What happens in the music world does not stay in the music world. In fact, it has always been a precursor and a very good indicator of upcoming trends in other digital media evolution. While last week’s partnership between Apple and the band U2 was mostly covered for its massive release of a free music album, it is important to view it as it might impact the photo tech market.
When done properly, an image – or a series of images – can become inseparable from the brand messaging and carry it far beyond its competition ( think Marlboro Man, for example). Now that photography is everywhere, used and produced by everyone, it has become even more important. With the positioning of social media right into the center of people’s lives – and we know how much social media thrives on exchange of photos – it is suicidal for a brand not to have a strong photography strategy.
Like with music, brands are a very important consumer of photography, licensing it from companies or individuals, against a fee. But that it changing. More and more, some brands have realized that they need to shift from renting photographs to producing and owning them. Why ? Because if they own the images, they can extend their messaging far beyond the limitation of a paid campaign and reach deep inside social media. They can switch from showing a photograph associated to their brand to giving it away for mass consumption. Rings a bell ? Yes, it’s the Apple/U2 model.
The song remains the same
Thing is, with photography it is much easier to include a brand mention than with music. While with a song, you would need to include lyrics mentioning a product or service , which would quickly turnridiculous. Sure, you can work with an artist’s influence and associate it with the brand so that, after a while, hearing the music makes you consciously or unconsciously makes you think of a product – certainly what Apple is going for – but it is an extremely complex approach. It has more chances of being a flop than succeeding. While we think it will succeed and people will associate the songs to Apple every time they hear it, thejury is still out on the Apple/U2 experiment. With photography, it is much less trickier. A series of pictures can always carry a visual brand association within. With photography, a well place logo or product placement can do the trick.
Earned media vs no media
So when will we see an Apple/U2 experiment with photography? Brands like Red Bull have experimented with free photography for a while now. As a very potent extension of their extreme sport marketing, Red Bull offers free photography to any legitimate publication. Want to write about an event sponsored by Red Bull ? Go to their Content Pool and help yourself with free high quality images. Of course, each of them contain Red Bull logos but that is a small price to pay in exchange for free. It is very successful: earned media for their Stratos campaign is estimated in the ten of millions of dollars. Each photograph is theirs: Created, edited, stored and distributed by Red Bull.
But no need to go to the edge of the stratosphere for brands to benefit from photography. Very soon, we will start seeing brands producing high-end photography content for free distribution. Some are already doing it via their Instagram accounts but none have gone all the way. After all, most have a photography department – if only to produce product photography – so it is not a far cry to expand it.
Beyond the product
Why not, for example, create a free image database ? A brand like Ikea, for example, could use existing and specially created photography to create a large image database where anyone could download a high res image. All images, of course, would contained Ikea products, offering the Swedish brand unmatched exposure. GM could do the same, with hundreds of thousand of car/location images. Airline companies with travel, Uber with cityscapes, fashion brands with lifestyle and so on. Look at what free photos has done to the NASA brand. Apple is allegedly spending $100 million on its U2 campaign. 10% of that amount would build a very substantial photo collection with years of return.
Everyone needs and uses pictures today, not just corporate users or publishers. From personal websites to blogs, Tumblrs, Facebook banners, Pinterest boards, we all can all use professionally taken pictures in our daily lives. Sure, we can pick a few Creative Commons off Flickr but just imagine if we could also go to our favorite brand’s website and use those ? The market is there. It is now just a question of time and organisation for brands to start filling it in and reaping the benefits.
Photo by cuellar
Author: Paul Melcher
Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur and Managing Director of Melcher System, a consultancy for visual technology firms. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo-based companies with already two successful exits.