Use Military Images Responsibly to Connect with the Veteran Audience

Use Military Images Responsibly to Connect with the Veteran Audience

You’re committed to the veteran community and you want to depict your brand as military-friendly. Could one photo throw a wrench in your mission? Possibly. In a culture where many veterans feel misunderstood, don’t blow your credibility with an outdated or inappropriate stock photo that falsely depicts the military.

The use of “good” imagery is essential to connecting with the veteran audience. Using a photo that misrepresents the military sends the wrong message about who you are. The Internet is replete with images of military stock photos gone horrifyingly wrong, as well as blog posts that mock them. Rather than accurately portraying military service members, many images instead appear to be caricatures of hardcore paintball enthusiasts or hunters at the beginning of deer season.

Here’s what a few veterans have said about these images:

  • “These are what "marketing" types pull together for companies that have no muddy boots time or anyone that has ever served. Incredible that someone actually reviewed these photos and said they were good to go.”

  • “Plenty of good photographers around. Shoot your own photos. Be genuine. Or solicit photos from your customers and pay them.”

  • “I guess this is a bit funny but it’s so unprofessional it makes me sick to my stomach.”

Some of the more egregious photos include:

• facial hair – from goatees to full beards to stubble

• out of regulation haircuts

• outdated uniforms worn incorrectly or mismatched

• terrible salutes

• bad props

• long flowing locks on females

• outdated weapons and equipment

• not holding guns properly

• jewelry – such as large hoop earrings on females

• ski goggles in lieu of regulation eyewear

• telemarketer headsets

• shirtless photos

• over-the-top face painting

• expression on the models that make them seem overzealous

Does Your Ad Violate the Lanham Act?

In addition, advertisers must remain cognizant of limitations and legal authorization when it comes to military/DoD/government imagery. Simply because an organization hopes to market to a military audience, it does not mean they are authorized to use the likeness of the military. The Lanham Act created a national trademark registration system in 1946 to protect trademarks and to prevent false advertising.

Outside organizations cannot use military branch emblem imagery or depict military personnel in 100% accurate uniform without direct permission from the DoD. The reason for this is because the use of branch emblems and/or imagery depicting military/government personnel in authentic uniform could be interpreted as a direct endorsement from that branch or entity. Alternative imagery is the best practice.

We’ve compiled best practices, specifically focused on depicting U.S. military uniforms, to provide you with the best opportunity to ensure your advertising is well-received by the military/veteran audience.


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