Adobe Has Made It Too Easy to Hate Them

Another week, another public relations nightmare for Adobe. While not every controversy is Adobe’s fault, each is understandable in the larger context: Adobe lost people’s trust a while ago, and everything it does is under a microscope.

Just over a month ago, an Adobe exec called AI the “new digital camera.” Simultaneously, an Adobe marketing campaign chucked photographers under the bus, and not for the first time, which caught the attention of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP). At the very top of Adobe, there is a concerning and frustrating lack of understanding about art and the people who make it. There’s not much better evidence of that than Adobe upsetting the estate of Ansel Adams, one of the most influential photographers in history, by allowing people to sell AI-generated images “in the style of Ansel Adams” on Adobe Stock.

Adobe, a multi-billion dollar company, has a history of irritating photographers and other artists. As a result, despite making excellent software with industry-leading features, people don’t trust the company.

Giant companies are already rather challenging to trust for many — a certain candor and sincerity vanishes when a company gets anywhere near as titanic as Adobe — but Adobe’s historic lack of transparency and limited communications have put its reputation among creative professionals in the dirt. Once a company’s reputation sinks to these levels with a large group of people, the ground is fertile for anger that is difficult to quell. Based on this popular Reddit thread’s litany of negative comments, Adobe is long past this point of (nearly) no return.

As I wrote in my initial story covering this week’s events, Adobe lives inside a PR prison of its own creation. Despite being full of passionate, talented people who genuinely care about artists, the company has earned its negative reputation. To no fault of the people who make the Adobe software that so many use daily, the company’s beleaguered customers do not trust Adobe.

Even though Adobe has clarified its terms of use and reaffirmed its commitment to transparency and respect, the words will fall primarily on deaf ears. There will be people who discredit nearly everything Adobe says, and frankly, I get it.

While I don’t count myself in that camp — I believe what Adobe is saying about data privacy and content ownership — the company is careless to a degree that I’d find shocking for a small company, let alone a multi-billion dollar one. But perhaps I’ve got it all wrong and am thinking about the situation in reverse. Maybe Adobe is this reckless because it is so big and views itself as impervious to PR crises that would sink a smaller company. Perhaps these semi-regular controversies are just water off a duck’s back.

There are plenty of things Adobe gets wrong, and I feel like I write about a new one every week. However, if there is one thing Adobe cares about at an executive level, it is the bottom line. And these PR nightmares, while bad for the bottom line to some extent, are a drop in the bucket compared to what would happen if Adobe did all the things people were willing to believe it did.

And that is the most interesting part of Adobe’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. Whether Adobe does or does not do the things people claim online, the fact that so many are willing to believe the worst about Adobe speaks volumes.

Although any specific incident and the resulting bad press will not fell a giant like Adobe, the lack of trust that so many artists have in Adobe should concern the company. Yes, Adobe’s annual revenues are vast, but it is not too big to fail. If eroded trust spreads from the creative industry into the enterprise one, it will be all but impossible to right the ship. There is, whether Adobe realizes it or not, a point of no return.

Image credits: Header photo created using an image licensed via Depositphotos.

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