Andy's response to "User-Generated Content"

[update: when I originally posted this, a lot of readers did what I feared and TLDR’d my writing. Many assumed I was advocating for the ‘user-generated content’, others thought that photographers were lucky to be doing such cool stuff for a living and should just shut up. Sigh. I’ve adjusted this post a little so it reads more clearly.]

Andy’s Response: Photographers are not to blame for boring stock photos.

Recently I came across a blog post that essentially blamed professional photographers for creating boring stock photos. The author said boring stock photos are the key reason companies should be using User-Generated Content. To sum up: stock photos are bad/boring, therefore companies and marketers are forced to look elsewhere. Deep into the article, we get this gem:

“People whose work is used don't merely provide high-quality content for free; after being invited to take part in a campaign, they tend to also often become its biggest cheerleader.”

The author's conclusion (according to me): giant wealthy companies and mega marketing firms want free photography and unpaid spokespersons. I’ve dissected a few key sentences.

“Let's face it, stock photography is boring.”

Andy’s Response: Advertisers and their clients have made it that way.

Their drive to pay less, and to apply the Walmart philosophy of value drove photographers away from creating high quality/value imagery. Why create really good work if it’s only worth a $1 to a Fortune Five Hundred company?

By shifting the financial burden onto the shoulders of the photographer, the stock model decreased their effective annual revenue down to almost nothing. “Just lower your prices and license more images! It’s so easy to license a million images for a 1$ each!' said the fictional CFO at Getty Images that lives in my mind

What’s the solution for “boring stock photos”? Clients should pay more for images. That’s it. If collectively marketers would appreciate and reward creativity with actual money, they would see the quality go up immediately. Here are some examples.

Best Buy branding campaign outtake
Best Buy commissioned me to create a branding campaign—for each scene, once I got the shot, I quickly created a version with a decidedly darker outlook. See more quirky lifestyle images here!
“As consumers become inundated with marketing content, they increasingly resist anything that looks and feels inauthentic […] In fact, 84% of millennials don't trust traditional marketing and 92% of consumers trust user-generated content more than advertising.”

Andy’s Response: Let's talk about the millennial demographic.

Yes, talking to the millennial demographic seems to work differently. It's a huge, undefined, constantly shapeshifting. catch-all term. The question that should be asked is 'what was the real change?' I’d say it’s the venue.

This demographic doesn’t read magazines or newspapers (print or digital) and doesn't watch traditional TV. Marketers have to identify where they get their information (and marketing).

They use the web, content aggregators, social networks and text/chat to get their information. Frequently they are on their phone to do so. They are going to ignore traditional methods and channels of advertising. Just because the venue changed doesn’t mean you can blame “boring stock photos” for your inability to connect.

“Satisfied customers are increasingly taking to social media to write, talk or post about products and brand experiences they love, and those social engagements are key for marketers.”

Andy’s Response: This has nothing to do with stock photography.

Is your demographic really reaching out to brands to express authentic feelings of love? I wonder if it’s more likely they are bragging to their friends. Maybe, just maybe, they heard you can get famous and/or get free stuff by bragging on social media.

Billboard campaign for Oregon Lottery Powerball. One crazy driver and one very scared passenger in a red car on the road, looking like they may be driving off a cliff. The license plate reads "AHH-HHH"
I was commissioned to create images for the Oregon Lottery's Powerball campaign—but it's always worth taking the time to have a little more fun. See more quirky lifestyle images here!
“…the availability of authentic and unfiltered content [is growing], including images, from social media. And that presents an opportunity.”

Translated: companies don’t know how to carry on an authentic conversation. Therefore, they astroturf the channels their targeted demographics live on, aping what they think is working. Also, these companies are super excited to get 1000’s of images without paying for them.

“Here are six reasons why it's time to ditch stock photos in exchange for user-generated content. We can't all look like models […] Consumers know that models can look good in just about anything, which is why it's important to demonstrate how that same item looks on a range of body sizes, styles, ages, ethnicities, and shapes. Unfortunately, traditional marketing doesn't easily lend itself to that sort of variety, but user-generated content does.”

Andy’s Response: I'm putting the blame squarely back on your shoulders here, marketers.

Start choosing and requesting authentic looking real people, in your stock and assignment photography, and you’ll have plenty to choose from as that market segment grows. Again, you’ll need to start paying photographers to do this. We don’t do this for “fun”, we do it for a living, and we can’t help you if you don’t pay us.

"People are creating better imagery. The quality of user-generated content has increased significantly in recent years, with regular people now able to take brand-worthy photos. Part of the reason for the improvement is the gradually increasing quality of smartphone cameras, which now use sophisticated software to help users get the perfect shot every time. […] those with even a casual interest in improving their photography skills have a wide range of affordable or even free resources to help them up their game […] enabling more amateurs to capture higher-quality content."

So, a person doesn’t need to have any training, experience, or skill to take good photos—you just need a smartphone and some Youtube lessons? Cool. And that is going to solve the whole ‘boring’ stock photos thing how? Oh right, it’s not.

You are also delivering the message that big companies and huge marketing firms should take advantage of people who don’t realize they have created a valuable commodity: “Oh, what a fun hobby you have! Hey, sign this and we’ll start using/ benefiting from your work while not paying you any money.'

Olympian track and field runner Carol Rodriguez. Dramatic (not boring) stock photo of an Olympian training on stairs
Olympian track and field runner Carol Rodriguez for Monster iSport. See more dramatic sports images here!
"The numbers don't lie. Brands in various industries achieve success with user-generated content every day, and sometimes the numbers are truly staggering. We've seen similar results across other channels—from websites to microsites to display ads—increase engagement, reduce bounce rates, and improve recall."

Andy’s Response: Numbers do lie—and empirical conclusions don’t make them real.

The Sun appears to rotate around the Earth, and I can prove it by watching the sky!

You’re saying the same group that’s allergic to marketing has no issues clicking on those incredibly annoying ads that clutter up a website or are on social media and decide to stop looking at meme videos to go look at the website for a product they already own? They’re not clicking by accident to make it go away, due to UI design tricks? And you’re sure it’s not the result of a click-farm somewhere?

Data doesn’t lie—but it’s super easy to slip a little confirmation bias into the mix and decide that your data backs up your ideas. There’s a chance the author is right, but again this is not the fault of professional photographers.

"Though stock photography libraries can seem infinite, those who have spent time digging through them for the perfect shot know that it can be painfully difficult to find exactly what they're looking for—especially if they're looking for something that looks authentic."

Andy’s Response: You’ve just described assignment photography

Companies pay photographers to create something not-boring, authentic, specifically & exclusively for them, using the talent that represents their authentic demographic. And surprise surprise, this imagery can be used even on social media! Weird, right?

"By contrast, user-generated content offers an even greater and constantly expanding pool of content to choose from. Furthermore, it's a lot easier to find real people demonstrating real emotions—like joy, fear, surprise—on social media than it is to find models and actors with the chops to nail those expressions in a stock photography pool."

Right. Again. Because marketers stopped paying photographers real fees for their work, especially in the realm of stock photography. It’s not hard to create really good stock photos that have all joy, fear and surprise you want. It is hard to do though if you’ve decided that an image is worth 1$, or in the cases you’ve been describing, 0$.

An example of great, not boring, stock photography. Don't blame photographers for bad stock photography
Fast, cheap, good. You can only have two. See more dramatic sports photography here!
“With user-generated content, however, [companies are] able to collect images and videos from far and wide, with a volume and perspective unmatched by anything stock photography libraries can offer.”

Andy’s Response: Companies can collect images and videos. And pay very little for them.

Just because you can do something isn’t permission to do it.

"People will help spread the word about your brand when you feature their content […] People whose work is used don't merely provide high-quality content for free"

Andy’s Response: You said it. Quote: “high-quality” and “free”

Am I the only one that has a problem with this model? I’m pretty sure all those Fortune Five Hundred companies could afford to pay for high-quality content. But doubling down, and making these people also provide you with free spokesperson duties? Damn.

"It's never been easier. Many marketers know that audiences respond better to user-generated content, yet many are intimidated by the task of sourcing images—for example, securing rights to use them […] User-generated content has never been more accessible, effective or of higher quality than it is today. So why would anyone continue using stock images?"

I’ll agree with the author here at least, it has never been easier to scam your way into grabbing millions of images, using them for commercial gains, and not paying a dime. Marketers should be ashamed.

Don’t blame professional photographers for not providing you with free, high quality, not-boring images—you can place that blame right at your own feet.

You can read the original article here:

Please feel free to share, re-post, etc.