind the brand.

It’s seems a shame then, that a lot of marketing still relies on the same dull, character tropes rolled out time and time again in stock imagery. Sure stock imagery can be creative, but by default it cant be unique.  Many companies fall into the trap of using generic images as a first thought, instead of a last resort. It’s an easy habit to fall into but does it benefit the work or undermine it?

Brands behaving more like real people should be a good thing. It’s hard enough to establish a connection or start a dialogue with customers, without adding a further degree of separation.

If the ultimate goal of a brand is to differentiate or be unique, it’s important to remember that your customers are too; we’re not all from the same stock.