Getty creative insights lead: How relatability, diversity and sustainability are driving visual imagery

Getty APAC creative insights leader shares the latest macro consumer trends and market forces driving how brands utilise visuals in creative

A growing desire to go beyond the surface when it comes to diversity and inclusion, sustainability and technology and realise authenticity in totality is driving visual imagery and video creation and utilisation in this next normal.

That’s the view of Getty Images and iStock head of creative insights Asia-Pacific, Kate Rourke, who caught up with CMO on a recent visit to Sydney to talk through macro consumer and market trends influencing how it’s developing out the photo and video library catalogue, as well as how brands use visuals to deliver a message.

These trends are also being highlighted to the company’s B2B customer base through its VisualGPS insights engine, a tool that unites more than 2.5 billion search data points from the Getty website from more than 880,000 licenced customers with downloads and keywords to paint a picture of the most popular visuals by country and theme. It’s being supported by regularly conducted custom research undertaken by the organisation with research poll group, YouGov.

As Rourke explained, VisualGPS looks at macro trends through four identified ‘forces’ – sustainability, realness, technology and wellness. These trends to a greater or lesser extent are driving consumer engagement and purchasing behaviour across geographies, generations, gender and employment.

Here, Rourke talks through how Getty is responding to such trends as well as how Covid has influenced what’s being realised through visual and video imagery.

CMO: What are the macro-level trends driving your own visual creative strategy in 2022?

Kate Rourke: At a broader level and from a technology perspective, the metaverse is something we are very focused on. Everyone is talking about it and we’re very interested as a business.

From a Covid perspective, what we saw was a major and quick shift towards the ‘home’ being our entire lives, from home gyms to online learning and working. That impacted the world of work and how we view the world of work, and we’re seeing a shift towards hybrid work and what that looks like as a result. It’s not just about showing sitting at home with a laptop, it’s also how you make that inspirational as well.

Diversity and inclusion [D&I] is another huge part of what we are looking at. That’s not just about who the people featured in imagery are, but if are we including everybody and how we’re doing that. At Getty, we look at this from an intersectional standpoint – we all have these different lenses we identify with, and these can evolve over time. What’s interesting is when you look from an intersectional standpoint, you can see where certain groups missed out or are excluded.

Kate RourkeCredit: Kate Rourke
Kate Rourke

What we try and do is then layer that in with all the other trends we are looking at, such as the metaverse. For example, we are seeing a trend to the metaverse being a younger generation domain skewing more male than female. It’s then trying to think about that from a visual perspective – are we also skewing to more men, but do we in fact want to change that representation? Because there are loads of women gamers. We are trying to understand where the balance lies and how does it look in order to shoot off the back of it.

What is it that’s still missing from a D&I perspective visually?

Rourke: It’s an ongoing evolution. In speaking to lots of businesses, we know diversity and inclusion is at the forefront of everything they are doing, and gender diversity is up there along with ethnic diversity. But when you look at men in business versus women in business, we still see more men. It’s always a surprise given we have been talking about this for a while, but it remains a reality.  

A lot of research we are doing [for D&I] is around unconscious bias and being aware of it. We unwittingly have these biases and sometimes default to certain visuals because of this. So we did a lot of work and built a checklist of questions… that help us think when we’re visualising women, for instance, if have we thought about all the other areas so we don’t default to showing women predominantly in a lifestyle environment, or shopping with friends. It’s about broadening up the stories and being more genuinely representative of what women do now.

Another one is looking at it from an age standpoint. Those over 60 are generally seen more as relaxing and are less likely to be in business or to be seen on their own. That’s interesting, because they are a generation more likely to be on their own, yet they’re almost always with a family member, husband or wife in images. While these elements are improving, if we are literally trying to represent what is happening in society today, it’s not quite there yet visually.

It's interesting you make that point around Getty / iStock needing to challenge pre-conceived notions on what something should look like and taking accountability for changing perceptions. Are there other generational distinctions challenging how we should think about visual imagery?

Rourke: The 60+ age group encounter bias in being seen as too old. Whereas Gen Z experience bias in terms of being inexperienced. This often results in them not being visualised working, or even taking work seriously.

In terms of what different generations want to see, Gen Z do want realism. But ultimately, it’s about relatability. We have found with all generations, the one commonality is this idea of relatability. It’s not necessarily that every person in the picture looks like us, but it’s something we can relate to, whether it be emotion, set-up or what’s happening. Gen Z, however, tends to like more realism in visuals and to see people more like themselves, as well as body diversity.

How about the sustainability quest – how is this being reflected in image choices as well as the ways we utilise imagery?

Rourke: We tend to think the sustainable lifestyle is for Gen Z. In reality, our research showed the older we are, the more sustainability driven we are. That could be because we have higher salaries and can afford to make those environmental choices, the energy supplier or super we go with. But Gen Z are much more vocal about it and more likely to more broadly support any brand that can show sustainable practices, particularly with everyday purchases. But when we look at visuals for sustainability, we almost never see 60+ individuals shopping for sustainability.

It’s also about visually representing the whole cycle. What we know with consumers, and something that’s possibly stronger across younger generations, is wanting to see a more diverse story of how companies are reducing their carbon footprint, how they show they have these ethical business practices right through their processes. They also want to see behind-the-scenes and gain transparency across the whole process as well as what’s put out externally. It’s one thing to say we’re green and our packaging is recyclable, but consumers increasingly want to understand the process from start to finish. That has been a shift in the stories people want to see.

The other facet of sustainability is wanting to understand the workforce and individuals behind sustainable projects being worked on. It’s humanising the sustainability story and making it more relatable. Through testing, we have seen majestic solar or wind farm images often feel abstract and impersonal. We’re finding people want to bring it back to the human story and personalise it more so they can relate to it more.

Read more: Demarketing: How marketers avoid becoming a sustainability problem

Is this desire for a more human element a result of the pandemic? We are certainly seeing more brands adopting nostalgic and human connection because they know this is a moment in time where this is particularly resonating.

Rourke: It’s definitely accelerated because of Covid. When the financial crash happened, we found the appetite to show sustainability completely dropped. Whereas with Covid, it maintained then accelerated.

Equally, with Covid, our environment was crucial to us. We were all stuck indoors, and we started to quickly see those positive stories, like wildlife being found in the canals of Venice as the cruise ships disappeared. We quickly saw the benefit and how things can be improved if we make the effort to be more environmentally conscious.

Another trend we are witnessing is the rise of the creator economy. How is Getty / iStock navigating this and what does it mean for your business model?

Rourke: When Instagram really took off, we saw what we called the ‘Instagram aesthetic’ emerge and a move towards customers selecting content that has that Instagram feel. We could quickly see that was influencing image selection - lens flare was particularly popular, for example. It was never part of our brief to say make images look like Instagram, because with our 350,000 contributors, we want all manner of styles.

Now, it’s less a stylistically a thing. Where the creator economy is playing a role is that force driving realism. Everyone wants that extra layer of realism in visuals and to capture a moment in time that’s real there and then, with no filters, showing life as it is.

There was a time pre-2016 where people wanted things to be authentic. That meant showing real people. And it still does. The next layer of this ‘realness’ where it’s not just showing real people, but real families or a real couple. We know that’s very popular given where we are right now.

Then there’s another layer. We have created a collection called Show Us, which doesn’t just show the authenticity in front of the lens, but also who is behind it and who is telling that story. It’s about diverse perspectives not just in front but behind the lens. That I believe is what is going to influence those diverse requests more and more.

Does that change the way you present and work with your contributors?

Rourke: With the Show Us collection, the women and non-binary people featured could all select their own keywords. So you as a customer of our products would be able to see how that person wanted to be represented. Behind the lens, the element that was important was ensuring those people shooting the content were women and non-binary people.

We are always trying to elevate that diversity and we run a number of grants in order to recruit more contributors as it isn’t as easy as it may appear. We continue to work hard to continue to do that.

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