Adventures in stock photos – Act 2: Free love dating with pretty people

In Act 1 of this series, I shared some trends that have emerged from the 1,359 credit union websites the CUPP Research Team visited for The Credit Union Photography Project:

  • 90% of credit union websites use at least one stock photo
  • 70% of all images cataloged so far — 36,316 as of October 2019 — are stock.
  • Nearly 84% of credit union websites don’t have a single image of an actual member.

Big deal, right? Nearly every CU uses stock photos. And since they’re so popular, how bad can they be?

Well…

  • A credit union for a particular city’s police officers uses stock photos of police officers to advertise their deposit and loan accounts. The stock police officers uniforms bear insignias from the New York City Police Department. The problem? The credit union is in the southwestern United States.
  • A large credit union in the western United States features a portrait of a beaming middle-age woman who gushes “I LOVE MY CREDIT UNION!” on their website and on billboards across a major metropolitan area. A nice sentiment, certainly, that we’re led to believe came from a real member. It didn’t. It’s actually a “Premium” image in one of the largest stock photo catalogs in the world and currently deployed as the profile picture for three different online life coaches, four food bloggers, one writer, one photography store manager, a customer who gave a glowing testimonial for an online beer-of-the-month club, two paralegals, and one very enthusiastic veterinarian on the east coast.
  • Another credit union uses a stock photo of a man cuddling with his wife to promote their investment services, not realizing a clinic three blocks down the street uses the same photo to promote their treatments for low testosterone.
  • To advertise auto loans, at least 21 credit unions in 3 adjoining states use the very same stock photo of an impossibly happy couple leaping for joy outside of a used car dealership.
  • On their Job Postings pages, at least 16 credit unions use the same stock photo of a happy 20-something woman. What they don’t realize is this same stock photo is featured prominently on hundreds of posts on domestic and overseas websites about “The Best Jobs to Find Single Women,” “How to Meet Women in Real Life,” and “Free Love Dating with Pretty People”.

These are neither exceptions nor outliers. They are the smallest of selections of the tens of thousands of awkward and head-scratching uses of stock photos in our industry, each one a direct contradiction to our industry’s stated devotion to personal attention and member focus.

I don’t share these to embarrass any specific credit union. That’s why I’m not including the actual stock images in this story, and have changed certain image descriptions to protect identities and reputations.

In fairness, I understand the temptation to choose stock over real. Your budget is stretched thin, and quality photos of real people seem like a luxury. Plus, finding the right photographer to translate your vision into reality, planning and executing a shoot, and coordinating the members/employees/locations necessary to make the project viable can seem challenging when you can, with a few clicks, download an endless supply of ready-to-use pretty pictures.

I desperately want to change your mind, my friend. I’m tempted to dump more data on you, tell you how swapping just one stock photo for a real one increased website conversions 161%, prove how stock wastes space and hurts your brand, remind you how the esteemed marketing expert Seth Godin recently reminded credit unions about the importance of spotlighting real members, show you the custom photo libraries I’m creating for credit unions with employee headcounts ranging from 11 to over 500…all with the hope of changing how you tell your organization’s story.

Or we could try this thought experiment:

Pretend that every picture in every frame in your house and in every photo album you own has been replaced with a stock photo. The stock photo is perfectly lit and composed, looks like some vague approximation of you and your family, but definitely isn’t you or anyone you know and love.

Imagine the discomfort and confusion in your friends, family, and visitors when they look around your living room and see imposters where your face, their faces, and your shared lives should be. Worse yet, you have no photos hanging on your walls at all, and no photo albums are anywhere to be seen.

You defend your impersonal and awkward home decor choices with reasonable-sounding arguments:

“Oh, come on! What’s the big deal? They’re just pictures. Don’t get me wrong…I love you! Really, I do! I just don’t have time to find a photographer. Not enough money to afford a good one, either. It’s too big of a hassle to get us all in a picture, to take enough interesting photos to decorate our home, and to find the right ones to hang up and show off. Sure, these stock people aren’t us, but what difference does it make? Look at how pretty and perfect they all look! They match so well with the design and decor of the house. Besides, this is how every other house in the neighborhood has done it for as long as anyone can remember. Now, who wants dinner and some of our legendary member service?!”

And we wonder why our market share hasn’t changed in 25 years.

We profess love for our members, ask them to love us with their financial lives in return, use terms like “hero” and “partner” and “owner” in our marketing. If those noble words and concepts still mean anything, then it is long past time to hang more member photos on our walls and tell their unique stories.

Stepping away from the generic and easy, and investing in the personal and meaningful, isn’t easy. It will take time, talent, treasure, and no small measure of courage. Others in our industry have done it, though. You’ll meet them in Act 3 of this series, coming next month.

Andy Janning

Andy Janning

Andy Janning is a popular keynote speaker at events across the country, a national award-winning expert in talent development, the host of NCUF’s Herb Wegner Memorial Awards, and a ... Web: https://www.andyjanningphoto.com Details

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