Stock Photo Horror Stories

Good Reasons to think twice about using "Cheap" Good looking Stock Photos

Father and Son

A thousand Faces....... 6/99



A really popular gal, everywhere



Saving Money for the big TeleCom Companies

A legendary case in Caracas, where two Agencies, thrilled by the excitement of offering their BIG telecommunications companies (clients) the amazing savings resulting from the use of RF imagery from the Image Bank, selected, just by unfortunate coincidence, the very same image of a funny kid with a skateboard to create the advertising campaigns to be displayed on a national level in external billboards, magazines etc., etc., releasing the client from the burden of paying licensing rights, model fees, and all production costs.

Both agencies were very strict in their secrecy policy , since they were launching the offer to many new services from both companies. The possibility of leaking info was very small. The result? The billboards went to the streets the very same week,  with the same picture promoting competing telephone companies and their  services. The mess was huge, the billboards removed, the "creatives" were fired, the accounts moved to other agencies.

As a sheer coincidence, I am enjoying shooting the images for one of the companies under the new Agency. They have forgotten to even think about Stock, just to make sure this never happens again. I can't be happier. I use the case in many of the conversations arising whenever somebody thinks of buying RF CD's for advertising of big clients. However, the market always creates new monsters, and I know of some  agencies which are buying RF images on a one by one basis, paying by CC and downloading the specific image requested. I would not call this a full RF images but a low budget- open license Stock.The difference is that the company offering the image still knows how many times such image has been downloaded and who got it, so it's more like cheap stock than a RF CD, which can be in the hands of hundreds of people and thousands of potential users.


Royalty Free Image Nightmare - Insurance

An art director at a major insurance company- someone we have all heard of- decided he liked an RF image a lot and used it extensively for the company. Thinking that he had saved the company money, he used the shot in all sorts of collateral materials.

Then one day his boss received a phone call directly from the President of the company. He was livid. He wanted to know why when he was driving on a major metropolitan interstate that he saw the identical image used for a competing insuror on several billboards. He wanted to know how they got the image that he thought was part of their branding strategy. No telling how many printed pieces got pulled, were retracted and trashed. That art director no longer works at that insurance company. RF fights the whole notion of truly branding an organization, in my view.

On saving money and cutting corners- I have found something useful that Seth Resnick once said. I'll paraphrase- it was long ago. He had a client who was trying to use an out-take of his, instead of an image that he could earn licensing from. He asked this art director if they really thought that they were doing a service to their company by saving money to use an image which may be somewhat inferior to the one that is preferred? He asked them if they really thought that they'd receive some sort of recognition for saving a few bucks in the process? Because in his experience, he said, what usually happened was that art directors who did this often found the opposite to be true and would often find that they actually received less recognition, because they hadn't strived to use the best images possible and they no longer were seen as being the kind of decision maker in their company who would fight for the best for their company. And that often it was that very art director that had lost the zest for fighting for the best possible content- the best they can get, the best they can do. And he went on that they would inevitably find that their budgets are cut, because they've done such a great job cutting costs the year before- so there they are at a company who doesn't value what they have done with their company's funds, with skimpier budgets. In his view, he said he wouldn't want to be seen by his superiors as the person who could spend less, by taking shortcuts on their images.

He spoke to the art director with sincerity and was not hostile, but was candid. He was candid about the notion, that saving money is often the short-sighted way to do business. The art director thanked him and was pleased that he was candid. The art director saw his point, and took it to heart. The art director also licensed the more expensive image directly from Seth.

Seth, please forgive me if I have mistated any of this. But this is the perfect example of short-term thinking on the part of many who seek to save right now and fail to consider the long-term ramifications of those very decisions. Thanks to Seth for that story he gave me a few years ago. I sometimes have asked my clients "Aside from the obvious, why do we strive so hard to save your client's money before anything else?" And "Do you think they appreciate this?" "Do you think that if we save them money they'll think we were really trying to do so?"

We have to find the right time to ask these questions, and we need to ask them in the right way, but really, it's wonderful to see what light bulbs turn on. Why do we seeking to scrimp first, and to create uniquely in the second place? Let's not. Let's undo this paradyme immediately and whenever possible. Let's help our clients to understand why it's wonderful for them to spend money! I would never advocate squandering the client's money. But lets question our clients notion of buying to save, when we should be buying to excel.


Remember Gateway Computers?


Scroll down to item #2:  "As the Five Dumbest Things Research Lab belatedly learned this week, a Gateway (Computers) ad published in December a few years ago, featured a prominent picture of a fun-lovin', presumably music-downloadin' member of the youth culture groovin' with his PowerBook. Manufactured and marketed, of course, by Apple."

and another




"How can ad agencies be so stupid?"  (I didn't say that)

A few years ago a new insurance product was coming to market, due to changes in the state regulations. Naturally every insurer in the  state was rolling out similar products. Company "A" decided to use a RF image  as its lead image for a brochure and print ad campaign... they found it on some discs they had in house.

Well, wouldn't you know that the designer who had been in the employ  of Company "A" left a few months earlier and went to work for the agency representing Company "B". She says, " I used to have this great selection of RF images, let's buy them!" So, when they are rolling out the new product for Company "B",  wouldn't ya just know it, they find this PERFECT image on the RF disc that  illustrates
the new product so perfectly...    

So , Company "A" has brochures printed, waiting to be distributed, a print campaign at the newpapers, ready to roll out in the Sunday paper,  when on the Thursday before, the Creative Director gets a direct mail piece at her home... from Company  "B" using the EXACT same image.

Needless to say, no one slept for the next 4 days as they scambled to recreate all the material.  Not to mention the rush assignment the photographer received to shoot a new image.



A couple of years ago the newspaper here came out with a special advertising section on health care and all the hospitals were advertising in it. Two of the largest hospitals in the city, both owned by large chains, were featuring their birthing center. Both used the same identical photo of a baby the full size of the ads, which were both large.

What it did was give the impression that the 2 hospitals were owned by the same chain.

I'll bet their were a couple of unhappy CEO's and embarassed marketing directors the next morning.


Is he selling computer software - or a sexual aid?


Royalty Free Images may be a terrific resource for schoolkids and small companies with small budgets, but it's a shame when it is used in higher profile ads by billion dollar companies. ...and risky to boot. What is also a shame is that a story like this doesn't get as much exposure as it deserves. In addition to the Cincinnati Enquirer it should also be in media read by business executives.