Business Owners, Marketers Learn Limitations of Stock the Hard Way

Christine Hutman, owner of the Chicago-based online business Pet Services Review, wrote Inc. magazine to ask the following question:

I bought a stock photo of a dog for my website and it has become our unofficial mascot. Recently, I discovered that another pet site is using the same photo. Can I stop the site from using it?

The Inc. staff delivers the bad news about buying stock for core brand imagery:

If your rival bought the stock photo just as you did, there’s nothing you can do to keep her from using it now. And therein lies an important lesson about using stock images. Sure, they’re cheap — as little as $1 per image from companies such as iStockphoto and Fotolia. But for marketing purposes, they’re really only appropriate for quick-hit campaigns … Most stock photo companies will let you pay extra — starting at several hundred to a few thousand dollars — for a licensing agreement or a copyright buyout that will give you exclusive use of a photo going forward. But anyone who has already downloaded the image, including your competitor, can continue to use it fair and square.

Inc. recommends that Christine either commission an original photo, buying the rights in full, or hire a graphic designer to create a visual identity for the company.

The problem of stock photo saturation is certainly not confined to small businesses. The Wall Street Journal covered this territory well in a November 2006 article, “When Marketers See Double.” As Emily Steel reported then:

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…

To convey an image of concern, both MetLife Inc. and Pfizer Inc.’s Viagra used the same image of a middle-aged man in a stripped button-down shirt resting his chin on his hands. And Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase & Co.’s Chase Student Loans sites both used the same image of a collegiate-looking boy working on his laptop for their Web sites…

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

The message should be clear for business owners and corporate marketers: Sometimes you need to open up your wallet and hire a professional photographer to do the work.

[tags]stock photography, royalty free, microstock[/tags]

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