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Women laughing alone whilst eating salad is the thin end of the wedge

Women laughing alone whilst eating salad is the thin end of the wedge

Nothing says “we haven’t put a moments thought into our website” like stock photography.

Until recently I was sure that top of league in this perfect–white–teeth, smiling–at–gunpoint parade of farce was the call–centre girl, you know her, smiling as she took a call, doubtless from someone calling her up to congratulate her because their broadband was performing brilliantly and had just maxed out its previous download speed record, or perhaps a satellite TV customer calling to say just what good value she felt her current package was.

Oh how mistaken I was.

There were depths of Hades as yet unplumbed, levels of fantasy as yet unreached that even a family of four playing on the beach, with a father in his mid 40s sporting a perfect six pack and a mother from a Special–K advert playing with their two children in the blistering heat of Portstewart strand at Easter time couldn’t imagine. This would make someone driving a luxury car in perfect silence through empty city streets blush; heck it would even embarrass those ladies who love nothing more than to go sky–diving and bungee jumping at a certain time each month.

Ladies, and gentlemen, I introduce to you “Women laughing alone whilst eating salad”.

These ladies, online at a website near you (and all huddled together at, are so overwhelmed at the taste explosion of dry lettuce bursting onto their taste–buds, so unconcerned at their apparent friendlessness, that they can’t help but break into spontaneous virtual–laughter at just how well everything has worked out for them. In the interests of political correctness they are available in a range of ethnic groups and classes, but they are all skinny, with perfect skin and dazzling white teeth.

This clichéd nonsense as a means of communications is on its last legs, and rightly so. In its place the smart online shopper demands relevance and accuracy.

Stock imagery showing people using the web gets it wrong too. The broken down driver searching for a local garage is always much angrier and impatient than the picture suggests. The soccer fan reading the results on his mobile device is always much happier or much sadder than the image shows depending on how his team performed, and what’s more he’s in much more of a hurry. The family huddling around the computer to get a message from a loved one is less organised and more confused by the technology than the photo would have you believe.

The switched–on web customer expects that you stop marketing at her and start marketing with her. This impacts many elements of your communication, but top of the list is tone of voice. That tone which once risked cliché and condescension now needs to sound realistic and direct.

Clarity, once again, trumps persuasion.

By Gareth Dunlop

Gareth formed Fathom in 2011 and has been in the business of design performance for over two decades.

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