The world of stock images is a curious place.
And famously so. One of the biggest memes of the past few years, ‘distracted boyfriend’, plays on the running joke of bad stock images.
No shade to stock photographers or providers. People buy these photos. Images are adopted as visual shortcuts and for that reason they frequently deal in stereotypes.
Stock images often represent our society’s crudest understanding (or lack thereof) of the world around us.
So, what does the stock image world think about think tanks?
I did a quick search of the main sites, and what I got was…
…a great big visual shrug.
There were some results though. These can be broadly categorized as follows.
THINK TANK = SOME WORDS
“We know the words ‘think’ and ‘tank’ go together, but have no idea why. Someone, somewhere knows though. So, give the people what they want: a picture of these words.”
THINK TANK = IDEAS
These images get a little closer. Think tanks are about thinking. And we all know thinking always involves some form of mind map.
THINK TANK = SMART PEOPLE SITTING AROUND THINKING ABOUT STUFF
They’re talking, it’s serious, it’s important. But what’s it about? And what do they do with those clever, clever thoughts?
Stock image sites aren’t alone. These search results mirror the mental image many people have of think tanks.
Take some of the people we spoke to in Pittsburgh as part of some recent research.
When asked: When I say ‘think tank’ what’s the first thing you think of?
‘Hmm. I don’t know. I don’t have an answer for that. Nothing.’
‘I don’t know. People thinking.’
‘Kind of like ideas in your head and you can pull them out like a fish tank kind of.’
Of those we polled who said they do know what a think tank is (though couldn’t name one), 34% said think tanks are ‘manipulative’ and 28% said they do backroom deals. The answers from the UK were pretty similar too. This should be as concerning to think tanks as obscurity and irrelevance.
I think I’d kind of miss all of those bad stock images if they went. But when it comes the disconnect between think tanks and the public, this is a problem that needs solving.
Katy Murray works at We are Flint, a communications consultancy that works with think tanks, policy experts and campaign brands to more successfully connect them to the general public. Their latest research Democracy 2.0 explores a new role for policy experts. Find Katy on twitter @ktrmurray and We are Flint at @FlintWrites.