What does a design agency do when a client wants to use their own photography?

A brave proposal by Tinder Foundation to use their in-house talent to shoot their own learner case study photography for the 2014 ‘Get Online Week’ campaign did, at first, strike terror in the minds of our design team. More used to art directing and shooting subject matter ourselves, the prospect of giving up control of this, the most visible of elements of a marketing campaign, was alarming to say the least!

You do however have to admire the motivation. Tinder Foundation’s unique business model and nationwide network of UK online centre delivery partners mean that they can deliver basic introductory IT learning for around £47 per head. When you consider the profoundly positive social benefits of a digitally literate nation, fronting this small cost should be a no-brainer for Tinder’s funders. The problem of course is not the unit cost but the sheer volume of people who are digitally excluded and the very large financial outlay required initially. There are an estimated 3.9 million disabled adults who have never used the internet and this is just under half of the 7.8 million adults who have never been online and who do not have access to social networks, health information or other life enhancing information and tools that the rest of us all take for granted.

Tinder is committed to reaching those left behind by the digital divide, and committed to providing their funders with more for less. Everywhere you look marketing budgets are being cut and yet there are inevitably, still big expectations and targets for engagement. By adopting a DIY approach to photography, Tinder is using limited marketing resources in a creative way, and in a way that involves their community of centres, learners and potential learners. That’s actually pretty clever, and it goes back to the basics of what Tinder does and why, underpinning their position as a credible catalyst for social change.

So, just exactly what does an agency do when a client comes to you with such a proposal? The decision to use real clients (learners in this case) in any communications campaign is one we applaud. The level of authenticity ‘real’ customers bring to a campaign can be very powerful and take the target audience a long way toward identifying with people ‘just like them’.

The question here though is not so much about the ‘what’ or the ‘who’ of the subject matter – which Tinder knows very well – but more about the location, lighting, composition, camera angles, relationship between subject and lens, consistency across the suite of images and that all important and magical element within a successful photographic portrait which is the photographer’s ability to elevate the sitter’s confidence and let them know that it is they who are in control, allowing themselves to be directed and photographed. In the words of the late Richard Avedon: “A photographic portrait is a picture of someone who knows they are being photographed, and what they do with this knowledge is as much a part of the photograph as what they are wearing or how they look.”

It was our job as a design agency not to be artistically outraged at the thought of being usurped as professionals, but to enable and facilitate Tinder’s vision. MM spent time with Chris Andersson, Abi Stevens and Vicky Lawson prior to their first photo shoot advising on both technical and creative matters and we will continue to provide ongoing feedback on their photographs of real learners in their homes and in UK online centres as they move from location to location around the country. By helping them to consider the technicalities, design requirements and graphic message before they shoot, we’re creating a campaign that I think is going to be pretty special. And at the end of the day, that’s what MM is all about – working with clients to create great campaigns!

The 2014 Get Online Week campaign takes place 13-19 October.

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