When Travel's Not an Option

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Two recent Merkley Newman Harty, New York, print campaigns for BMW motorcycles - one for the bikes themselves and another for protective gear- are stock photo-driven, which is a departure for this client. "BMW has been particularly keen on shooting every campaign until this past year, because they've always been sensitive to being the motorcycle for 'real riders,' " says copywriter Mark Lowe. So initially the team thought they were in for some long-distance road-tripping.

For the motorcycle ads, Lowe and art director Cameron Webb "presented this campaign with pretty tight comps using stock photography, and we were a signature away from shooting in some pretty exotic locations," Lowe recalls. "Unfortunately, the reality of traipsing all over the world in a down economy seemed excessive to the client from a budgetary standpoint," he adds somewhat dejectedly. "But the work is the most important thing to any creative worth a damn, and we felt we could still pull off the executions by further refining the existing comps. Fortunately, we also have a great retouching team here at the agency, and they assured us the end product would look as good as if we had shot it. Through a combination of a small shoot in New York, existing photography from the client, and stock, we were able to do a pretty nice job."

"Basically, the alterations we made to the photos were just inserting the motorcycle shots, though in the 'Lion' ad we also added a dust trail," explains Webb. He says he used a number of different stock resources, but he has a preference for Gettyone. "The biggest problem I've encountered with stock when I'm creating a comp for client approval, is most stock houses put a giant watermark over their images. Gettyone doesn't do this, even when you don't have a username and password. With their low-res downloads, I'm able to make my comps look really great. Once the client approved the comps, those were the images we bought. If Getty didn't have the perfect image, I went elsewhere. But I tried hard to find my images on their site. It's amazing how simple, quick and easy it is to find the exact image you are looking for. Getty's web interface is great."

There's a similar story behind the very scenic gear campaign, though these particular locations, or ones similar to them, may not have the same travel appeal. For these ads, "we didn't alter the images quite as much," says Webb. " 'Monsoon' stayed the same; we just upped the contrast of the image a little bit. For the 'Siberia' ad, we made the sky and background a little more wintry, simply by making the sky darker and adding some wind/snow effect. The 'Death Valley' image we changed a lot. The skull originally was in a different place, and felt really posed. So we moved that. We also needed the image to feel even hotter, so we created a sun blur. And lastly, we really tweaked the colors to come up with our ideal 'That feels hot' look."

The creatives note that the Death Valley and Siberia images are from Corbis, while the India image belongs to Getty. "Strategically, this campaign coincides with the motorcycle campaign, with a very travel-the-world mindset," adds Webb. "The development of the 2003 BMW Motorcycle campaign came directly out of our adventure strategy."

Which turned out to be mainly a stock adventure, much to their regret. Even if you're heading for a literal Siberia, "buying stock will never be the same as going on a shoot - where's the food?" jokes Webb. "But there are a lot of great stock images out there, and it's amazing all the things you can do in Photoshop to alter the stock to fit specifically within the context of your ideas. Unfortunately, a stock image can be combined with a bike shot, and few will ever realize we missed out on our Africa trip."

"I hope clients don't read Creativity," confesses Lowe. "I'd like using stock to be the exception rather than the norm."

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