ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — Jim Swaffield is arguably the most famous truck driver in the world. But, here’s the thing: You probably don’t know his name. Want to know something else about him? He’s never actually driven a truck.
You’ve likely seen his face, though. Swaffield’s unmistakable grin has been downloaded more than 100,000 times across the globe.
Swaffield is the de facto face of trucking and the stock model who appears when you type in “truck driver” on stock image websites like iStock and Shutterstock. His face has been in our industry since 2010, gracing our magazine covers, our printed job advertisements, our billboards, our trailers, you name it.
But he’s not a truck driver. Not even close.
He’s a marketing professor and consultant at the University of Fraser Valley in British Columbia, who just so happened to notice a gap in the stock photography world a few years back.
In the summer of 2010, after realizing there weren’t many photos of truck drivers on stock photography websites, Swaffield and photographer David Jones decided to take the lead. The friends got in their cars, drove to some farmland in Alberta, and starting snapping photos and uploading them onto stock photography websites.
Then they got hits. Lots of them.
“The pictures just started selling like crazy,” recalled Swaffield. “We used to get an email every time a photo was downloaded and purchased. And then it was just like one day we started getting noticed, and it started to get crazy.”
In the thick of it, Swaffield estimates they got roughly 35 downloads a day.
Eventually, using his background in marketing, Swaffield knew that they would have to keep up with the trends, and start to take photos of what was happening or could happen in the industry to better serve their customers.
So Swaffield started to pose behind the wheel of a truck with a cell phone up to his ear, as distracted driving became a hot topic. Then he posed with his hand up to his mouth, letting out a big yawn as sleep apnea was all the rage.
“The fundamental principle of marketing is you don’t create a need. You figure out what needs are being unmet, and then you meet those needs better than the competition,” he said. “So we’d think about who is going to buy these photos, and then we’d think about trends, and genres and go with it.
“And then it was like we couldn’t seem to upload photos fast enough for the market,” he said.
The business venture worked, and even Mercedes, Visa, and Telus were among the companies that purchased the photos.
Today, Swaffield says he still gets funny phone calls from friends and relatives passing through the United States, who see him on a billboard in the middle of nowhere.
“I think it’s hilarious. I’m really just an average guy,” he said. “We didn’t have any idea it would turn into this. We just started it as a fun hobby and as a motivation to spend time together. And now I’m pretty sure I’m the number one selling ’truck driver’ in the world. There’s not a doubt in my mind. It’s really surprising, and I’ve kind of become desensitized to seeing my face in public now.”
Since 2015, Swaffield said downloads have slowed down. He hasn’t posed for any more stock photos since he moved to B.C. in September 2017 to teach, but that could change soon.
“My move sort of put an end to our ability to shoot together,” he said. “But (Jones) said he would like to come out here and do a few more photos. We probably will take some more photos in the near future.”
Swaffield added he still keeps tabs on magazines in which his face appears. You can see them all at www.jimswaffield.com.
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