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Images move the world, but in which direction?

When marketers select photos - whether it’s for Instagram or billboards, websites or product packages - we are implicitly setting social expectations for what’s normal and what’s not. Gathering at Getty Images this week, The Marketing Society kicked off its 2020 “Brave Together” agenda with a frank conversation about inclusion in imagery. 

Featuring speakers from AARP, American Express, Capital One, Getty, and UNTUCKit, and led by the Society’s president Margaret Molloy, decades of struggle and progress came to the fore. 

First, the good news: Discovered inside the billion-plus queries of Getty’s database in 2019 was a 133% surge for searches of photos displaying diversity. Searches for “Female Leadership” were up 186%. “LatinX” climbed 195%. And “Disabled Worker” spiked 211%. Dozens more confirm that inclusion is heading in the right direction in marketing imagery. 

At the same time, the quest to highlight diversity can often swerve into tokenism. Defined as imagery that plays into stereotypes, or that features a person who is there for the sole reason of skin tone, this approach at best treads water. At worst it offends, alienates, and turns into a crisis. 

The speakers offered specific ways to be more constructive in composing and selecting brand imagery:

  • Recognize photography’s unique staying power. In an age where AR, Voice UI, and 5G dominate conversations, it’s the still image that keeps resonating as the keeper of “the moment” in our culture’s memory.
  • Empathize not just with your target audience, but all the audiences who will see the photo. If photography reveals how we see ourselves, then consider how painful it is to not be in the picture at all.
  • Have the humility to know that no one knows it all. Ask people of different backgrounds what they think of an image in order to see it through lenses you don’t have.
  • Remember that segmenting people doesn’t mean people are segments. For example, differently abled people hail from all racial backgrounds. Genders span every age, and so do groups. From restaurants to mountaintops, offices to beaches, multiple generations hang out and do things together.
  • Keep in mind that photography is now a participatory medium. When a brand shares a photo, it’s not just communicating what happened, but what the brand stands for, as well as an invitation to join a mission. 

As you pick the next photo that will help define 2020, look at it with deeper empathy.

Photos don’t have margins, only centers.

A big thank you to our speakers, Tristen Norman, Creative Planning & Insights Lead, Getty Images, Barbara Shipley, SVP & Chief Brand Officer, AARP, Walter Frye, VP Global Brand Engagement, American Express, Pepper Evans, VP Product Strategy & Marketing, Capital One, Lockie Andrews, Chief Digital Officer, UNTUCKit, and to our moderator Margaret Molloy, New York Chair of the Marketing Society and Global CMP of Siegel+Gale.