Perils Of Using Stock Media For Web Sites

By Mike Maddaloni on Tuesday, October 13, 2009 at 10:10 AM with 0 comments

I always wanted to put this disclaimer on a Web site, “No stock media was harmed in the creation of this Web site.” Where there is some sarcasm in the message, it also shows my preference to not use stock media, whether they are drawings, photography or video. Why you ask? A major reason is that somebody may notice, which only gets magnified if it is shown on national television! This video below is from The Jay Leno Show where someone sent in print advertisement with the same stock photo of a family used for different companies.

If you don’t see the above video, you can view it with this link.

There is demand for stock media as it is much less costly than custom-created media. Depending on the purpose, it may make perfect sense to use stock media. Do you want to use the skyline of a particular city on a Web site? It makes more sense to pay a few dollars for an image than to hire a photographer and an airplane to take the shot. For other “generic” items the same reasoning can apply. You most likely will not find specific items, such as brands, available as stock media.

So why is stock media much less expensive than custom media? The reason is non-exclusivity. This means you purchase the license to use the media for a particular purpose, such as on a Web site, and somebody else can do the same for their Web site, or brochure or other display purposes. The reason the family was shown in the video for 3 different insurance companies is because it was probably categorized as such, and when a search was performed it came up under the insurance category.

As cost is a deciding factor, stock media is often chosen if the budget does not allow for custom media. Note I am not criticizing the quality of the media itself – it is most all done by professionals and is of high quality. However as it is created to be used for many purposes, it can look very generic and not specific to a locale or industry. As Web users become more sophisticated, they can often recognize a photo that doesn’t look like it completely fits on the Web site. A good example is when a company shows photos of its management team, yet none of them are in the photo of people sitting around a table on another Web page.

In addition to the photos themselves appearing in multiple places, many times you can even recognize some of the people in other places. At a former employer stock photos were used on the Web site. Shortly after I saw one of the women from the Web site in signs in CVS and Staples stores! Granted I worked on the redesign of the Web site that used these photos and was much closer to them as well. For our budget, we could have taken photos exclusive for our use, and they would have also been more realistic looking as well.

When it comes time to design or redesign your Web site, think about the media you will be using as much as the content. If you can afford it, go with custom media. You will get greater control of the scenes as well as have a completely unique user experience.

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