“I know what your doing.” The Man says as he sits to have his portrait taken. “Your going to try and sell me something.”
“Well, our business is selling portraits.” I say with a smile.
“Yeah, but that’s not what you told me to get me in here. You said I was here to have a picture taken for the Directory, not to buy portraits. That’s called bait and switch and there are laws against it.”
“You don’t have to buy anything, Sir. You don’t even have to be in The Directory if you don’t want to. ”
“Don’t bother taking a lot of pictures of me. Your not getting any of my money.”
Bait and Switch is the Industry Standard in Assembly Line Portraits. The Special is 20 portraits (or 50 or a 100) for $5-when I was doing the Big Box Stores. The goal here was to take an adequate portrait on the first shot-That’s The Special. The Special is a throwaway shot that you really don’t care about at all. The next few shots are The Money Shots, these are the ones where you use the Props, Special Lighting, change the background, and change the cropping. The Special is The Bait, the Spec Poses are what the Proof Passer Switches to.
I’ve never worked at a Portrait Studio that didn’t operate some form of Bait and Switch. Assembly Line Portraits is all about the numbers-and the greedy and the gullible make up the bulk of our customers. But after the first time around, there is really no excuse for people going on about it. Yes, we want you to buy portraits, and yes, we intentionally make the Special as boring as possible.
Do you eat a hamburger when you go to McDonalds? I don’t mean a Big Mac or Quarter Pounder, I mean that tiny little item called a ‘hamburger.’ No? Well, neither does anyone else. The big difference, of course, is that people do choose to go to McDonalds to buy the food, while a lot of the people going to an Assembly Line Portrait Studio are going for the Freebie.
We do sell portraits. We sell a lot of portraits. About 80% of the people who come into an Assembly Line Portrait studio buy something-that’s why there are so many of them around. The people who just want The Freebie are quick to bitch and moan about how they are being ripped off-that it wasn’t free! They wanted us to spend money! Can you believe it? A business that wants customers and not freeloaders! The Very Idea!
I will admit that a few of the Assembly Line Portrait studios do go a little bit over the top. The ones that sell Coupons and do promotions in Grocery Stores and Malls are the worst. They hit you up for money when you buy the coupon, they hit you up again for a Sitting Fee, and then they try to get you to buy the portraits. That’s three times they’re taking money out of someone’s pocket, and it’s usually hard enough to take it once. Whenever I worked for a company with PreSellers it was nothing but complaints all the time.
The sad fact of the matter is that no one needs portraits and most people don’t like having them taken. People have to eat, they have to buy gas, they have to buy clothes and shoes. Portraits are like cars and big screen TVs, most of us are happy enough to use what we have. The portrait doesn’t even have the inevitable need for replacement that a microwave or a pair of work shoes has. So you have to get them in the door somehow.
The Freebie is what gets people in the door. Several good portraits gives them something to buy. A good Proof Passer can convince them that they need new portraits for the kids, parents, siblings, friends, and random people they meet on the street.
The other common complaint that goes hand in hand with Bait and Switch is the High Pressure Sales Pitch. Most of the Proof Passers I work with don’t consider what they do high pressure. But they are working from standard scripts that make people feel guilty, think they need more than they do, and trick people into believing they have to buy something. Or at the very least that they have to buy a higher priced package instead of a lower priced one. This is a business and our pay depends on sales.
If you don’t want to buy anything, you don’t have to. But even if you just want The Freebie, you still have to take a full set of portraits and listen to the sales pitch. Who knows, maybe you’ll even find a portrait you like and want to buy one for your Mother.