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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Local Marketing 101: Put People in Photos

Reimagine Rural gets me thinking, as usual. Morgan Andenas writes about the importance of including people in your local promotional photos. Putting photos of buildings and landscapes with no people can leave the impression that you're promoting a ghost town, says Andenas (who also cites Becky McCray of the rural/small-town development blog Small Biz Survival).

Naturally, I get to wondering how Madison does on this score. Let's take a look!

Here are the banner images I find this morning on MadisonSD.com, the promotional website owned and operated by local Infotech Solutions, one tentacle of local marketing specialists Bulldog Media Group:

banner images from MadisonSD.com, 2010.07.07
Of the eight images on the main and top-level pages, three include people. Only one photo, on the Education page, shows a person in an identifiable local context. Even in that photo, the comely young woman is far to the left, separated from the DSU Tunheim Building by a big dark tree. That photo leaves me with a sense of detachment, or a sense that the photographer was more interested in graphic composition than storytelling.

The photo of the kids tubing is nice, but it could be anywhere: Lake Herman, the Missouri River, Key West.... The piggyback photo could be from any old inspirational calendar (although I'll admit it's pretty awesome that Bulldog Media got Daniel Craig to pose for a photo.. or is that Ed Harris?).

Now I wonder: do pelicans count as people? If they don't, the majority of MadisonSD.com's photos fail the people-storytelling criterion posited by Andenas and McCray.

I turn to the Lake Area Improvement Corporation, expecting to find a barren wasteland of deserted buildings. But surprise! unlike the LAIC's TIF District house, many photos on MadisonWorks.com have people in them.

banner iamges from MadisonWorks.com, 2010.07.07
Six of the nine banner images on the LAIC website clearly show people, some of them even clearly identifiable as authentic local residents. The exercisers in the Community Center look a bit like ghosts in the machine of the weight room, but they're there. We might even add the Prostrollo's shot as a seventh people picture... although if there are people in that photo, they are tiny dots, dwarfed by the commercial beast (which is metaphorically appropriate for Lake County's monopoly new-car dealer).

Let's not fall prey to Madison's obsession with marketing: even the most spectacular and well-peopled photos won't end the recession and create jobs. But some authentic shots with actual residents, like a number of the pix on the LAIC website, can make your town look like something more vibrant and inviting than a ghost town.


  1. Interesting point about images of people--and I do think they have to be at least somewhat identifiable as locals--not perfect or too glamorous--and doing things in an identifiable local context. Now, non-locals may not recognize the locals, but certainly there needs to be an aura of authenticity about the images. Otherwise, it's just easily passed-over ad stuff.

    I thought Vermillion's census campaign was really well done in this respect--but maybe because it included an image of Harry and me and a couple other locals hanging out down at Carey's (though our pint glasses were hidden for the photo shoot). It was aimed at locals, and it involved locals from different walls of life in different local venues.

  2. Thanks for continuing the conversation here. I love the analysis you did of your local sites. And your conclusion is right on point.

  3. I really don't understand either of those image sets. Are they suppose to draw individual's to live in Madison?

    They just seem like a bunch of random parts of the community without any particular link or structure. You need to tell someone a story to convince them to move to a location. They need to be able to suspend disbelief and see themselves and their future lives in that place. Neither photo set does that for me.

  4. Maybe they need to hire a local photographer...


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