The use of images in marketing

I don’t know about you but I rarely stop and look at words that are scrawled on a website of a poster in the street. What stops me in my tracks is the image. Any effective marketing campaign must allow the customer to picture them self using your product. It needs to stand out against the constant stream cat memes and competitors marketing campaigns.

The right image

Choosing the right image is tricky and is a matter of preference; your taste may not be that of your potential customer. Try not to be sensitive to creative differences when it comes to images that you prefer and get other’s opinions before you make your final decision.

Less is more - try not to use images that are too busy, clean and polished pictures are best, they don’t need to be professional and expensive images, but think about what makes you stop and look.

Lifestyle – choose images that contain people, use diverse people, ‘Joe Anyman’. If your end-user can picture them self in your image then you are on to a winner. Having the wrong person in your image can alienate your potential customer. A skin care brand recently upset tube passengers in London with use of a ‘perfect mum’ image, it turned out that they had merged the images of mums across the UK to create the perfect mum, however, without this explanation, mums were furious thinking that this brand was portraying their view of the perfect mum.

Stock – We’ve all seen the call centre lady, wearing a headset, smiling back at us and the jigsaw pieces to indicate a solution. I personally switch off to images that I view as being stock images. Something different stands out to me, not too different though.

Licencing – whatever image you use, make sure you have the correct licencing in place to use, edit and promote for commercial use. You can face legal action if you use an image that you are not authorised to use. This stands if someone else i.e. a creative agency provides the image or artwork to you.

Media consent – if you use your own images for marketing activity, make sure that you have obtained the appropriate consent. As a rule, if the person in your image can be identified they need to have provided media consent. To play it safe, it is worth asking anyone that features in your artwork to sign a consent agreement, even if it is just their hand or foot. It is not required by law but you will cover your back by having this in place. This is especially important for images of children or vulnerable individuals.

Photo editing

You don’t need to be an expert graphic designer or have expensive software to edit images. There are loads of free web-based tools that are really easy to use, just search ‘free photo editing online’ and take your pick.

I typically recommend sumopaint if you need to use basic Photoshop functions or Canva if you are resizing and creating basic layers.

Which one is right for you is a matter of preference and requirements, Slant have put together this comparison page

Image sources

As mentioned above, you don’t need to use expensive photo shoots or images; there is an endless supply of images that are in the public domain. Public domain images typically mean that these images are free to use, there may be certain restrictions on their commercial use though. You can also buy an image at a time from databases like Shutterstock.

Pexels and Pixabay are generally my go-to places for high-quality public domain images. Google images also allow you to search based on licence restrictions, any that are labelled for reuse with modification are safe to use without repercussions.


Due to your own preference influencing your view on any artwork you are faced with, creating artwork or graphics for use in marketing is not an easy job, tastes change daily and what seems acceptable to one person can be hugely offensive to someone else. Unfortunately you never really know how people will take your images until you put them out there. To be as cautious as possible, run your artwork past a cross section of people, your grandparents, parents, people in the pub, children, and anyone else that will pay attention.

As long as your image isn’t misleading and you check the appropriate use clauses then there are not really any lasting implications for using the wrong image, but you should be prepared to make changes quickly if someone does take offence. In the example of the ‘perfect mum’, an addition was made to the text overlay to placate the bad feeling caused, but a social media hurricane had already started, this did give additional exposure for the brand and that turned out to be a good thing but the extra manpower required to answer the tweets to explain must have significantly increased the expected campaign spend.