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October 26, 2009


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Gisela Hippolt-Squair

The downside of using real employees is you have to update the photos when those employees leave the company.

A few years ago, we spent a lot of money on a new booth with pictures of employees. Soon after one of them quit. Everyone commented on how "she" didn't work for us anymore.

We've used stock people ever since.



Excellent post as always. Stock photos (and clipart for that matter) are very useful for creating story boards. At least I have found them to be.

But brands (personal or corporate) have to start asking themselves, "What is the value of X?" before using anything digitally these days.

I think that's something that is getting lost in alt the great technology that is out there now. People want to jump in on th latest "tool" that comes along, or if your corp. they just know that they want/need to be online or in social media. But they never ask themselves what is the value to performing those actions.

For a corporation there is no value in putting out a model-laden stock photo as visual representation of your brand. No one can get a sense of what a particular company does, what it's culture is like, etc. if you're using images of people that don't work at the corp, don't look like most of the people at the corp, and are generically sitting around a conference table doing pretty much nothing but smiling and looking pretty for the camera (which if you're a model is your job).

I'm joining the bandwagon. Down with stock photos as brand images!

Carolyn Winter

David you put your finger on one of the most annoying things for me on the internet. I believe that behind every web page there is a real person, someone who in the creation of that page wanted to connect with me. Thats why I landed on that page.

So I am always baffled, why I can't get a real name, email, phone number, even an address that says this person, product or service is more than an illusion. Unconsciously, I know that the model is a model, that there's a guy's voice in the text beside a model who is female. It provides a disconnect. The product has to be super amazing to get me to go the next click to purchase. I have only done that once and in hindsight it was because of the raves of everyone else in a forum that I bought into and purchased the product, absent of a real seller persona.

Think I will go and do a picture review of my own sites! LOL


Doug Haslam


Great point-- I hate stock photography, especially when it makes us all look like we want to be from Stepford. I understand the need for business sites to look polished and professional, but they need to be "real" first.

That said, "real" has a lot of definitions. The doctor example is literal. I think there are ways to use evocative images to prove points as well- I do that a lot on my personal blog (though often without the polish I mention above).


First of all, I agree. If I see one more multicultural handshake with blurred burled wood and a Macbook keyboard in the background, I'm going to lose it...

But that said, I'm guilty. Somewhat. A current small biz website project includes a bunch of stock photos.

I was patting myself on the back because the images are a little different from the same old same old. We not only included more multicultural start-up business types, but also middle aged and older people. And they aren't stunningly beautiful.

Here's the thing: Many small or sole proprietor businesses don't have budgets to cover photo shoots--nor the skill to do it themselves.

Stock photos--we pay $1 per photo--are an affordable solution, albeit not ideal.

Toni Anicic

But David, if we put "ugly" (normal) people there, it will lover our conversion rate. I've seen researches, the world doesn't work that way.

Your customers want to believe you're perfect. They want to see these models. They don't wanna look at an average person because that would mean you're an average company. They want above average company, they want extremely good company.

Why do you think mainstream media has pushed beautiful people on the big screens? Because that's what audience demands.

Eugenie Verney

Yup, visual gobbledegook is about right.

It's lazy and it's becoming increasingly counter-productive because we all now recognise the formula as something ersatz and cliched.

There are issues with using real people instead - not least the fact that they move on (and I also have first-hand experience of this) - but that has to be a better starting point than the politically correct cardboard cut-outs from the agency!


Not sure I follow - should we stop seeing Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie movies and take a stand? Have you ever been to a corporate PR department at a large brand...I have noted that many pretty people (male and female) strangely land jobs in these departments. B2B tradeshow floors are also filled with pretty people. To say these don't exist is simply untrue.

David Meerman Scott

Some great comments here. Looks like lots of differing opinions. Great.

Brad - Brad and Angelina are real people. That's why the public is interested in them. So if your employees are pretty - by all means use them. I'm not talking about pretty vs. not. It's fake vs. real.

Toni - if pretty models increase conversion rates - go for it. Don't stop because of me.

My main point here is that people want to do business with people. We want to work with companies that have people who work there who understand us. Gobbledygook of all kinds -- visual and textual -- is not real communications and in my experience degrades the effectiveness of a site.



About a year ago we shot our "About Us" video and we used as many internal staff members for the shoot as possible. About 90% of the shots of people in the video are employees here. The thinking was to use the actual people who work here to give some authenticity, but also to save money from costly stock footage.

I don't think people leaving a company really means anything. By using a real person, you're getting the message across. The stock model never worked for you anyway, so what's the difference?


David, fully agree, excellent post.

As soon as I see "obvious" stock photos of people on a website, I become highly sceptical about its honesty. There are actually two or three men and women whom I've seen all over the internet from Yahoo to e-commerce shops etc. - they seem to be more famous than Brad Pitt! :-)

Rachel Bryant

Great job once again David. I've heard your "rant" before and have taken it to heart here at Manatron. The people that work behind the scenes here to assist and take care of our customers may not be the "prettiest" individuals in the world, but they are the heart of our company - they are what makes us what we are.

We are currently in the process of a web refresh for Manatron.com and in the design, we plan to incorporate photographs of our ACTUAL customers. I believe the impact of this will be significant.

Thank you for your insights.

Dan Hutson

Hi David. Great post. I work for a nonprofit serving seniors, so you can imagine the conversations we have about stock vs. our "real" people. We still use stock, but I'm all for transitioning away as much as possible. I think the key is great photography; anyone can be visually interesting when you use a really good photographer.


Personally, I'd rather see the multicultural stock photos then the "real" employees. Unfortunately, the real corporate America is still very homogeneous. It's nice to see people who look like me represented in these images, even if its not what the company really looks like. It makes me feel that the company is trying to market to all groups.


In my last job I was with 2 clients (The director and his secretary) and we were discussing stock photography. It was also a classic case of applying mouth before brain, just sometimes stock photgraphy brings it out in you - well at least that is my excuse I am sticking with it. Conversation went a little like this;

Director, 'I like it, the image will work well for the HR page. She is a woman, she is Asian - brilliant.'
Secretary, 'Wow, you just so politically correct.'
Me, 'Just a shame she is not in a wheel chair...'

Thankfully they laughed and saw the funny side or I think I could well have lost the agency an client...

Shashi Kapoor

My god David, I had to comment. Stock images have been one of my most hated aspects of the web as we know it today.

You see them recycled time and time again. Irrelevant bright white toothed smiley customer care workers ready to take your call. Not disgruntled acne ridden underpaid teenagers who wish you would crawl under a rock and die.

Okay, not saying we should start putting the latter on there, but hey, stock images make websites feel impersonal, confuse branding and perceptions of the company.

Personally I feel that if you must have people on your website, using real people, (rather than stock models that you may later find advertising an anti syphillis campaign), is well worth the investment.

Some good photography can go a long way with helping people feel connected to your team. Putting a name to a face feels much more like a connection than looking at someone you know isn't real.

Congratulations on hitting the nail on the head.


Great Article.
I was researching Auto Transport Company websites last weekend to get an idea for an upcoming project of mine and this same subject crossed my mind. Great timing by the way!

If there is the possibility that the user may be directed into believing that the subjects or people within an image are a representation of that company's employees or people, they absolutely should be genuine or real.
Stock images can create a negativity about the entire site when used inappropriately. I would much rather just see the text "Customer Service" and a phone number than wonder if the extremely good looking person in the impeccable office really works and answers the phone at Joe's Repair Shop.

Here is a link to Structure Marine's About Us webpage http://www.structurmarine.com/about.html
This is the way that images of people, departments, or employees should be used on a corporate website. In this case, simple black and white and I truly believe that these people work for Structure Marine.
If anyone knows a where I can see great use of stock images for a company's departments or services I would love to see it!

Justin Kownacki

Those images aren't about what the company *is*, but what the company needs other people to *think* it is.

Very few companies are as racially diverse, attractive or happy as the models in these photos. And while I personally am a big fan of reality, I'm also aware that most companies have no idea how to market themselves in the first place, much less how to make reality work for them.

Before we storm the stock photo vaults with our digital torches of purity, let's figure out how to help companies NOT be ashamed of what they actually *are*. Otherwise, we'll suddenly be thrusting a bunch of socially awkward, mediocre-looking people into the spotlight before they're ready to be seen, and you know what that means: lots of "About" pages filled with people's Mad Men avatars.

Amber Weinberg

LOL This made me laugh. I absolutely HATE stock photos on company sites..especially web design company sites....I've never met a geek that looks that good!

Alice O'Brien

It's not the stock photos that are the problem, as stated in the post, it's how we apply them. People photos are the MOST difficult to deal with. I prefer to use real people but then you have the headache and budget problem of keeping these up-to-date with staff turn-over.
The thing is one of the biggest differentiation points in B2B are the people doing the work. That's the main reason you should try to showcase the real employees. Putting a face to the voice or the name builds trust like nothing other than face-to-face can.

Gary Slack

David, no surprise to se the volume of commentary on this post. Visual gobbledygook (your wonderful term, not mine) offline and online has been a huge pet peeve of mine for years. When my agency helped eBay launch eBay Business, we used real people, and the credibility and extra impact were huge. At the same time, Goodby Silverstein, the consumer agency, was using actors to play consumers in eBay's print advertising, and they all looked like they were from San Francisco or Seattle. Another time, we were invited to Dell and asked to comment on their brand new small-business portal. Besides being stock images, all the photos said large enterprise; so did the copy. We're not perfect in this department, either. We've had to use stock for cost reasons when our instincts said no. Great to see you deploying your widening influence on this subject, a sore point for many!

Sean Power


You may be surprised to see what kind of results one would get when A/B testing pictures of "real" people vs "stock" ones.

Then again, you may not be surprised. In the end, I'd argue that whatever works best for conversion is arguably what's best for the site.

Sometimes, it's a picture of a giant panda, not a bunch of people sitting around a boardroom, that yields the best results.

Go figure O_o

David Meerman Scott

Love the differing opinions. Many thanks to all of you for jumping in.

Justin Locke

well another justin mentioned this point but i will expound. sometimes it's not that models are more effective, it is the "corporate stage fright" that so many people and organizations suffer from. with all your competition looking like the cover of vogue, how do you dare let people see the real you? but i am with you, there is no substitute for the real thing (did i just say that??). when i made PR videos for hospitals i let the docs and ceo and patients tell the story without scripts, and it rang true to viewers, unlike the typical sanitized perfect ad that we have learned to ignore. the flaws make it distinctive and memorable.


I worked for one publishing house in Ukraine, where were working a lot of young, happy and always smiling pesonnel :-)We even shoot them for covers of our news magazines (and these covers were selling issues quite good:)
I guess you are not against of models per se, but against the idea of using stock photos, where they are better not to be used. Everything is good in certain proportions. No one will put pictures of not photogenic
employees on their website or in their ad campaign. Why would they want to do that? Also some companies have issues with website/ ad campaign when the employee leaves and the picture stays...So Just say NO to pretty models does not really work. But I fully agree with you sometimes too much of smiling young faces annoys(not that I like exhausted and tired faces of old ladies..) But guys be reasonable.
It's like one and the same voiceover actor is used for Tide ads and for the ads of a bank.Different target audience- the same voice and the same intonations. And then you hear the ad and think "Ok again Tide, Glade, whatever is advertised...) But no, it was message from some bank, and I missed it. Because someone didn't do their homework and didn't check if this voice was used by some other brand in their ad campaign recently (or at the exact period of time you're planning to use it). And sometimes you notice that big brands do these mistakes. With their budgets and huge amount of counsultants, brand managers, ad agencies etc,etc...
So, before using any stock photo, any voiceover actor, any video, any model for shooting... just do the homework, check, if some other company used it in it's ad campaign, website, etc. not so long ago, and think how it may affect your brand and your ad campaign.


I would rather see models or no people. No one wants to look at unattractive staff. The stock photos have never bothered me and honestly if presented with two sites, one with models and one with ugly "real" people, all things being equal I'd choose the company with the models on their site.

Bianca Te Rtio

A thought comes to mind, if you are using ‘Real People’ or actual ‘Staff’ images ensure that you have done a full background check on the individual. I recall a high profile TV advertising campaign in New Zealand featuring 'everyday people' going about their business. An individual that was ‘Hero-ed’ in the television commercial was up for pending sexual assault charges. The victim of the assault made several complaints to the advertiser and broadcaster and the $$ campaign was pulled.
Just food for thought regarding whose images you use – to represent your brand and /or company.

Jodi Kaplan

Why, they're pod people. Didn't you know? ;-)

John W. Furst

I am so glad that I found this blog post. Great post, great discussion. There are already so many good comments, therefore I'll try to be as brief as possible. A couple of "bullets":

* Testing images for conversion is great advice! (do not believe research. Test specific photos on your site yourself. You might be surprised about the results.)

* Personally those images portray to me: distance, expensive, ineffectiveness. (Aren't many meetings ineffective ...)

* Stock photos are certainly more inexpensive than professional photographs of "real" people. And no matter what in many cases the photo needs to looks professional. (But maybe not.)

* The worst problem with most B2B websites is not photos; it's in general bad copy, bad usability, and not using specific landing pages.


Russ Henneberry

The two words that comes to mind when I see a ton of stock photography is -- STERILE and SAFE. Neither of which will garner much attention.


We use stock photography on our web site for two reasons:
a) Most of our clients can't be photographed due to privacy concerns (we treat children with mental health issues)
b) We are a non-profit and it's less expensive for us to use stock photography than to find and arrange models, photo shoots, etc.

I do agree that if you have the budget and want to authentically communicate with your customer, you should be using "real" people -- even if they don't look like models.

Stephen Johnson

Excellent post mate. The shiny, happy, well lit, bright smiling, professional... is more reminiscent of a soap opera than real life these days. You hit the nail right on the head!

Codruta Moga

Toni, you are right, customers want above average company. But I think they want this in terms of results, of what the company does for them.

And I am sure that in every company there are remarkable, unique people that can add a flavor to it's image, a thing that these smiley models can't.

great blog post,

Amelia Vargo

This is a good point well put! I hate the use of models for real employees.

However I would advocate the use of models / presenters for videos on websites as they are professionally trained to present the scripts better than most employees who haven't had that training.

I think it's all about balance really.

Jessica Ojeda

WOW! I'm glad I'm not the only one who isn't exactly comfortable using stock photos. (I especially get annoyed with the beautiful, bright eyed telemarketer.) Pretty does sell, but really that depends on what you are selling. For example, if you're selling cosmetics, you wouldn't want to show them off on a "normal" face. I believe most things that are sold don't have to be pretty. It's important to keep in mind who you are selling to.

Aaron Wrixon

Lorraine and Sue Anne are the only ones who seem to have hit on the cost issue. Several of my clients have used stock photography, but only one could afford to pay a professional photographer to light, shoot and retouch photos of themselves. When you're talking $2 a photo vs. $200 an hour, the math is pretty easy to work out.


Funny story:

a major software company (#1 worldwide) used a similar image in Poland. The interesting part was that one woman was on the same pic in the US afro-american and in Poland suddenly she was white.

Miracles happen... The company apologized and she was afro-american again.

Greetings from Istanbu, Turkey


John R. Sedivy

Finally someone has said what the rest of us were thinking. Hopefully your article will begin to reverse this trend!

John Beckley

Thanks David for another insightful post. I have been on about this point for a while now with our clients. This is our about about us page ...our team ...our conference room...it's real http://www.sortedsites.info/web-site-design-and-internet-marketing

Amanda O'Donovan


I spend my days persuading B2B clients why they should avoid verbal gobbledygook. As you say, tired, over-worn cliches are meaningless and often mistrusted by the people who read them. Pepper your site with too many and your bounce rates will soar.

I've also always been irritated by multi-cultural stock photos of unnervingly successful boardroom suits, but have never made the gobbledygook connection. I love your term "visual gobbledygook" and plan to use it frequently to underline the wasteful nature of vacuous images in support of cliches that will inevitably be ignored.

However, like you and many others, I can't entirely rule out the use of stock photography. Used properly (I particularly like istockphoto), it can be very effective and economical...not all B2B companies have big budgets. Just be prepared to have the discipline not to get side-tracked by the search (I've lost hours following the path of eye-catching images).

David Meerman Scott

I love all the great comments. Thanks.

Once again to clarify. I use stock images a lot. They are valuable...

Just think before adding photos willy-nilly.


Jeff Jackson

David, great post. I wrote about this last week but I framed it as a missed storytelling opportunity.

Employees come and go, stories change, so why not reflect that on your site?


Since arriving at Netregistry a couple of years ago, we have gradually removed all imagery that screams stock image cliche. It's not just the issue of not representing a true face for the brand - which they don't - it's that a cliched image says we have no imagination, creativity, talent or ideas of our own.

So gone are the pretty women in suits smiling next to laptops. Gone are guys in suits punching the air FTW. Well, gone are suits completely.

Considering we're a technology company (webhosting) the new website we're building doesn't have a suit or a laptop in sight. That's because 99% of our audience are SMEs with less than 5 staff, meaning they're running their businesses in their pyjamas from the spare bedroom.

I've loved this rant when I've seen it before and I can only agree with it again here. Sure, pretty can help conversions, but relevance and originality do a better job!


David, you are in good company with your opinion: http://j.mp/NOFku

Greg Smith

Ha-ha. It's so funny. Only this eek I was saying to some students tat I'd seen the handshake they used in their presentation many times before. You know it: one white, one black. It signifies many things. But above all, it says: "I didn't look far to get an innovative image". @prlab

xavier Izaguirre

Good post.

David, Ttake a look at a great opportunity seized upon. A spanish consultancy, the actual people in the best possible light. This interactive PHP page rises the self steem of the employees and makes clients feel how real the service is.


If you hide your employees behind idiotic models you're yelling the world they are not worth your client's money.

Let me know your thoughts,
Xavier Izaguirre, London

David Meerman Scott

Isaac - Classic. Thanks for sharing.

Xavier - The photos are great. And the ideas come through really well with these photos.

But why not let the photos speak for themselves? The whole image is lost in my opinion when in huge letters the text says "We are a multicultural... team." Why point that out in text? I think it is better to show, don't tell.

Santiago Merea

How convenient! My girlfriend and I have a networking website for couples that met online. We met online. But for some reason we used a stock picture for the website. It doesn't look that bad (you can check it out at www.onlinecouples.com), but we are currently thinking about changing the 'couple' we have on our site for... us! We think that people are not stupid and they know that the couple in the website is not real. Also, it would be a good trust statement: 'we don't mind putting our picture here... we love this site, and it is from us to you.'

Tim Parker

Great point David--one of my pet peeves. Speaking for professional services sites, we know from our own research that people want to get in touch with people--that means email addresses, phone numbers etc., and photos seem to help. Conversely, stock photos, especially in the professional services setting, look totally phony. I don't buy the notion that people want to see perfect--we know how good they are at sounding out phony blogs and I don't imagine that (intelligent) people are any more easily hoodwinked by stock photos. And it's not really hard to do it properly. Here's a site of a client of ours (www.catenion.com) where there's a photo of a bunch of people on the home page... they are the employees. If you dig into the site you'll find photos of partners, clients and the office manager. Not everyone has Abercrombie model looks, but that's not what prospective clients are going there for--it's genuine, which is far more important.


There is a very fine line between "cutting edge" and "cookie cutter". This very fine line is comprised of fear plain and simple - fear of putting your true self out there, fear of failure/rejection, fear to be sincerely different, and mostly fear of going outside of cultural/societal norms. Why do most people insist on using 2.5 x 3.0 business cards?


I’d say a stock photo is convincing in the same way a motion picture works. You could apply the same principle on whether or not it “suspends disbelief”. Take for instance the movie “Signs” with Mel Gibson. Most of us would find the concept of an alien hiding out the pantry a little far-fetched but if the script, filming, acting etc. is executed in a way that suspend our disbelief, we’re drawn into the story so much so that we’re willing to pause our reasoning minds and enjoy the experience.

The trick is knowing how to adapt audiences’ ever changing expectations - the special effects that worked in Jaws 1 is for instance is less likely to work again today. The same goes for a stock image of a business meeting with a lot of clean cut suited people with laser-white smiles staring happily into the camera… Do corporates suit up all the time and all have pearly whites? (we’re not all in real estate!)

It’s probably less to do with beauty and more about whether we can relate to the imagery we see. The character in the photo needs to be just as believable as the actor.

Good comparisons here:

If you’re in anguish would you have this expression http://twitpic.com/ncmv5 or more likely this one http://twitpic.com/ncn2c? When you happen to run into a beautiful woman in a supermarket would it be like this http://twitpic.com/ncp8i or like this http://twitpic.com/ncmlb?

The interesting thing is a brochure / website / presentation will work in the same manner – we choose images that are unconvincing (and there’s a lot to choose from), we’re likely to come across that way – unconvincing…

David Meerman Scott

Santiago - Yes. Please use you and your girlfriend and send us a link when you are done.

Tim - Yes. The use of real photos on Catenion site is great.

Thanks all for sharing.

Account Deleted

Toni, you are right when you say customers want above average company, they want extremely good company. But I think they want this in terms of results, of what the company does for them.

I'm sure every company has it's unique, remarkable people that could add flavor to their image, a thing that these smiley models can not.

great post,
thank you


I believe the "real" images convey a feeling of trustworthiness that you can't get with staged multi-culturism, especially when you are selling competence and not boxes.


I couldn't agree more - and it's an ongoing "discussion" in my company. It's really interesting where some of the stock imagery turns up. One image used as a central image on one of my company's sites is also a cover image for a book by Nicholas Sparks.

Nothing against Nicholas Sparks, but what does that say about our brand.

So thanks for the timely reminder.

Sharron Northcott

Yes I agree. My first website was designed by a local company here in Perth, Western Australia, but I was never comfortable with the stock photos used of a group of models masquerading as businesspeople outside skyscrapers giving each other the 'high-five' over their laptops. Weird especially as I am a Sole-trader with a very 'mumsy' look who works from my home-office. I've used a very chubby pic of the real me on a second website that I built myself www.clickcopywriter.com (temporary measure) :)

kate davis

Let's not ignore the obvious here. Stock photography is the inexpensive way to liven up drab work. It is used because shooting real photography is often perceived as expensive and "too high end" for the company. There is also the risk that the person who the client has spent money to shoot will quit or be an embarrassment to them.

In a perfect world we would shoot for every project. But we all know the world isn't perfect.
That doesn't mean we shouldn't stay away from the most stereotypical and poorly executed shots. There are plenty of good stock options nowadays we shouldn't have to stoop to the lowest of the low.

David Meerman Scott

Kate - I agree. Stock images can be great. But why insist on using models to represent your staff or your customers? Why not just choose a different image?

Ben Merrion

I really enjoyed reading this post and the comments - I love your phrase visual gobbledygook and your suggestion to use real people. When we have our marketing department do flyers for our adult literacy events, it's hard to find a stock photo that really fits and we have had to use our own. I do disagree with the commenters who have stated that the photos of real people have to be done by a professional. One photo we use often is the main one on our Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/adultliteracy and features an instructor and student we know and was taken by one of our staff members. We have received many compliments on it and the photo was basically done for free.

kate davis

Unfortunately I think this is also a symptom of less sophisticated creatives. The craft of Art Direction and Design has been handed to people who aren't necessarily trained to select images or for their ability to create brands.

Companies don't necessarily understand the impact images like these have on their sites or other communications. They often figure they look professional by using these shots. So why not? They forget that part of the charm of their company is that they are small and can often provide more appropriate services. If they were to hire a local photographer who could capture that they would be better served than using cheap stock. It is often hard to justify design and marketing firms these days. But if you can't do it well you can do more harm than good.

Bev Hendricks

I am proud to have photos of our real people on our website and in our printed materials. I'll occasionally use stock images to create something else, but that's about it. Hate to say this, but many people believe that everyone in those corporate offices look that great. Many don't even realize the ads they see on their facebook are based on their profiles. I don't want to say people are gullible outloud, because they just don't have a reason to believe otherwise. If everyone knew all the "tricks" marketing wouldn't work well, would it? I read all of the ads in the paper and watch them on line and make judgements about their effectiveness every day.



I agree that "perfect" stock photography images are way overused. But, what I suspect drives its overuse is some research report, somewhere, at some point in the past has said that a photo like the ones you're referring to are "inviting" and "welcoming" to those who are browsing the site.

I have no problem with the multi-cultural inclusion the photos portray. As a person of color, I want to see some sensitivity that a company realizes that society is made up of a rich fabric of ethnicities. But, realistically, will people respond as favorably to a photo of someone like me - a 43-year-old, overweight, balding, eyeglass wearing business-owner? I think not as much.

Our society has evolved into a quest for perfection; in material objects like cars, houses, food (how does Martha Stewart make everything so perfect?), to physical things like our bodies (how many billions does the weight-loss industry take in each year?).

It will take generations to change the mindset of the public to respond to realistic imagery. As long as Madison Avenue types are calling the shots, we're in for a long haul of this kind of stuff.

David Meerman Scott

Kevin - research? Must be an urban myth. Never seen any myself

Bob Schlotman

Thanks David for the "shout out" on Jackson Healthcare. Our presidents and marketing teams learned a lot from your seminar. I would certainly recommend you to anyone interesting in implementing the New Rules of Marketing in their company. We will be using "real photos" in our new site launching this month.

Bruno Miguel Espalha

And i always wondered how their smile looked so shiny and white.

I tought, geez, these companies must have a really good dental plan. And i also tought that they all went to a great gym to stay so lean.

I really hate when i looked at two or three different websites from different companies in the same business and they look the same in terms of image.

The message they try to pass on, can be good but i don't feel like reading it anymore.

P.S - Regarding the comment by Gisela Hipolt-Squair: The corporate image on your the company website is the first thing people stumble upon when they type or click the webaddress in their browsers. Unfortunately, the employee left shortly after you redesigned the website, but after a while a minor change in the image is always welcome, although it can be expensive.

As David says you don't have to use or employees, you can use your long term costumers (with their consent). At least those are expected to stay with your company longer than an employee, and i'm sure they wouldn't mind to appear on the frontpage of a well known company.


hahah hilarious post. I concur on every level.


Haha. this is hilarious. I've avoided using many images in my current blog for this reason. I agree that images are engaging and helpful to many users, but most people use images poorly, even my favorite bloggers are guilty of this. Still looking for a helpful and effective way to use images in my content.


Hi, jumping in here, its sooo interesting to hear things from this side. Please any interested parties send me a line to continue any discussions.

I'm a stock photographer, actually know one of the models in the top image, he is a semi-professional triathlete not a business executive.

1. Using real people is great in theory. Problem being, they are difficult to photograph and do not increase conversion rates.

2. The challenge for us is to not produce formulaic imagery, but to put these models into real situations and real setups.

Buyers, like yourselves, are increasingly savvy and recognise the cheap setups that are being re-used in an instant. Would like to hear from any one of you on what improvements you would like to see in stock imagery so that it gaps the bridge betweeen the desired 'real' imagery and what is currently being produced in stock.

john @ stock photography and vectors

seems to me those are the ones that sell. we are always on the lookout for more real life, non model and non posed images but they are harder to come by.

David Meerman Scott

Josh -

It's kind of like the difference between a really well shot movie and a badly produced TV sitcom. When you watch a great movie you feel that the actors and the settings and the surroundings and the clothing are real for that environment and you suspend disbelief and bond.

In some crappy sitcom filmed on a soundstage, you know that it is just actors and you can't get around that. Yes, it can still be interesting to watch but it is not "real" it is "just TV."

As you can tell from this post, I have a problem with stock photos that use people who LOOK LIKE ACTORS in scenes that do not look like a real business environment.

As a photographer, I think you could build a business with "real business stock photos."

Here's an idea: Go to a job fair near your home and grab a dozen unemployed real businesspeople for the day. (Sadly there are a lot of people looking for work these days.) Pay them a day rate.

Then find a real office with a real conference room. Hire it for the weekend. Get some Starbucks coffee cups. Have your businesspeople bring their own (used) laptops. Have some papers on the table. Have some diagrams written on the whiteboard on the wall. Not everyone needs to have perfect hair and teeth.

Make it freakin' real man!! How would Oliver Stone or Steven Spielberg do the shot??

Now there will still be people who will buy the happy pretty mutli-cultural shots. But I suspect you'll have a lot of customers for your real shots too.


Kevin Halliburton

LOL - thanks, for the laugh.

I asked a pastor once why he used stock images in the church promos instead of actual members of his congregation. He explained it in much more graceful terms but the way I interpreted it was, “because you and I see the way they market themselves in church but the community has seen them elsewhere and I don’t know if we want to risk being tied to their brand.” That probably goes for a lot of companies as well.

Beyond that, I think the main reason average looking people aren’t used in advertisements very often is that they don’t actually convey the message, “hey look at us, we’re real”, they convey the message, “hey look at us, we’re average.” Who wants that message tied to their brand?

That said, the examples you posted definitely seem to cake on the fake. Maybe their is a wide open market for stock images of more "genuine" looking above average people. It would be an interesting focus group study that's for sure.


Hi David, as I told you on a comment on this post a few weeks ago, we had the idea to change the nice looking "people" on the site for ourselves! You asked me to tell you when this was up. You can now check it at www.onlinecouples.com

David Meerman Scott

Santiago - Awesome! Well done.

Печать буклетов

It's lazy and it's becoming increasingly counter-productive because we all now recognise the formula as something ersatz and cliched.

There are issues with using real people instead - not least the fact that they move on (and I also have first-hand experience of this) - but that has to be a better starting point than the politically correct cardboard cut-outs from the agency!

Jason Fox

I have a term for these people: Smiling Jackasses.

r4 gold cartucho

I like your thinking for advertise that use real people who are behind you!As we know this is the trend for all advertise we have any one movie actor or any models!So keep it up this thought will go long!


I couldn't agree more. This chimed perfectly with a piece I wrote last year about Dell's Della website (link from my name). High time for these lazy cliches to stop.


I'm a bit late in joining the conversation, but only last night I had to turn off one of those glossy American TV soap operas in which everyone is perfect and impossibly glamorous. So your piece resonates with me hugely.
As you say, it's not about prettiness but about fakery; and if everyone is pretty, then it's fake (though, since some companies recruit people to fit the image, their office full of youngish people will look very pretty).
A verbal equivalent of this is the corporate guff: client-focused, state-of-the-art, environmentally friendly (even if, or especially if, it's an oil company), etc.
I find that the corporate perfection nonsense repels me. I'd prefer to be dealing with human beings.
I dread the day when human frailty and imperfection have been eliminated from the world!

John Wall

David, you forgot one of the classics - the person holding a laptop with one hand and typing with the other. In stock photography all the time, yet never seen in real life.


Love it. Using real employees in ad campaigns, for example, instills a sense of pride in the organization. We use our employees for B-roll for our TV commercials (I work for a hospital system). But we don't just grab anyone -- they are high performers who've been recommended by their managers. These are people who recommend our hospitals to their friends and neighbors.


I so agree with everything in this post. There's always something so fake about model pics that always nags my brain. If they're making so much effort in looking great, it must mean that they're not at all like that in reality. Don't get me started on dating site profile pictures. Take a quick look around free dating sites like plentyoffish.com and you'll see what I mean.

B MarkoVision

We only hire people from Stock photos.


Nothing attracts the human eye more than a human face. So websites and brochures love to use photos of people doing whatever activity is relevant. Stock photography is an easy way to get a photo and not have to worry about getting a release to use someone's image. In many cases, it does look fake esp. the examples you used!

Joseph Ratliff

I've come back to this post...

To those companies that think regularly updating photos of their real employees is "hard" when there is turnover... it's not, and that's a rather lazy cop-out for not doing it IMO.

If you call the employee image a generic name like "employee" for example (e.g. employee.jpg, then employee1.jpg for the next) then whenever an employee leaves you simply look at which image name you're replacing on the website (you can see it in the code)... and take the new photo, then upload it with the same photo name (employee.jpg) that was there previously.

Takes a few seconds, and it will "replace" all instances of "employee.jpg" on your website with the same image.

And for those companies with, say, thousands of employees, you could have "employee1325.jpg" or whatever.

When you assign this generic label, you gain leverage. ;)

Companies will need to get personal (actually they already do) in the upcoming years, or face the consequences of their laziness.

David Meerman Scott

Hear, hear Joseph!!

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