February 1998




"Real" people, not models, enliven ad campaigns and lead to real sales


If your print advertising is lame, you may want to administer some reality therapy. One jeweler, Lee Michaels Fine Jewelry, swears by it. The company, based in Baton Rouge, La., has been using real-life customers in its ads for 19 years.

Real people offer several advantages over professional models, says Al McDuff, creative director and co-owner of Diane Allen & Associates. His agency came up with the real-people idea and has been handling Lee Michaels' advertising ever since. It runs in newspapers, on billboards and in local arts and humanities publications.

For starters, he says, customers relate to real folks better than to models. "People look at the ad and say 'That's an attractive person, but not fake. That could be me.'" And because the models are nearly always prominent in society or business - the taste- and trend-setters of their towns - people want to imitate them and shop where they shop. (For security reasons, the ads almost never give the subjects' names. Their faces, known to hundreds, if not thousands of people, are enough to get the message across.) Lastly, McDuff points out, they don't charge a fee.

Real people are great to work with, McDuff says. Tell them, "Hold the box up," he says, and they ask, "How high?" His stable of participants has included some unlikely prospects. One particularly modest man agreed to have his photo blown up as big as a bus and plastered on billboards. The man's face, shown from the side, has a smear of lipstick on it. The tagline reads, "All I said was 'It's from Lee Michaels.'" The man had just gotten engaged after being widowed for many years and wanted to kick up his heels a little, McDuff explains.


There are a few rules to remember when you're photographing real people:

1. Your photographer must have a studio where the subjects can go to be photographed.

2. If your ads will run in black and white, your hair and makeup person must know how to apply makeup for that type of photography – it's different than for color photos.

3. You need a good retouch person to spruce up the picture after it's taken. This person will often put in some long hours. McDuff recalls the story of one businesswoman who appeared in an ad and was approached at work a few days later by a subordinate in her 20s. "I saw a picture of a woman in the paper the other day," the 20-something told her boss. "She looked just as you might have looked when you were younger."

4. Be sure the model signs a release and understands how the photo will be used. McDuff once failed to do so. Unfortunately, the subject was married to a lawyer.

5. Have someone with good taste and a strong visual sense attend the photo shoot. A second pair of eyes can be invaluable, McDuff says. But avoid having too many people there or the subject will feel self-conscious.

Copyright © 1998 by Bond Communications.


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