Brooklyn Beckham, the 16-year-old son of famous parents, has been asked by Burberry to take photographs to market its new fragrance. Photographers are up in arms about this. They say it further diminishes the craft of photography, and is disrespectful to professional photographers who have honed their creative skills over many years, decades even. How could a 16-year-old possibly be competent enough? “Sheer nepotism” is how one photographer described it.
Well, let’s ignore, for instance, that Joey L was shooting high-end commissions when he was a teenager. Let’s, instead, pretend teenagers can’t take a photograph. Let’s also assume that Brooklyn Beckham doesn’t know which end of a camera to look through—though nobody has proved this, I think. Even then, focusing on his alleged lack of experience completely misses the point.
I don’t think this is purely a photography assignment.
It’s something bigger.
It’s a marketing assignment.
Brooklyn Beckham has 5.9 million followers on Instagram. Very likely, the majority of them are the audience Burberry wants to reach. On top of which, the publicity surrounding his appointment as the photographer for their next campaign has been significant and widespread—be it positive, negative or neutral. Beckham is, to use the parlance, box office. He brings something to the table that most photographers can’t. Audience and exposure (no pun intended). In fact, I can think of only one other photographer whose appointment gets coverage, albeit much less hysterical: Annie Leibovitz.
It all boils down to story.
Brooklyn Beckham’s story is potent. It travels and it has reach. It’s nonsense to complain about his lack of experience as a photographer or be snarky about how he won the job. Being a competent photographer doesn’t mean you are entitled to an assignment over someone who has less experience. Being the right fit for the entire marketing campaign is. For this campaign, Burberry has chosen the photographer whom it feels is best suited to its marketing objective.
In doing so, Burberry isn’t intentionally causing offence to photographers. Photographers are seeking and taking offence. Two different things altogether.
Instead, I think photographers should be more proactive in building their own story. If the story they could build with Burberry were stronger than the one Brooklyn Beckham can, they’d get the job, not him. Fact of the matter is, they can’t offer Burberry a better story.
It’s not like they didn’t have time to build their story. Don’t forget that many photographers are much older than Brooklyn Beckham. It’s their chief argument for being better candidates, after all. They have lived longer and have more experience, remember? Well, that knife cuts both ways. It also means they have had oodles more time to build their story than he has. But they didn’t build a stronger story, did they?
You might argue that Beckham is trading off the time his famous parents spent building their respective stories. Fine. That still doesn’t take away from the fact that most photographers didn’t create a compelling story about themselves when they could have. Brand Beckham is 20 years old or so. What have these photographers been doing for the past 20 years to build their own story to make themselves irresistible to Burberry? I’m going to be very harsh here. They didn’t even build a story about their own photographic competency that was compelling enough for Burberry to opt for them over a 16-year-old.
So, what can marketeers learn from this?
Well, for one, hiring celebrity offspring to do your photo shoot will give you tons of publicity.
Second, and herein lies the point of this piece, if your story is more compelling for your target audience than your competitor’s, you win.
So, ask yourself: What you are doing to build your story?