Stock Photos: The “Ad Agencinem” Fallacy

In the Ad Agencinem fallacy – If an actor or model is used in a political ad, the political message itself is false by association. The underlying argument is if the everyday people in the photos aren’t people who’ve actually said they are against an issue, then there aren’t any everyday people opposed the issue.

If there was a disclosure requirement every time an actor or stock photo is used in advertising, then virtually every advertisement would require a disclaimer. As-seen-on-TV commercials would need an explanation that the anguished looks on the actors’ faces were put-on, just to make sure no one thought the people weren’t acting.

It is a given people in advertisements have been paid for the use of their likeness. Not pointing out that a person was paid to have their picture used in an ad is not a political deception.

For an example of the Ad Agencinem fallacy see ThinkProgress piece on American Petroleum Institute Uses Stock Photos Of ‘Americans’ To Defend Oil Subsidies

Big Oil is using fake “Americans” to defend billions in tax subsidies. The American Petroleum Institute is running full-page ads in Politico and Roll Call that attack Congress for “new energy taxes”:

The target of this ad is the Obama administration’s effort to remove $36 billion in loopholes and subsidies for the oil industry. As it turns out, the “Americans” presented in the ad are stock photos from Getty Images:

As one commenter on ThinkProgress put it:

pakaal says: API used an ad agency to make an ad for them. The ad agency used stock photos, as all ad agencies do. There is nothing newsworthy in that, and anyone who has worked in an ad agency would agree.

The use of stock images is not anything new. Here is an article about the same stock photos being used multiple times for different companies. Washington Street Journal – When Marketers See Double

The ad from Key Bank portrayed a heart-warming family moment: a dad pointing out something on his laptop to his smiling young daughter as she leans over his shoulder. In fact, the scene may have been a little too charming. The same image appears in a recent marketing brochure — from Bank of America.

Both banks say they bought the image from a photo agency that deals in stock pictures, not realizing the other was making the same selection. “We try not to use the same images as other competitors … if it happened, it happened,” says Joan Peloso, marketing services director for Cleveland-based KeyCorp, the bank-based financial services company

No one can tell from a photo if the people are Americans. You can tell they represent what Americans look like. If the ad agency had drawn pictures of typical Americans, there wouldn’t be an issue. There is no misrepresentation in the ad, because those photos are what Americans look like.

For a real example of misrepresentation in advertising, all you need to do is look at this ad right next to the article on ThinkProgress.

Clicking on the I lost my stomach in 4 weeks ad takes you to an Acai Berry Diet page. The ad has “Julia from News 6” volunteering to go on the diet.

To get started, I volunteered to be the guinea pig. I applied for a bottle of the Acai Optimum. While there are ton’s of Acai berry ads online, Acai Optimum is one of the most credible and trustworthy suppliers on the market. It included the free* trial of the product and it did not try to fool me into agreeing to additional hidden offers.

The person pictured as “Julia from News 6”–as everyone on Fark knows–is actually Mélissa Theuriau, French journalist and news anchor.

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