When Marketers See Double

There are so many more options for stock photography these days, that you'd think finding a photo would be easier, not more challenging.

When Marketers See Double - WSJ.com

Coincidences ...are happening frequently thanks to the proliferation of digital photo libraries that let marketers buy generic images at a fraction of the cost of original pictures. Advertisers often don't buy exclusive rights, which are pricier, opening up the risk that others will use the same photos.

Nonexclusive rights to stock photos can cost as little as a $1, whereas the cost of arranging a photo shoot to produce an original picture can easily run into tens of thousands of dollars, given photographers' fees ($1,000 to more than $10,000 a day), the cost of hiring a model and securing a location.

Stock images are particularly appealing to companies like banks, insurance companies and pharmaceutical firms that want to sell their products and services with broad, emotional imagery.

Besides being embarrassing for advertisers, such duplications can make it difficult for consumers to tell brands apart.

“If we all look alike, it is hard for a customer to differentiate between their choices,” says Robbyn Tangney, a brand marketing executive with Bank of America Corp.

The companies involved in such mix-ups usually don't know that their images are being used by other firms. And when they find out, if the campaign is a modest one, sometimes they don't care.

“The risk of two people seeing the same image and connecting the dots is very, very low because the exposure of the campaign isn't very, very great,” says Gary Shenk, senior vice president of images for Corbis Corp., a Seattle-based digital media agency that licenses stock photos.

Some photos are so narrow in appeal, or so firmly associated with a specific product, that there's little chance of them being used by multiple marketers. “If a picture has a very specific product, like a Toyota car or an Apple iPod, it usually isn't used again,” says David Norris, CEO of OnRequest Images.

Hey - if anyone reading this page wants to use a photo of mine, you won't have a problem with duplication. My rates are competitive....

Buying exclusive rights to a stock photo isn't necessarily cheaper than setting up a photo shoot. “To absolutely guarantee beyond any kind of a doubt” that no duplication would occur, marketers can pay in excess of six figures, says Mr. Gubas. Corbis, another major photo agency, says its price on a picture with some sort of exclusive rights costs from $250 to several thousand dollars, whereas pictures without rights range from $50 to $600.

Marketers may be willing to pay these high prices to ensure one-time only pictures for ads in newspapers, magazines or billboards.

But they're often willing to use general stock photography for Web marketing. MasterCard Inc., for instance, almost always uses original photography in its “Priceless” campaign which appears on television and print around the world, says Chris Jogis, vice president of U.S. brand development for MasterCard. It likes original images “to best capture the emotion” required for the ad, he says.

But online marketing generally doesn't have such broad exposure and doesn't merit the high costs. For its business Web site's home page, MasterCard used an image of a man in a beige shirt holding his glasses to his mouth that also appears on the Web site for Bank of America's Business Visa Card. “We don't feel it is justified from a shareholder standpoint to get the exclusivity,” Mr. Jogis says.

Before the advent of digital technology, when pictures were typically stored as negatives, agencies kept tighter control over how images were used. They mostly licensed pictures with some degree of exclusivity: a marketer could use it in a certain geographic area at a certain time. That began to change when agencies began putting images onto CD-ROMs, making it easier -- and more lucrative -- for the same image to be distributed widely.

Making matters more complicated, small photo stock Web sites have sprung up, offering images from amateur photographers that can sell for as little as $1 a photo. One of the most prominent ones is iStockphoto, a wholly owned subsidiary of Getty Images.

Industry-standard technology to trace where a photo has been used is still in development.

“It is pretty much a crapshoot to try to determine whether the images have ever been used or will ever be used in the future,” says Jim Pickerell, editor of Selling Stock, a newsletter about stock photography issues, particularly marketing stock images.


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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on November 28, 2006 9:08 AM.

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