The world is a different place as compared to the 1920s when stock photography was born. In an age of heightened social awareness, consumer points have evolved affecting both the touch points to be more fragmented as well as ad spaces to be increasingly saturated. Consequently, brands nowadays are finding it more difficult to target and connect the right audience with correct, relevant content.
While competition for consumer attention increases, a picture is worth a thousand words, nonetheless. With the access of the Internet made easy, stock photo agencies can step in and relieve the creative burden for brands.
On March 27th, stock photography agency 123RF.com and Campaign Asia co-hosted a networking evening and panel discussion around the power of images. The discussion delved into the creative issues affecting brands and agencies in today's dynamic landscape.
Authenticity and social media
Social media is the great disruptor.
It hasn't only changed the means of communication but has also changed the way brands position themselves to reach consumers.
"Across the board, it doesn't matter what the organization does because they would desire to appear as a consumer-lifestyle brand. Even on online stores, brands are selling pictures of people using or enjoying their products," said James Gaubert, head of marketing for 123RF.
“That might have a lot to do with a demand for authenticity in images that represent real life rather than an aspiration. With digital and platforms like social media, there's a requirement for authentic, raw imagery rather than stock imagery," he added.
Despite the disruptive forces from Facebook and Instagram, the panel agreed that social media isn't going to lead to the demise of stock imagery. In fact, it should ultimately enhance the power of stock images.
"Instagram disrupted our industry for a while, but it's not going to overtake it because social pictures are not as powerful at telling a story as traditional stock," said Simon Dayton, creative director at 123RF.
Having conversations with contributors to create better images
During the discussion, Dayton believes that social trends have influenced the work that stock photographers produce even though social media hasn't overtaken stock.
"By nature, contributors will always follow the money. They will only shoot images that sell best. Changing habits is hard, though. Even though agencies release a new trend yearly like mentioning this year’s colour theme to be coral, it never truly resonates with what contributors shoot or what clients buy on a wide scale,” Dayton shared.
The above statement was reflected from a brand’s perspective by Mr Joseph Zen, integrated strategic advisory for digital and social media at Elzeno Advisory. He further explained that conversations with clients can become very granular that even colour choices get tweaked and re-tweaked many times.
"We end up asking questions like, ‘Do you want something that can sell, or do you want something co-created?' The current trend might be rose gold right now, for example, but we need to shape our design and image choices to be more consumer-centric,” he said.
And what sells isn't necessarily a good image, either. In fact, Dayton thinks the opposite is true. He suggested that a two-way conversation must happen between the agencies and contributors to share and educate each other on how to better create authentic images.
Mr Cedric Chang, digital marketer for Altitude Alliance Singapore also shared his thoughts by stating that authenticity is subjective to different clients and it should be customized and tailored to clients’ needs.
Carousell’s Brand Marketing Lead, Ms Cassandra Leong raised a question about stock images falling short of meeting the distinct needs of brands in the local market – in part because photographers come from diverse background themselves.
"Stock, from what the local teams pick, isn't telling the brand voice. While I understand the need for a tone of voice, how are you thinking about meeting the needs of brands that think of authenticity? Because some factors are due to cultural challenges. What's authentic in Asia might be drastically different from what's authentic in the West. For example, sex still sells in Asia, whereas there has been a massive cultural shift in the UK, Europe, and the US against that kind of imagery," she explained.
"I don't think political correctness has edged its way to the region as it has in the West yet. But there's a double-edged sword if you're too politically correct. You shouldn't be biased in any sense, and that's a big challenge for a brand. And sexualizing and demeaning women in any way will always be a bad decision,” answered Dayton.
Targeted creative, video, and the future of stock images
With the influence of videos creeping up on everyone in today’s digital age, brand marketers acknowledge with question in mind: is there still room for standalone images?
"In the social world we live in, footages are a big part of what we do. But videos aren't cheap or as easy to get as an image. We're getting to the point where we're a bit video-ed out. It does the job, but there's still a role for the good old image," said Gaubert.
While brands work to remain agile and reactive, finding time to produce their own content, especially with needs constantly changing, can be a big challenge. And stock agencies face the same challenge in this fragmented and saturated marketplace.
"Every brand has its tone of voice; having images for every brand is an impossible task," Gaubert shared.
From a data and analytics point of view, the industry is pushing in different directions, even if analytics don't necessarily drive change.
"Brands are investing more in video marketing and data right now, and so we're looking into ways to create from different perspectives. However, we shouldn't change the creative process too much because the pressure to spend time figuring out how to create differently sometimes doesn't work that way," Chang explained.
Even so, pictures still tell stories, perhaps better than any other medium. Stock agencies can offer major relief for brands, as long as the focus remains on the nature of the medium.
"Every time you click the shutter, ask, what story is this image telling?" says Dayton. "Every picture has to tell a story. Every illustration must tell a story. Every time you click the shutter, ask, what story is this image telling,” said Dayton.