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Avoid These Cheesy Stock Image Mistakes
June 22, 2018 •Rick Reid
WARNING: THIS BLOG CONTAINS CRINGE-WORTHY GRAPHICAL CONTENT.
EXPOSURE TO ITS CONTENTS MAY CAUSE A PERMANENT EFFECT WITHOUT THE ABILITY TO UNSEE.
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Okay, good. Imagine watching a sitcom. Can you hear the cheesy canned laughter and audience reactions? You know what I’m talking about. Yes, the audio bed matches the actor’s dialogue and movement, but you can still tell it’s fake, right? Stock imagery is no different. There are exceptions to this rule, but it usually takes some creativity in the form of abstract thinking to dig down past the corny crust and into the delicious, creamy core. Additionally, the ability to expound on a concept with a dash of theoretical search criteria helps sweeten the results.
BLESSED ARE THE CHEESEMAKERS
Of course, not to be taken literally.
When used wisely, stock images can truly help light up a brand and connect to the heart of its ideal customer. In the hands of the less experienced, stock imagery can easily diffuse a brand with bland puffery and pretentious compositions.
How can you pick fresh, relevant, high-quality images and vectors from your stock subscription? Being an abstract thinker helps a great deal. It takes a little practice to spot the clichés, but some are as old and moldy as… cheese.
Let’s jump right into this.
You’ve seen ‘em. They’re everywhere. These are those street signs with obvious messages plastered on them. They usually feature a super-curvy pathway or a fork in the road.
Some feature a long, straight highway that seems to never end like the host blog they bury themselves into. Some street signs are next to a big, deep hole so you can easily remove your creativity and cast it into.
Alternative: Imagine a world without street sign stock imagery. Try using the same scenery without the sign. If it doesn’t make sense, just follow the exit sign out to another idea.
Does anyone know where these swarms came from? There’s a bunch of them, and they’re all dreadful. They aren’t necessary, and they make me dizzy. Friends shouldn’t let friends design with flocks. To be fair, I understand what they are trying to say, but it’s too much at once.
Alternative: There isn’t one. Unless you want to use animation, perhaps.
Okay, I get it. We all have gone there at one point or another. Honestly, if handled right, particularly as a conceptual vector, puzzle pieces can be just okay. It’s all about things that work together and the idea of something that is part of a bigger picture. Repping teamwork, collaboration, and the importance of each and every individual.
Using a puzzle piece is kind of like watching a movie you’ve seen several times already, but you’re watching it because your friend hasn’t seen it yet. Like the movies, some images are dramas while others are just downright hilarious.
Alternative: Consider visuals such as a chain-link fence, Lego bricks, a Celtic knot, interlocking circles, a door hinge, or even a zipper.
THE OBLIGATORY HANDSHAKE
The handshake is the most cliché image there is -- A milk toast visual that's as unique as a blade of grass. To be fair, not all handshakes are created equal. In some rare cases, a handshake, if created with alarming creativity, is manageable. I suppose we must question the handshake and ask ourselves, what is going on here? Why are those folks connected? I feel very left out -- or is one of those hands supposed to be mine? They must’ve come to a starchy agreement that made everyone an insubstantial sum of clean cash.
Then I start to imagine what steps the photographer took to encourage the models to perform in such an over-familiar way.
Photog: "That's it, now smile agreeably. Grasp firmly, but not too enjoyably. This isn't a party, so let's keep it flat. Perfect! That's a wrap. Let's take a 15-minute break for lunch.
There's some leftover meatloaf and boiled potatoes on the counter in the kitchen and there's some ice I made in the fridge. When we return, let's partner-up again for consultation photos."
Alternative: We must ask ourselves, "Is there truly an alternative for a handshake?" Not per se. Hugs are nice, but don't count here. If a handshake is truly necessary, then don’t fall for the corny suit and tie executive species.
Unless you can find something natural that matches your client’s brand, then try to recommend something more casual. High-fives, fist bumps, and pinky swears are all alternative forms of a germy handshake, if applicable to your client’s voice and tone.
Otherwise, just try to avoid the [yawn] handshake. Finally, keep in mind, even these casual alternative images can be major eye rollers.
If you’re looking for a quick and cute cupcake symbol for a friend’s party or a pet-inspired header for your mother’s Etsy page, stock logo elements will do the deed. It’s better to build an identity around a business’ brand, ideal customer profile, its competitors, and its remarkables — rather than just downloading a nifty time-saver.
Remember to avoid dated elements such as a rainbow of colors, grungy brushstrokes, gradients, drop shadows, and those “frolicking and embracing ghost people” These cookie-cutter elements make logos look dated, complicated, and contrived.
Alternative: If you seek a unique logo for your client’s organization, don’t use stock.
SPOTTING THE SCHMALTZ
We're not talking recipes here – just a simple I.D. If an image looks posed, there's a 99.9% chance that it was. If you use it, you could be subjected to a torrent of ridicule. Ain't nobody got time for that, with the exception of the Olan Mills Archive that is conveniently documented in the pages of Awkward Family Photos.com. However, if cheesy smiles and forced poses are all you need to put the final touches on ruining decent content, then here are a few notable examples:
STOCK IMAGES CAN BE A CONUNDRUM
“The mind loves the unknown. It loves images whose meaning is unknown, since the meaning of the mind itself is unknown.”
To lovers, the moon is a glorious sight to behold. To others, the moon represents a menace that transforms them into a hairy, snarling, half-man, half-beast. Sometimes it's just best to go with a new moon, waning crescent, or an overcast option.
Just because a stock image exists, doesn't mean it's intended for you and your target audience. There are some stock images that cannot be explained.
In conclusion, this list comprises a brief rundown of some of the most common cheesy stock photo and design elements. There are plenty more stereotypes and overused dreck to sidestep. Campy potential aside, a stock photo subscription is a valuable necessity for marketing agencies, particularly those who require quick solutions to illustrate concepts and communications.
At the fingertips of a seasoned marketing agency pro, a stock subscription can yield outstanding content options to work with. This is particularly relevant for inbound and Account Based Marketing clients looking to get up-to-speed quickly to attract and convert their ideal buyers into customers.
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