Ten Cliché Stock Photos That Make Your Company Look Stupid

Even now, after writing copy for literally hundreds of websites, I still feel that I owe it to my clients to write fresh, interesting words. I do my best to minimize cliché sales phrases like “We’re dedicated to your success” and “We have the experience and expertise to get the job done right”.

I’ll be blunt. Uninspired, cliché words are just downright tacky and don’t belong on a website. If you’re using them, they’re a clear indicator that your company is boring and your products or services probably suck. Ok, there are lots of sub-standard companies out there that are successful. But, the bigger problem with these clichés is that they disengage visitors to your site who are looking for something new or different, not just the same words that they’ve seen on countless other sites.

Just as important as the words on a website are the visual elements. And, photos are the most noticeable images that can position you as forward-thinking and creative or generic and tired. Unfortunately, the same batch of cliché, worn-out stock photos have made it onto the pages of a vast number of websites. The following ten images are the worst of the worst. If you have them on your site, I’m pleading with you to remove them immediately. They’re horrible, and they’ll suck the life out of your business.

#1 – The over-the-top, happy customer service rep excited to help your customers


Your ten dollar an hour customer service reps sitting together in a boiler room aren’t perky and happy. They’re disgruntled and pissed off that you haven’t given them a raise in two years. This picture isn’t fooling anyone. Unless this gal is some kind of magician, she probably isn’t really working at all of the thousands of non-descript IT support services companies that have pasted her on their sites.

#2 – The “we mean business” handshake
I’m not exactly sure what this is supposed to mean, but it’s everywhere on the Internet. Are these guys dancing in front of the UN? Are they shaking on a clandestine foreign arms sale? What is it? We get that you’re in business. We don’t need an image of two dudes shaking hands to figure it out. Take this off your site, please!!!

#3 – We hire more than just young white people

By placing this image or one like it on your website, you’re making me wonder if you’ve just settled a discrimination lawsuit. Do you really need to put a photo up that includes an old guy, a Black, an Asian, a Hispanic, and a couple of mixed ethnicities? If you really are diverse, let’s see it for ourselves. Post an image of your real team. I’ll be impressed when you have a transgender, someone in a wheelchair, and an albino. Until then, let’s keep the staged diversity photos off your “About Us” and “Careers” pages.

#4 – We’re way smarter than you

This doesn’t make you look intelligent, it just tells me you’re pretentious. You’re not going to convey your intelligence online by slapping a Rubik’s cube or a chess game on your “solutions” page. Want to look fresh? Add some other 1970s fad item like a mood ring, toe socks, or a pet rock. Now, that would intrigue me.

#5 – We’re so eco-friendly

The newest of the cliché photos, it’s fast becoming a leader in ridiculousness. Every company that buys carbon credits or who has a CEO driving a hybrid has this photo or something equally as self-righteous on their site.

#6 – We’re really good at making graphs

This slightly phallic graph is a tried and true favorite for financial and real estate companies. What does it really say? “We don’t yet have any provable figures to present to you so we’ll show you this graph that’s also on all of our competitors’ sites too! We hope you’ll be impressed. “

#7 – Ok, we’re just super cool and hip

We’re your cutting edge team of “professionals” who knows way more than you do about  technology, and we’re going to the local bar after work to get hammered during happy hour. Would you like to join us?

#8 – Our products/services make your life easier

Of course, once we buy what you’re selling, life will be so much better. I often do this with my family after making a purchase online. Don’t you?

#9 – We’re global!

Being an international business just isn’t quite as impressive as it used to be. Any dork with an online business can sell to another country. All you need is a $10.00 Go Daddy site and a PayPal account. So, the fancy photo of the world on your computer isn’t quite cutting it anymore.

#10 – Let’s Connect

Interchangeable with the “customer service” gal, the “connect with us” gal is standing by to take our call. Is this who is really answering your phones? How about a shot of the real team of outsourced phone workers in Mumbai? I want to see their smiling faces on your site.

6 Comments

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6 responses to “Ten Cliché Stock Photos That Make Your Company Look Stupid

  1. Kim

    Love this post! Unfortunately, working in a corporate environment, my creativity is often stifled at the expense of using the “old reliable” stock photos and even the cliche corporate speak. Ugh!

    Love it –

  2. Bernard

    Bravo!

    I did a search on this topic today (thus finding your post) as I was doing some research on several companies and found three who use the same “flowchart” photo on their site – woman or man with a marker creating a flowchart on a window. Lame-o.

    Are such websites the result of the few companies who own the stock-photo market and therefore photo selection is abysmal, or simple laziness in terms of creativity? Perhaps both is my guess.

    Cheers.

    • Thanks for reading my blog. I think the stock photo problem is a result of laziness, nothing else. You wouldn’t think it would be all that challenging to find some better photos. But, apparently, it is.

  3. Cindy Hoods

    I love your post, and I find myself agreeing with you, but my next thought is… so how does a designer go about selecting images that do convey those same messages? For instance, the “rubiks cube” graphic- what would be some options for conveying the message that this image was probably intended to convey? Or what are some other options for the “happy smiling family” photo? Say this is a mortgage company, and wants images of smiling families. I’m just trying to get to some solutions instead of just stating the problem. But I totally agree with you!

    • Thanks Cindy for the comment. I always think it’s worth the extra investment to get real pictures of your team and products if possible. They can convey so much more than just the usual stock photos. Instead of an image of a Rubik’s Cube or a chess board, I much prefer a shot of the engineering team actually working or real happy customers with testimonials. If hiring a photographer isn’t in the budget, I think you need to go beyond the first two pages of iStock’s images to find those photos that are a little less predictable. I think many designers are flat-out lazy and don’t bother. I try to come up with some less than obvious choices for my clients, and often look on Flickr and ask photographers if I can use their images. Most of the time, they appreciate me asking and oblige by giving me the rights to publish their photos. I hope this answer helps. It’s just my opinion, but I sure hate seeing the same smiling face of that ubiquitous customer service gal.

  4. Apparently one of my colleagues got roped into a photo shoot a few years back. She was part of a ‘diverse’ group of actual employees who were then used to recreate a number of the cheesy standards – people holding hands around a tree, that kind of thing. Is that better than the stock photos, or just another kind of laziness?

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