Wow, reaction to the recent New York Times article continues to trickle in. At least four different people sent me the link (this is great guys- keep it up, if you think I might be interested, I likely am. That’s exactly what this blog needs- stringers).
And as I combed Twitter to see how the article had been framed in retweeting, I came across these two statements which were made almost simultaneously and make a lovely and fitting juxtaposition:
• Democratization of technology & distribution channels eliminates institutionally-contingent professions
• I have been / will continue to be part of this problem
My two cents? I think this NYT piece fits well with APE’s recent article about the mail-in product shooter. I’m convinced a lot of us have been deluding ourselves for a long time that what we do has any real artistic value or meaningful import for the clients.
Think back on the jobs you did last year. How many of them utilized your true vision? How many jobs asked you to creatively interpret an idea instead of just executing a layout?
When I review the jobs I’ve work on over the last few years, I can certainly think of several which needed particular vision and style. And for one job in particular, a very involved treatment was required. In that case, the work was being commissioned at the highest level- it was not a one-off but instead would contain the entire brand’s look and feel. Consequently, the photographer did well on this assignment- the images had “brand value” and not just “execution value”. (Sadly, the client managed to slowly but methodically strip away everything that made this photography worth the money).
But I can also think of some jobs in the last couple of years which used photography as an incidental part of the ad. For the photographers it was just executional, it was not particular, no style was employed, it was not special. There was nothing creative about it. And yet, arguably, we still pay the same type of fee and usage rates for this type of photography- is this sustainable? I think it might be delusional to think that in these cases, your creative effort has value that you will be able to retain against the tide of easy access to high resolution cameras and distribution methods.
Another ultimate example of the coming apocalypse (scary for Art Buyers too on this one) is the fact that Leo Burnett Toronto won gold at Cannes in the outdoor category (and it became the most awarded outdoor campaign ever) for a campaign that relied on user-generated photography. And the funny thing (laughing to keep from crying) is that the whole idea behind the campaign is that James Ready couldn’t afford to advertise AND keep their beer prices so low so they crowd-sourced their imagery. That’s right, in the end the images on their billboards didn’t cost them any money at all.
But you know what, it worked- it’s a super smart campaign and people loved it. What’s that… oh, it’s putting poor photographers out of business…? James Ready doesn’t care and if you think they should, you’re in the wrong business. As Leo Toronto CEO and super cool guy David Moore said of the campaign: I’m particularly proud of the simplicity of the idea—no high tech, no special effects, just pure creativity in one of the world’s oldest mediums.
Now we’re starting to talk about the future of marketing here. I’ve noticed that when you read blogs about the future of advertising, they are all about innovation and insight. Why we don’t talk this way about photography?
Bud Caddell has a great article on his blog What Consumes Me called Who Says the Future Needs an Advertising Agency in which he writes: I think Joseph Jaffe probably isn’t too far off – it’s easy to see agencies splinter between the idea-havers and the technicians. And from the comments to that article:
I think the problem can be solved rather easily:
Change your mission statement.
The mission statement of the GM was “We build cars.”
That’s not a mission statement that would have allowed for the innovation that is needed now. Their mission statement should have been “We bring people from A to B.”
Remington’s mission statement was “We build typewriters.” Unsurprisingly they didn’t invent the personal computer.
It seems to me the mission statement of a lot of advertising agencies is “We create advertising.” Because that’s what they are staffed to do, because that brings in the awards, or whatever else perverse reason.
Their mission should be “We solve problems.”
And, as hokey as this might sound- your mission statement should have the same flavour. Are you brand-building with your work and your innovation or are you just another technician in a crowded field?
There is no way to compete against stock in the jobs for which stock is appropriate so I think you should mostly stop trying (and definitely stop bitching about it). Instead, make sure you’ve got a look and feel that the brand needs; that you are an innovator, offering solutions. And take heart- as per Jaffe’s article referenced above, these are the same demands that clients are making of the ad agencies.
There will always be some demand for commissioned, generic, safe imagery but this is a field that is enormously oversaturated. On the other hand, there is tremendous opportunity to find new ways of working right now. So don’t panic, just figure it out.