Comments and observations on business, marketing and life: by Martin Donohoe

Haven’t I seen you somewhere before … microstock photography

A commonly found microstock image

Something that has just grown and grown in popularity over the past few years has been the use of low-cost stock photography in both online marketing and lots of offline work as well. These so-called ‘microstock‘ sites have grown and multiplied and one of the best known ones is (although seemingly more expensive to use of late).

Whilst using images like these can be a quick and cost-effective route to developing good marketing materials, there is a side effect that any marketer or web designer should bear in mind. I think of it as the ‘haven’t I seen you somewhere before’ effect. The most popular photographers and the models they use seem to appear just about anywhere, take the image shown for example (screen grab of comp image from Istockphoto). I’ve recently seen this model used as the image on a web control panel, a web service site and advertising an opticians in Bradford!

However, the ubiquity of these images can cause unexpected problems. Competitors can use the same model as you (accidentally or deliberately), people might think they’ve already seen your ad (when in fact they’ve seen a similar image) and so on. Plus, it’s just plain annoying to see the same model or image in common use. Take a look at the classified ads in the back of most magazines and odds on, you’ll find the same or very similar stock images being used.

Microstock is cheap, convenient and used correctly, a powerful device. But, don’t fall foul of overexposure!


  1. Stephen Hampshire

    Hi Martin,

    Do you think it’s much worse than those royalty-free stock CDs we all used to use? At least the average quality of royalty-free stock is much better now.

    Still, you’re right, the same faces do keep popping up. Particularly women in headsets!

    Perhaps we should all start thinking more creatively. Some cliches seem to have died – when was the last time you saw the dreaded handshake (with optional globe)?


  2. Martin

    Hi Stephen,

    Has the situation improved? Well, I’d agree that the average quality has improved, ‘business’ images with circa’92 chunky phones are rarely seen, but if lots of people are using the same ‘better than average’ shots then it drags the benchmark down again I think.

    Hmmm. Women in headsets, I wonder which company literature might feature some of those…. as for the handshake and globe, a quick search reveals it’s still doing remarkably good business!


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