When my partner Insy and I first arrived in Dubai in 1998 we were amazed at the total lack of regionally relevant imagery in local advertising. There were no professional model agencies around to provide suitable talent and advertisers had to rely on stock images from western libraries. Crude attempts at ‘photoshopping’ American babies or European businessmen to look like ‘locals’ grated on one’s aesthetic sensibilities. We saw a huge gap that needed to be filled and launched Gulfimages.com with only 300 images at the time. However, thirteen years and 30,000 images later we see that the gap still exists, albeit of a different nature.
While originally the issue was one of availability, today it centers on quality and price. The digital revolutions and with it, the Internet has enabled hundreds of thousands of amateur photographers to upload millions of images on to popular portals like Shutterstock, Istock and Fotolia flooding the market with cheap images. The recession drove people towards these low-cost micro stock sites, and having tasted blood, businesses expect even premium regional stock at micro stock prices. There lies the rub.
Moreover, not all of Middle East is the same. What works in the UAE does not always work in KSA, and what works in Kuwait does not work in Lebanon. The cost of producing country specific imagery is very high and the markets are too small to make it viable to sell premium Arabic imagery in the micro stock business model, which requires an image to sell for just a few dollars, but thousands of times over to recover the cost of production. This is the primary reason why the big international libraries do not invest in Arabic stock.
A few international producers have tried to cash in on the demand for such imagery by attempting to produce what they claim to be an Arabic lifestyle image but the use of western models, poor production values and an inadequate understanding of the finer points in dress, culture and behavior of local communities leaves the actors looking stupid or down right clownish. The micro budgets on which such images must be produced also means that often model and property releases are not available and big ticket clients could leave themselves vulnerable to claims from avaricious opportunists.
Big brands would obviously prefer that the images they use are not available to their competitors. But licensing rights for ‘exclusive’ use, even for short durations with limited media exposure can push the costs of Rights Managed stock images through the roof. It is also not feasible for ad agencies or corporates to mount a production unit every time they need an image for reasons of cost or time constraints, or both.
So what is the solution?
It is quite simple actually. Have a set of images that convey the essence of your product or service ready in advance. Business and lifestyle images need to convey an emotion that will help connect with the consumer. Fresh copy will make it relevant to your immediate marketing objective. This is being done daily for product and pack shot photography so why not for conceptual business and lifestyle imagery? After all when you license stock images, you are adapting an existing image to your requirement. Wouldn’t it be so much better if the choice were from a bank of images shot as per your brief?
Images shot as per the client brief, offering total exclusivity, unlimited use in all media across the board and no limitations of how long or where an image can be used and very reasonable cost, are some of the advantages of this solution. For industries like banking, aviation multinational and multi brand corporates who need lots of visuals to convey their message to a vast and varied client base; this is the perfect antidote to current frustrations.
The Gulf region is showing steady and robust growth and with major events like the World Cup and Expo 2020, there will remain a positive demand for professionals who can deliver quality on time and in budget.