Of Stock and Politics

Posted on 3/12/2008 by Julia Dudnik Stern | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Politics is big business for image producers, and a U.S. election year can be particularly lucrative. It is not surprising that stock, news and photojournalism agencies make a significant investment in producing and marketing relevant content. The quantity of such offerings corresponds to market demand, which is now at an all-time high.

In the news and media sector, research from Internet measurement company comScore shows that political publications are experiencing record-breaking growth in readership, online and off. Similarly, large amounts of money are pumped into political advertising and marketing activities, and smart companies are thinking beyond the 2008 presidential race.

For example, Corbis is partnering with the American Association of Political Consultants to present this week's Pollie Awards. Now in its 17th year, the annual competition recognizes the best work in political and public-policy communications. As part of its sponsorship, Corbis is extending a 20% discount on all rights-managed and royalty-free imagery and footage throughout the 2008 election. While this is a limited-time offer, the value of cementing the Corbis name as the preferred image brand into the minds of AAPC members has long-term benefits.

Apart from predictable Americana, think images of the Capitol as a backdrop, several ads produced in recent months offer interesting insight into buyers' use of stock for political and other purposes. Examples range from TV spots promoting Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy to print ads for Axe and Virgin Mobile, both attempt to tie political personalities to a product and service.

The Clinton campaign's much-publicized "red-phone" television commercial was composed almost entirely of stock footage. One of the clips, owned by and licensed through Getty Images, featured a sleeping child. That child is now a young woman who happens to be an Obama supporter and volunteer. The actress is speaking to the media about being "mildly annoyed" about the appearance of endorsing Clinton.

In this instance, the use of stock has had the unintended consequence of providing publicity for Clinton's opponent. Given the stakes, it is unclear why those responsible for creating the ad did not make the effort of identifying the actors featured before committing to a specific clip. It is equally unclear why stock footage was used at all. While timing and cost pressures are obvious culprits, several seconds of a clip featuring a common everyday subject is not difficult or expensive to produce.

Clinton's own likeness was recently cleverly parodied to promote Axe body spray timed to Super Tuesday. Sequential print ads showed the presidential hopeful supposedly changing allegiances, from Obama to McCain, under the influence of "the power of Axe." Since the ads are more humorous than defamatory, they also come with a built-in parody defense, making it unlikely Clinton will complain.

British telecom Virgin Mobile is also attempting to capitalize on American politics, but far less tastefully. It advertises its services with an image of Hillary Clinton accompanied by the line: "I wish my bill wasn't so out of control..." Another ad attempts to capitalize on New York governor Eliot Spitzer's prostitution scandal. What began as an unusual, well art-directed campaign has turned out as nasty as ongoing coverage of Britney's escapades by the tabloids.

Clinton and Spitzer may not voice public objections to the spots. However, Virgin Mobile seems to have learned nothing from its recent image-use troubles. The British company had said it had nothing to do with its Australian subsidiary's decision to use Flickr photos of a minor in a recent ad campaign. The similarly styled advertising suggests otherwise.

As evidenced by Axe and Virgin, politicians are the new celebrities. For advertisers willing to risk a character-defamation lawsuit, using a politician's image may be less costly than paying a seven-figure endorsement fee.

Copyright © 2008 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


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