I’m not saying the “this political ad uses a bad stock photo” story is never worthwhile. Back in 2010, I thought it was pretty stunning that in a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ad, the stock photo that they used behind Scott Brown when they discussed “Wall Street greed” was of . . . the World Trade Center. Hey guys, something big happened there nine years earlier, it was on the news and everything.
But I don’t find it all that shocking that ad makers look for images that are evocative of an emotion or mood and don’t worry too much about when and where they were filmed. Thus, I’m not surprised that the Trump campaign used stock footage of lights being turned off in a factory and disappointed women that were filmed in Ukraine, as ABC News reports today. Nor that this summer, the Trump campaign used footage of protests in Ukraine in another ad. Four years ago, in an ad focused on veterans, the Trump campaign used footage of soldiers with medals that were Russian. Before that, Marco Rubio’s campaign used footage of a harbor in Vancouver, Rand Paul’s campaign used images from a German stock photographer, and the Trump campaign used footage of Morocco while discussing the U.S. border with Mexico. At the 2012 Democratic National Convention, organizers showed a tribute to America’s veterans, complete with images of Turkish jets and Russian warships.
The people who put together political ads and videos often can’t tell the difference, and they figure their audience won’t be able to tell the difference, either.
It would be a better world if campaign ad makers were always careful and made sure that the stock footage that they used represented the phenomenon they are decrying or saluting. It would be better if the candidates cared. And it would be better if the audience cared. But so far, there is no indication that any use of stock footage in any ad has ever affected the outcome of a race at any level. There is a familiar pattern here: An ad gets released, either the opposing campaign or the media notices some stock footage that isn’t quite accurate with the ad’s message, an article gets written about it, fans of the other candidate chuckle about how ignorant and unobservant the other side’s ad makers are . . . and the campaign moves on.
It’s fair to wonder how many people are still watching political ads, and whether they’re effective — and the stock footage is probably the least effective and consequential parts.
The Dissolve stock footage company made a particularly effective satire of the use of stock footage in campaign ads.