How hospitality businesses can use distinctive photography to gain a competitive advantage

By Jon Sharp, Creative Director at Big Cat Agency


Yes, the above is a Les Miserables reference. For those unfamiliar with the musical, let me set the scene. Standing in a café after a failed revolution attempt, the student rebel, Marius, sings of the empty chairs at empty tables where his friends were once sitting.

Admittedly, a bleaker situation than we face today, but the result is quite similar. Covid19 and the subsequent restrictions

have caused devastation to many hospitality businesses. So where do we go from here?

Imagine, if you will, pre-Covid times:

You’re walking down the high street with its hustle and bustle, sights and sounds, largely oblivious to the strangers walking past (instead of crossing the road to avoid them). Suddenly, you notice a woman wearing blue tights and a bright yellow polka-dot coat. Her strikingly styled red hair and green glasses add to the colour palette striding confidently towards you. Out of a sea of people, her ‘out of the ordinary’ style piques your interest.

But why do we notice something like that? Just because of its difference?


The Von Restorff effect is a cognitive bias that makes us notice distinctiveness in context. Our brains work tirelessly to provide us with mental shortcuts to prevent mental exhaustion.

In the sea of people, the colourfully dressed woman stood out.You noticed her and, what’s more, you’ll probably remember her – at least in the short term.

The contrasting nature of being noticed from the rest is powerful: if everything is loud, be subtle to draw attention; if everything is serious, be humorous and shine through.


This effect is true too for brands; those that ensure they’re noticed will have the best chance of surviving. Fail to be seen and everything else is immaterial.

An area where many brands miss a trick is photography.They say a picture speaks a thousand words, yet a lot of the time photography is seen as a ‘nice to have’ but dismissed in the ever growing quest for efficiency.

But that isn’t necessarily the right way to go.

If you’re not commissioning photography, you’re most likely using stock. Millions of photos of varying quality – predominantly generic imagery, purposefully so, to appeal to the highest number of people possible.The same images to which your competitors have access.Where’s the distinctiveness in following that crowd?

Work with your art director to commission a photographer and get the perfect images for the job. Bespoke, ownable, assets will always be a better creative product.

Be the UNexpected

Consumers paint pictures in their minds of how a future experience will unfold due to Expectancy Theory. Distinctive, high-quality photography can add perceived value to a brand, even change price sensitivity, and most importantly raise these consumer expectations.

For example, Big Cat Agency recently helped launch Tandem, an incredible multi-room restaurant set over two floors with a celebrity chef whose menu took inspiration from multi-regional, Indian cuisine.

We matched the art of great cookery with the art of attention-grabbing imagery. Each image translated the melting pot of textures, materials and colours of one of the uniquely themed rooms of Tandem allowing people to envisage a unique dining experience.

The results: 5,000 pre-launch registrations, 450 VIP preview guests and received over £145,000 in PR coverage.The four ‘dine with the chef’ events sold out in under an hour and the venue was fully booked for the first six weekends, plus Big Cat won the bronze for photography in the advertising industry’s most distributed, shared and voted for award,The Creativepool Annual.


So, my advice for brands looking to weather this storm is simple – stand out!

Times are tough, money is tight – I get it – but almost always, applying creativity will provide a better result.

And it doesn’t need to break the bank.That’s the beauty of creative solutions – they’re better with constraints. Fail to be seen or heard and you might just be the one left with empty chairs at empty tables.


Jon Sharp is Creative Director at Big Cat Agency. Jon has spent the last 15 years using creativity to help brands get noticed. From global giants like Bentley to local heroes like Tandem, and everything in between. Jon has created stand-out brand identities and distinctive advertising cam- paigns for both B2B and B2C clients.

The recently rebranded, integrated Big Cat Agency creatively applies human insights and behavioural science to their communications, boast- ing clients across many areas including Retail, Leisure, Hospitality, Health and Wellbeing, and Charity.

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