Never commission a photograph of your product…..

It may shock you to hear these words from a commercial photographer, it certainly took me by surprise as one of the guiding principles handed down when I started to serve my time in Advertising Photography in 1986, but it was great advice and remains just as relevant today.

So what to do instead? Next time you commission a photograph or video, whether you sell a product or a service, bear these time-honoured principles in mind:

1. Don’t commission a photograph of your product when you could commission a photograph that sells your product. People buy products and the action of purchasing is triggered by collaboration between the head and the heart. The exact proportions of these influences depends as much upon the type of product as it does on which school of advertising you subscribe to, but both organs are involved, that’s for sure.

2. Speak to your audience. This has two important messages. “Speak to” means address directly and this involves engagement with the potential buyer, no engagement means it missed the point. “Your audience” means the target demographic for your product because there’s very little point trying to sell nursing home places to school children, they’re just the wrong group for the proposition. In summary, what sells more cold drinks, a picture of a glass of liquid or a picture of a group of friends (representative of the target demographic) having fun sharing a drink?

3. Give your product a first class ticket for its journey. Way back in the 1950′s, when the idea of brand image was starting to shape advertisements, David Ogilvy (the original Mad Man) was saying, “Every advertisement must contribute to the complex symbol that is the brand image”. The idea that every appearance of your product must add to its image is pivotal and widely accepted The image of the brand, which is the company who produces the product, should also be served by each appearance.

4. Only employ hard working photographs. A hard working photograph sells product by engaging the viewer but way beyond that it makes the product desirable, the company recognisable and the brand memorable.

I have never forgotten being told – it is the advertising photographer’s job to mix science with art in order to give an advertiser access to their clients’ hearts and minds – it was good advice in 1986 and continues to translate well 30+ years on.

Thanks for reading,

Stephen Potts

Belfast photographer and filmmaker

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