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Before so many of us were forced to work from home in our pajamas, a business could splash stock photos on its website, confident the pictures look modern, fine, or passable. Even if the beautiful, impeccably dressed people in the photos aren’t really employees, hopefully visitors would see the business as hip, youthful, and happy. 

Stock photos of models smiling at each other across conference room tables or meaningfully pointing at a screen function like a sitcom’s laugh track. 

The philosopher Slavoj Žižek suggests the purpose of a laugh track isn’t just to mask the lack of humor in a show’s writing. Its real purpose is to laugh for the viewer, so at the end of the show, the audience feels as though it has laughed and is refreshed.

Now apply that concept to stock photos. Visitors know the photos aren’t showing real employees of the business working in a real office. How many times have we seen the same dapperly dressed gentleman or professional business woman across multiple websites or ads on social media? 

Authenticity Over Hip Perfection

Over the last couple of years, businesses have been told more and more that authenticity is a key component of success. As coronavirus hit, the call for authenticity reached a new pitch. “Be more human!” “Express your vulnerability!” “Zoom as you are!”

The crisis is teaching us how to develop more meaningful connections with people from a distance. We’re seeing each other in our homes, juggling kids, barking dogs, and bad hair days. Authenticity is right in front of us. 

Once the crisis winds down, we’ll remember what authenticity looks and feels like. Maybe we’ll recognize photos for what they are: a laugh track.

Don’t Be Tone Deaf

Real photos of real employees at real locations do require an investment. The slick appearance is a big reason so many websites rely on stock photos. Good stock photos reflect the work of professional photographers, expensive cameras and lighting, and a crew of well-dressed models wearing makeup. They set an intimidating standard. They’re also available at the drop of a hat—no need to schedule a shoot, tidy up the office, or put together a photogenic wardrobe. 

Still, the authenticity that results from producing your own photography is worth it. In the coming months, building a site around your real people and places could pay big dividends. 

Authentic expression is central to what we do at Red Mallard. We transform our clients’ expertise into well-crafted content by building real relationships. How is your business telling its story? Are you ready to do more? Quack at us to get started.

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