The death of archival photos


A woman accosted by floating hamburgers, a man with an eye patch holding an abacus, and an astronaut feeding a horse in a harem costume might seem like scenes from a dystopian sci-fi novel, but that’s not the case. These are examples of the bizarre world of stock photos, where the images are as ridiculous as they are pointless.

Although these are extreme examples, the fact remains that the stock photos do not represent reality. They show a world of seamless families, smiling employees in offices, and couples frolicking on beaches at sunset. Consumers don’t connect with these generic, disconnected images, and brands that use them also risk appearing generic and disconnected.

A Boston Consulting Group report found that Millennials — who are the largest generation in US history and poised to lead the country in purchasing power — are engaging with brands “a lot more broadly and personally than older generations”.

Today’s consumer is beset by marketing on all fronts and most of this marketing is easy to ignore, suppress, fast forward and slide. For campaigns to stand out, they need to tell meaningful stories that grab people’s attention and engage them. Archival photos are the antithesis of these efforts.

Content must be authentic for marketing campaigns to succeed, which is why user-generated content has become an invaluable resource. Today, Internet users generate and consume vast amounts of content.

A Bazaarvoice survey found that more than half of Americans trust user-generated content more than any other information on a company’s website. Eighty-four percent of millennials say user-generated content on company websites has at least some influence on what they buy.

Leveraging user-generated content not only helps brands build trust, but also creates a stronger bond between brand and consumer. When people see recognizable images on a website or in an ad campaign, the brand doesn’t appear cold and faceless.

It feels like a company that understands them – their lives, their likes and dislikes, and their needs. This sense of understanding leads to engagement and loyal fans, as brands leveraging user-generated content have already experienced.

free people

Clothing brand Free People encouraged customers to upload photos of themselves wearing Free People clothing to Instagram and integrated these images into relevant product pages. For these campaigns, the company sent cards with hashtags to customers who purchased specific types of jeans.

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For example, #fpsorbettiedye for the Sorbet Tie Dye jeans or #fpanklecrop for the 5 Pocket Ankle Crop. These customers were then asked to take photos and upload them to Twitter or Instagram with these hashtags. Pending approval, the photos appeared on these product pages.

This campaign succeeded on many levels. For starters, Free People got fantastic photos of their products for free which made the brand look relatable and trendy. It also allowed potential customers to see what the jeans looked like in the real world before making a purchase.

Additionally, the campaign empowered everyday people to be role models. The prospect of being featured on the site generated excitement and made customers feel like active contributors to the brand, which drove them to engage on social media.


In an effort to promote the iPhone 6’s photo capabilities, Apple recently rolled out a “Photo on iPhone 6” campaign that features real photos taken by iPhone 6 users on print ads and billboards. . According to AdWeek, Apple has searched through tens of thousands of photos and will select images from 77 iPhone photographers in 70 cities and 24 countries. On the “Shot on iPhone 6” webpage, Apple shares selected photos with credits and comments on why they were chosen.

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By recognizing the work of iPhone photographers, Apple expresses its appreciation and gratitude to the people who use its products. The campaign sends the message that iPhone photographers produce work as good as professional photographers and emphasizes the power and possibilities of the iPhone 6 camera. It also creates a sense of a global community of iPhone photographers and positions Apple as a brand that fuels creativity.

western elm

Furniture and home decor store West Elm recently launched a campaign that places photos from social media in Facebook ads. West Elm had an ongoing social media campaign called #MyWestElm which displays selected photos that real customers share of West Elm products in their homes.

This campaign has proven extremely successful, with 18,000 photos uploaded to a site that generates two million unique monthly visitors. Forty percent of West Elm’s product pages now include user-generated photos. These photos have been so well received because they are personal. The homes in the photos are real homes – with pets, families, and an unstaged, lived-in aura that elicits a sense of connection with the viewer.

Like Free People’s jeans, customers can see a diverse representation of how products look in the real world.

western elm (@westernelm)

Last month, West Elm took this initiative a step further by working with a company called Olapic, which analyzes which #MyWestElm photos are most likely to perform well as sponsored ads on Facebook. Based on the products consumers have previously viewed, the algorithm can predict which user-generated photo is most likely to generate sales.

Incorporating user-generated photos offers a number of benefits. It’s profitable, engages people on social media, strengthens the connection consumers feel with a brand, and gives the brand a glimmer of authenticity and originality. The power of user-generated photos is making stock photos obsolete and their death cannot come soon enough. The days of creepy, insensitive, unrealistic stock photos are over.

Do you think stock photography is dead? Add your comments to the section below.

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Image credits: Shutterstock, Unsplash


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