The Not-So-New Buzz of Localization

Posted on 10/8/2010 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (2)

So localization as a marketing concept is not so new. For instance, in the American retail space—think big supermarkets—“buy local” went hyper-popular a couple of years ago, with big brands like Hannaford and ShopRite touting their support for local farms and produce. “Support your local business” has been around for a while as well. Now more than ever, image buyers are seeking images that resonate with particular communities and locations—but what does it really mean to the stock producer?

From that perspective, it is important to recognize two disparate concepts: the Google factor and actually having local images of the place a specific buyer currently seeks. The former means everything; the latter—almost nothing.

First is the Google factor: localization means that anyone searching for anything is now getting results sorted by their geographic location. Latest search engine updates are now prioritizing results based on what they know about each user’s personal data. Google’s latest marketing push centers around this very concept.

Does it affect the stock-image space? Not yet. A search for “stock photo” brings up all the usual players, and searches such as “New York pictures” reveal that stock agencies big and small do not drill down their keyword lists far enough. The first page of Google results does not contain a single stock-agency return—except a sponsored link (an advertisement) from Dreamstime. Good for them.

This clearly brings an opportunity, at least in terms of being found by those looking for pictures of different places around the world. But that’s not the real opportunity.

This week, the Visit Vortex—a company that specializes in promoting upstate New York travel—mailed out its Autumn Guide. (It happened to contain an essay on localization as a way to a sustainable future, which spurred this article.) The guide was full of images used to attract vacationing families to the region. How many of these were actually local? You guessed it: hardly any.

From the cover shot of a branch of ripe apples to numerous inside images of farmland, chickens, horses, and other fare that emotes New York in the fall, the majority of photos in this hyper-local publication were beautiful but generic stock—with the exception of on-location images and maybe some ads, most of which heavily employed stock as well. Any of these could have been shot in England, Canada or any other place where the natural setting resembles that of New York. Which brings us squarely back to the Google factor.

Buyers looking for local images aren’t really looking for pictures of Smallville—they are looking for pictures that appear to be Smallville. Localization, from the perspective of image subject matter, isn’t about actually being local, it’s about appearing local—along with diverse, politically correct, contemporary and all other must-haves of contemporary publishing. That may be a cynical perspective, but that is precisely how, part of the I Love New York network, ends up with a photo of extremely diverse children—one African American, one Asian, and a Caucasian bunch—playing with fall foliage in its ad.

In a way, this should be comforting: it once again confirms that buzzwords like “localization” mean very little. It’s all about being found, and in today’s environment—about being found online. Yes, creative research is extremely important, and having images that can pass for the buyer’s location helps—but investing in documenting a particular location should definitely take a back seat to search-engine optimization and keywording. 

Copyright © Julia Dudnik Stern. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


  • John Lund Posted Oct 8, 2010
    So True! Additionally, for stock photos I have always believed that perception is more important that reality. By that I mean an image that portrays a concept in a way we picture it to be is more effective than one that just shows reality.

    John Lund

  • Mark Turner Posted Oct 8, 2010
    The big exception to the "appearance" of any community is media and advertisers within the immediate geographic area. They care, but they usually don't have much budget. I do license local images occasionally but it's more often a service to the community than a real money-maker.

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