A study of images used by fashion/luxury brands on the web.
Imagine if you were tasked with promoting a fashion or luxury brand, but you were not allowed to use one photo. Impossible, right?
For luxury and fashion brands who spend millions of dollars a year in images to help shape the public perception of their products, one would think they would spend an equivalent amount of resources to manage and protect those photographs. After all, if nothing else, they are the most critical part of their branding strategy.
Imatag went out to survey fashion and luxury websites all over the world to see how true our assumption would be. To our deep surprise, we were astonished to see most brands seem to care less about their own images than editorial sites or online stores.
For companies that live, and die, on the public perception of their brand, it is surprising to see how little luxury brands care about clearly identifying their images for credit, content, and control.
Furthermore, in a highly competitive environment fueled by online searches and SEO strategies, ignoring image metadata is like falling into a giant black hole. Without metadata, images can also be easily borrowed, transformed, pirated, misused and mislabeled. Every opposite of what a branding strategy should allow.
#1 – Only 4% of images from fashion/luxury sites have copyright metadata
As a reminder, credit or copyright metadata information, when found in the image file, identifies the source, the author, the owner of a photograph. (for a reminder on image metadata and its role, refer to our previous study).
In 2018, IMATAG studied the presence of credit metadata on hundreds of international news sites. In comparison, the fashion and luxury websites do slightly better than the overall average found on all sites (3%) but still 2 times less than the news sites (8%), already indicated by the previous study.
#2 – More than 90% of images are stripped of ALL their metadata
Similar to our previous study on news sites, on average, the rate of images found with metadata is between 20 and 25% per site.
However, looking at distribution reveals that more than half of the sites have less than 10%, as this histogram shows:
The reason behind this result is because CMS used by these sites automatically optimize images and strip them of their metadata considered cumbersome and useless. This practice is not always voluntary and is often a consequence of the archaic processing applied to images for so-called performance needs. The misconception that image metadata slows downloading speed and increases page loading time.
#3 – The absence of copyright is not only due to the deletion of metadata: it is already empty in 87% of cases.
Admittedly, the majority of images are “cleaned” of all their metadata before or when they are put online. But if the copyright is absent from an image whose metadata is intact, it is simply that this information was never entered.
Our study shows there are very few copyright information among the images with unaltered metadata: just an average of 13% per site.
We can, therefore, conclude that 87% of the images on these sites had never had any copyright information entered.
We will see below that this trend varies depending on the types of site and types of images (both are linked).
#4 – Product images do not have any copyright
Product images were analyzed separately and compared to all images: 21% have metadata (similar to the average), but only 0.2% actually have copyright information.
While the products are heavily branded, product images almost never have any registered copyright metadata.
#5 – Promotion and event images have more copyright
Among images containing copyright information, a majority are credited with the name of a photo agency which covered a particular brand promotional event.
Because photo agencies license their images and thus heavily rely on copyright, brand promotional images are therefore more often credited. This explains the high amount of credited images in magazines, who mainly publish brand promotional images.
They also include more brand copyright because photo agencies or photographers enter their clients’ information so that editorial publications can be informed of the promotional nature of the images. (ie. “Getty for Louis Vuitton”).
Most credited photo agencies (in number of sites):
# 6 – Brand Images on their own websites have the lowest copyright information (0.5%).
In order to see if a trend emerged in relation to the type of site, its audience or its business model, our study defined three types of websites: luxury brand websites, blogs, and magazines.
The magazine category is divided into two subtypes: those with a print format legacy (generally the strongest audiences and monetized by the subscription +advertising) and those 100% digital, called “webzines” (audiences often lower, monetized by advertising almost exclusively).
Finally, the blog category also has two subtypes: High number of visits (usually monetized by an online store), and others (less than 100k monthly visits).
Only a trivial 0.5% of images found on a brand website have credit information. In other words, zero.
Magazines perform better with 5 to 6 percent. However, they also publish the most amount of images: On average 70k images per site versus 2 times less for a brand website (see below).
High traffic blogs have a lower score than smaller ones (2% vs. 5%), probably because smaller traffic blogs pay less attention to image optimization and do not systematically delete metadata.
# 7 – Magazine Websites display the most copyright.
In light of what we found previously, that product images have less copyright information (finding # 4) while promotional event photos have the most (finding # 5), this result is expected: brand websites, who have mostly product images, have the worst copyright rate, and magazines, who publish more events photos, have the highest rate.
Here are the top 5 sites with the best copyright rate (of our sample). The fact that metadata is more present than the average greatly contributes to this result.
# 8 – With more audience and more images, magazines are the real showcase of brands
As we have seen, sites with the least audience (blogs) have more metadata (49% vs. 26%).
One could have deducted that, conversely, sites with a large audience would have less metadata (deleting metadata for image optimization).
However, our study reveals no correlation between the audience size and the deletion of metadata or with the absence of copyright.
On the other hand, the link between the type of sites and audience size is quite obvious: magazines are the most visited (average audience: 7.5M views per month, up to 40M). They also have a lot more visual content, 2 times more on average than a brand website, which is limited to its own visuals.
On average, fashion/luxury images are more likely to be seen on a magazine or webzine site than on a brand’s website or blog.
However, as the audience of some brand website exceeds that of some magazines, images of the brand with no copyright still have very significant exposure.
For example, Gucci.com, with more than 10M monthly visits and no copyright on its images, is seen more than Spletnik.ru magazine of which more than 40% of the images have a copyright. It is therefore not a surprise that the only images found with a Gucci copyright are those published by magazines (parties, fashion shows, people).
With its large audience, the Gucci.com website is also the principal starting point of distribution of images of the brand. Used as a source of images for anyone needing to illustrate articles (fan blogs, for example) or catalogs of products sold online, these images should be credited by the brand.
Screenshot of www.gucci.com: none of these product photos have copyright metadata.
Yet these visuals are found on hundreds of sites, as shown in this screenshot of Google Image:
Conclusion on luxury brands and their visual content
• Related article: Why should brands monitor their images?
• Read the full report to know more about IMATAG, what we do, our methodology, the brands and the source of data used in this study
For companies whose success heavily rely on their reputation, luxury brands are extremely casual about their metadata and the control of their images.
Copyright metadata is the most significant process to certify that an image is the product of a brand, even more since Google has started indexing and displaying this information.
Nevertheless, whether for their product or promotional photos, brand websites have the least copyright information. Strange, since they have 100% control.
One can assume brands neglect the protection (by copyright) of its product images because it does not sell the images but products. However, the result is that anyone can use their images, anywhere, without the brand’s knowledge.
A luxury brand has the greatest interest in enforcing its photo copyright and closely monitoring their usage. A corrupt placement can have the worst consequences.
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