Branding Blog

Branding faux pas - stealing photography to build your brand!

Written by Dale Berkebile | Tue, Feb 14, 2012

No images were stolen to create this article: Brandwise owns the rights to the image in the header of this article. This is an example of what a stolen image looks like, notice the "X" going from corner to corner and the "shutterstock" logo as a watermark in the center of the image. Typically this means this is an unpurchased image and the user does not own the right to use it.

So when it comes to building a brand everyone knows images or graphics are part of creating the overall visual presence of your brand. A seasoned company understands the importance of a professional logo, consistent use of colors, themes and images in order to create the look and feel of your brand.

As many people also know the internet is a huge portion of your brand these days and it is becoming more and more important every day. This is a good thing and a bad thing in the grand scheme of traditional branding, you see these days we are giving control over to the public to help create our brands through social media tools and the like. On some levels this is creating an Inmates Running the Asylum.

On others, the public is doing a better job building our brands then we are doing ourselves. Let me explain this statement. Months ago I did some work for a small client. As I reviewed her website I noticed that there was an image that had a watermark over the photo. This was roughly 2 years ago. I brought this to the client's attention and to this day she still has the stolen image on her site. Now she told me she owned all the photos on the site, but one of the images still has a watermark over it. If the web design person just forgot to change the photo out with the new purchased photo is one thing, but if it is brought to your attention and you still do not change it, that is a whole other issue.

The reason I bring this up is that today I ran across this again. Actually I run across this all the time, but it really bothers me when as in this case it is a marketing person using a stolen image. Worse it was in the header of their website which means it is on every page of their site.

Here is the list of Branding
Faux Pas in this situation:


  1. The first faux pas is using a stolen image or what looks to be a stolen image on your website.

  2. The second faux pas is having that image in your header and on all pages of your site. Anyone coming to your site will see this image. If they are familiar with how photography rights work and understand a water mark means a stolen image, does this help or hinder your ability to build trust and establish you as a credible partner to do business with.


  3. The third faux pas is this site is for a marketing firm. So marketing people should know and understand photography right and how to properly purchase images legally.


  4. The forth faux pas is not only is this a marketing firm, it is a franchised marketing firm. This tells me that not only is the owner unaware of how to buy images and experienced in marketing in general, but the franchise is also not training the franchisors on how to run a legal and professional marketing business. This is not only soiling the owners name, but the franchise at large.


  5. The last faux pas is this image cost something like $1 to $5 to buy and use properly. Wow! You're willing to soil your name, loose trust and credibility in your brand for $5 or less? Yikes!


Honestly sometimes this happens by accident, but often it happens due to ignorance. Maybe Google is to blame by creating Google Images so people think they can search for any image and use whatever they find online. In any case when you are building your brand the goal should be to find images that are 100% your own, not stock photos that anyone can use. Worse, and especially not stolen stock images. Talk about undermining the brand. The whole purpose of branding is creating a space in someones mind that sets you apart from your competitors. You can't do this with off-the-shelf stock images. Stock images are fine to use, but look for images that are rare, and/or rights-managed so you can control how many other people look exactly like you. This will cost you more, but what is it worth to have a coca-cola, nike or Starbucks?

Take Starbucks as an example they charge $4+ dollars for a coffee. Remember the days when you could go to a dinner and get unlimited coffee for less than a dollar? Why can Starbucks get away with a $4 coffee? Because they created a powerful brand and differentiated themselves from every other coffee place. Next time you go into a Starbucks, look around every image, mug, product, artwork, etc. is strictly a Starbucks branded item. They certainly did not steal their images.