Skip to main content
January 18, 2019

Lack Of Visual Relevance Killing Advertising

You know how it is when you look at an ad here in Africa and the people look a bit funny? I say ad, but it could just as easily be a website or billboard.

The people look as if they have been brought down from heaven, just to advertise executive banking for the Bank of Boring. Their skin tone is unusually light. Very often they wear designer specs. Their children wear unfamiliar clothes. If pictured by a house or car, it is of a kind we never see here. The scariest ones are the old people, with perfect white curly hair and a full set of shining choppers. And they are so damn happy. Well so they should be. They look as though they come from somewhere where the life expectancy is considerably above our average of 50.

Well of course they do not come from Uganda or Botswana or Angola. They come from the Land of Stockshots. This is a wonderful place - an island probably – somewhere between South Africa and America. In fact with all the air and sea search activity behind MH 130 I am rather surprised the Aussies have not found it yet.

On this island people are happy holding meetings, shaking hands, lifting up children, moving into new homes, eating in restaurants, and banking in places that look like hotels. Happy, happy, happy. No spots, crutches, or bad teeth for them. And so wonderful is the air quality that there is always a cool misty feel to their surroundings.

I imagine that a percentage of the population of Stockshots are descended from people spirited away from their homelands, and then bred to perfection in controlled conditions. A little like the Nazi programme of Lebensborn, where perfect blond haired, blue-eyed children were stolen away from or (get this) willingly given up by Aryan families to be the breeding stock for a master race. Lots of very pretty madchen of 18 or over were also encouraged to play hide the bratwurst with strapping German stormtroopers for the same programme. I do not know, some people get all the luck.

Anyhow, wherever these people originated, they are now held prisoner forever in the land of Stockshots. And it is your fault. Yes you, if you are a marketer, or a designer or advertising person who has lost the will to originate. You are the people who perpetuate this loathsome trade in perfect people. You buy their pictures from websites, which in itself can lead you down some dubious paths.

As a result, part of the general decline of advertising impact in Africa is an increasing lack of visual relevance. Our webspace and adspace is peopled by these poor wretches, summoned by the careless instruction: ‘oh, just find something on stock shots.’

Lazy, lazy, lazy work. And, as an Indian shopkeeper said to me the other day, ‘cheap is expensive you, know.’

The reality is that it need not cost a fortune to photograph real African people in poses and settings deliberately envisaged by someone with a creative eye. And then to build up your own library of images you can use for your brand. Making sure always to pay the person and gain written permission for the use of their image.

It can go wrong of course. Well, can’t anything? The now defunct (sorry, sold) mobile operator Celtel once caused tears of mirth in many African countries by having billboard images of women wearing more make-up than many of our cultures were used to. The famous ‘three malayas’ billboard.

 But come on, remember what marketing is for, remember that advertising is about impact and relevance. And the next time you reach for a stock shots website, I hope you hear the ghostly strains of Paul Robeson singing ‘ Let my people go…”

Chris Harrison has 30 years experience of marketing and advertising. Most of them spent in Africa. He leads the African operations of The Brand Inside; an international company that helps organisations deliver their brands and strategies through their people.

To comment on this article, send a Tweet to harrisoncj on or visit his blog







Poll of the day