Lock, stock and two smoking barrels: The Future of Asian Stock Photography

Bearded man with prayer beads — Photo By Chen Yang Lim@Pixerf

Can we shop this person so he looks more Asian?” While totally insensitive in any other circumstance, these are the all too real requests agencies and studios receive from clients who struggle to find an Asian face to front their Asian campaign.

The ivory world of advertising and marketing is slowly losing its grip here in Asia. The lines in the sand are clearly being drawn. Brands can no longer retrofit Western campaigns and lifestyles here and hope to gain the same populist traction they used to get back in the day (read: 90’s and early 2000's). We no longer aspire to ‘be like Mike’ or ‘keep up with the Kardashians’ — we thirst to relate, we aspire to be inspired by our own culture, and yearn to be spoken to in a language that we can understand.

The all powerful Consumer stamp their feet, and brands are trying to respond in kind. Localisation is no longer a buzzword, but a necessity in producing effective communication campaigns. So large stock image houses respond — they field photographers, fix scenarios and populate their libraries.

Horizon Hills, Malaysia — Photo By Kenny Peters@Pixerf

At first all is well, but then the internet age had a trick up its sleeve — and boy was it an avalanche.

Today, the average user is inundated with more than 3,000 pieces of content daily on the various platforms that they engage with.

Netflix, tablets, smartphones, digital TV’s. Paired with the fact that the human brain can identify and retrieve and image from memory in less than 1 second seriously diminishes the value, currency, uniqueness, and staying power of content. The concept of ‘old’ has taken on new meaning. Anything more than a week is dated. More than a month? Old. Couple of months? Ancient and irrelevant. A year? Forget about it.

What does this mean? It means consumers demand to be engaged with new and fresh content, constantly. This is the reality for brands who want to remain relevant.

Personalisation, localisation, and uniqueness are the three pillars that now hold up the pagoda of Asian content. Brands can’t get away with the ‘same old, same old’ philosophy anymore.

The rise of the visual marketplace here in these lands is a response to the transformation of an industry — a transformation that is occurring most significantly in Asia, the nexus of Globalisation 2.0. As the region slowly overtakes Europe and America in terms of overall internet users, millennials, smartphone penetration, adoption of new technology, and rapid rise of the connected consumer, the need for visual content that speaks to the Asian perspective is never more pressing than it is today. Marketers and stewards who are simply plain lazy and resilient to change will only be left behind.

The rhetoric is simple — if an average user can create 2–3 pieces of fresh content per week in multiple formats, what more a brand with far more resources?

With marketplaces connecting buyers with talents across Asia, crowdsourcing content should no longer be an issue. This is what we at PIXERF are trying to achieve — not just to grow a community, but to grow a new mindset with regards to Asian stock photography, and (hopefully) to dislodge an industry from its comfortable spot. If we succeed, we can avoid further uncomfortable conversations of skin tone and Photoshop on con-calls at work.