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Who Do You Believe? Me or Your Lying Eyes? August 14, 2006

Posted by The PR Cassandra in Posts.

This title is the punchline to a joke my husband told me.  I won’t repeat it here, but it made me think of the brouhaha around doctored Reuters photos vis-a-vis the war in Lebanon. (Link to play a video by supporters of Israel that embellishes the original story broken by the blog: Little Green Footballs.)

Beyond the tragedy of war and so much suffering on all sides – this news story brings up some issues about maintaining integrity in news reporting and news promotion.

We live in a time of instant communication – and pictures are probably the most powerful communication vehicle of all.  A picture is visceral, provides a reality check to the text one is reading, and has the capability of adding credibility to a product launch, gravitas to an executive or hip personality to a company depending on how it has itself photographed.

Because of the desktop tools we have today, such as PhotoShop, it has become easier and easier to doctor photos.  I have heard that some fashion photographers have to add flesh on models so thin they are unattractive (except as walking clothes hangers – and here I digress – when did it happen that women needed to change their bodies to fit clothes?? – being slender and healthy is one thing – making oneself ill or hating how one looks is something else). 

In the same way, there are times when magazines will doctor a female actor or model’s bust or stomach – creating unrealistic images that are factors in causing low self-esteem and serious eating disorders among younger and younger girls. 

So, we in the marketing profession have an obligation not to present false images, I believe. Yet where is the line between using the photographer’s (& stylist’s & make-up & hair artists’) skills to make a compelling – or unusual – image and creating a false image that is intended to deceive?

More Magazine has taken this on – they worked with Jamie Lee Curtis to show a 40-something woman’s body as it is – and while she is healthy and exercises – as she said – she’s no longer 21.   It was a bold move and one which won kudos for both Jamie Lee Curtis and the magazine.

The truth is – almost all images for publicity or marketing purposes are retouched.  Why is this done?  For legitimate to crossing the line reasons. 

In my opinion. legitimate reasons include: to correct something that wasn’t captured quite right in the photography process, to add an artistic background or to remove glare from someone’s eyeglasses.  In other words, the image processing is not an intent to deceive.

Reputable news organizations, because they have so much influence, have no choice but to take strong measures against those who would “doctor” a news photo, as has apparently been happening more often these days.

I love fashion photography and arty corporate background shots.  They are leading-edge, can quickly convey marketing messages and are often stunning – and, nine times out of ten, heavily edited (the equivalent of “retouching” or “air brushing”). 

It can be a challenge for us in the electronics world of semiconductors, or VoIP services that don’t lend themselves to interesting photography, to come up with visuals. 

That is why many of us are looking to add animated characters to our web sites and HTML emails – or find images that present an illustration. 

One image we developed for our client, TeleVoce, I love – and I realize I am somewhat biased here! It is the image my partner developed that illustrates the tagline “teaching old phones new tricks.”  We paid for the rights of a dog stock photo, that we have named “Sebastian” after our Australian Shepherd who looks quite similar, and ‘PhotoShopped’ the image so the dog has old-style phone handsets in its mouth – it was a huge draw as our booth graphic at CES and we’re using it on TeleVoce’s e*commerce web site and other promotional materials – this kind of imaginative use of photography it both challenging and fun when you get it right!

While a picture may be worth a thousand words, sometimes, illustrations and animation can express what a still image cannot.  Next post, we’l look at how and why people are using animated characters to increase sales, “buzz” and customer retention.

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