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Stock photo blindness

Stock photos and stock agencies have a bigger problem than declining usage fees. They just don’t work anymore.

In the advertising web space, there is an expression that defines the fact that people do not click on advertising anymore. It is called “banner blindness”. What it means is that people have become so accustomed to those banner ads systematically posted on top and on the right side of websites that they just ignore them completely. Not only do they not click on them, they just don’t see them. The result? Less than 0.1 % of banners ads gets clicks. That is less than direct mail which has notoriously been a underperformer. But, just like it’s paper counterpart, banner ads are cheap and if done in huge volume, can reap some benefits. 100 millions people seeing banners ads, even at 0.1%, gets you 100,000 clicks. Not bad.

Stock photos are starting to suffer from the same “blindness”. A recent study revealed by Advertising Age shows that compared to an Instagram image, a stock photo provokes only 1/4 of reaction. In other words “Using regular photos, the company saw a 2.35% click-through rate. With Instagram-style shots, that increased to as high as 8%. When tying ad performance to sales, Laundry Service saw conversion rates increase by 25%. ” That is a huge difference. And when that difference is translated in revenue, it has huge impact.

What is going on ?

Commercial stock photography, by constantly repeating the same schema has succeeded in creating a stock photo blindness that turns off rather than incite viewers. Their lack of authenticity, coupled with one size fits all approach, has made them less and less effective. If you add the overwhelming influx of copies, brought forth by the explosion of the microstock offering, and you get an offering that has managed to crush itself under its own weight.

Microstock, because of it RF model, allows the same image being used a thousand times to sell a thousand different services or products. When confronted with the same image for different products, the viewer has just one reaction : the image is a lie. (Which, in fact, it is). When the style of image is copied ad nauseam for different images, they all automatically become interpreted as lies. Human beings are genetically programmed to quickly identify patterns and associate a canned reaction. That is how we have survived in the wild for so long, dismissing the obvious and redundant ( obviously not threats) to focus on the new and unexpected. Once identified, a stock photo is immediately associated obvious and dismissed. The product or service associated with it is also degraded.

The reason Instagram or Instagram-like image work so well as that – for now- they are associated with authenticity (something we wrote about ). That originality of view-point creates curiosity that can then be converted into a purchase. Up to now, the stock photo industry has been concerned with oversupply of images and price cutting. What they don’t seem to realize is that their product is quickly becoming obsolete and , in fact, detrimental to the same clients they are trying to serve. What company would use images that get people turned off?

There is no doubt that what is happening to stock photography will happen to Instagram in a few years, once the iconic style gets over used by the corporate world. But for now, those who have mastered it,  have the best chance to do better than any stock photo professional.

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