The future is looking bright – and diverse – according to Pam Grossman, Getty Images’ visual trends director.
For all the progress made by certain factions, it sometimes feels like the marketing industry is repeatedly stuck in traffic on the road to diversity. For every panel at every conference there’s an opinion column, or tweet, or trade press editorial lamenting that talk is cheap and action is non-existent.
This same argument goes on year after year; all the while, women continue to drop out of the industry before they begin in it, black people don’t enter it, and anyone with a minority status isn’t represented by it very well at all.
Against this background, meeting Getty Images’ visual trends director, Pam Grossman, is a breath of fresh air. Grossman and her team are in charge of analyzing which images the photo agency’s clients are searching for and using in their brand campaigns, and predicting the needs of the world’s art directors before they know themselves.
According to her research, the lack of inclusiveness in ad campaigns might not be as bad as we think. At the very least, things really are getting better.
“One of the biggest trends that we're seeing is around the idea of immigration or the idea that your culture is transient,” she told The Drum. “And the idea that even though we all grow up with certain identifiers or self-identifiers, those can in fact that can be fluid.
“Some of it is very literal – we're seeing keywords like globalization, immigration and migration all skyrocketing. But we're also seeing a lot of brands who are interpreting this in not just in metaphorical ways – brands are talking about the story of humanity as something that's constantly in flux, and therefore celebrating the ways in which we're alike and have universal connections more so than everybody sticking to their own nationality.”
For Grossman, this trend is a marked shift that has been picked up over the last year. While she’s aware that “virtually every brand you can imagine trying to be more inclusive” runs the risk of goading a tokenization epidemic, she believes the change in client search language is a direct response to the recent political trend of neo-nationalism.
“We have a lot of creatives who are now trying to address [fear-based nationalism] by showing images of real people and telling very specific and authentic stories as an antidote to that kind of thinking, because the more images we see of people who are different than us, the more that becomes normal and less frightening,” she said.
Grossman believes that we are entering an age of specificity, alongside one of inclusiveness. For instance, Apple’s iPhone 7 global campaign featured a couple in Shanghai taking photos of each other. As Grossman puts it: “I don't speak the same language as this couple. I don't recognize the city. And yet that spirit of love and connection – and the idea of trying to capture someone's face amidst a sea of a wild city – is something that I think we can all relate to and because it's so specific, it in fact opens you up.”
The same can be said for Airbnb’s city-specific Never a Stranger global campaign, or American Greetings’ latest spot, which focuses on infertile women in the US but taps into the feelings of loneliness and isolation that we can all experience.
Getty has also seen image searches for Muslim culture on the rise, too, meaning that it is growing “far more visible from ever before”. While more than 1.5 billion people are part of the religion, Grossman believes that “Muslim stories and Muslim faces have largely been invisible – and when they are made visible they’re often framed as something ‘other’.” Getty has formed a partnership with online publisher Muslim Girl to further enliven this trend, commissioning imagery that aimed to visually redefine the way the world imagines the lives of women in the Islamic community.
“There’s an exciting groundswell where people are longing to see different makers and different subjects of story,” said Grossman “I'm very hopeful and optimistic and I genuinely believe that by changing an image you're going to change somebody's mind.”
It goes without saying that there is still a long way to go until we see a global advertising community that prizes visual inclusiveness above aestheticism and client demands. People with disabilities or body types that differ from the norm are still widely underrepresented, Grossman noted, as are people who suffer from mental health issues. Getty is, again, leading the way on the latter front through a partnership with mental health charity Be Vocal. The two created a photo collection that aimed to “reframe people who are living with various mental health diagnoses and thriving – imagery can really break stigma and dissolve stigma and shame”.
It must also be the case that the people behind the camera represent some level of diversity too. As a 20-year-old photo agency, Getty Images is partially responsible for the proliferation of stock imagery featuring white, good-looking couples.
But now, thanks in part to social media, the company is making a conscious bid to move away from hiring white, straight men. The poster boy for this drive is Campbell Addy, a photographer with a penchant for exploring black masculinity and representations of race who shot 42 portraits for Getty as part of a campaign to diversity stock photography.
“We have real targeted efforts to recruit photographers of color, which has been really exciting to see take off,” said Grossman. “We have a number of different partnerships that celebrate more diverse image makers. So I think it’s shifting. But it's definitely a challenge. You really have to start by speaking to people in schools and talk to people when they're young.
“A lot of young people when they're going into photography might want to do fashion or editorial. So a lot of them don't even understand how the stock industry works, yet we're such an important piece of the puzzle because our images are everywhere.”
It’s not impossible, of course, for white, straight men to take photos of non-white, queer people. But refusing to diversify its photographer base would not only undermine Getty’s goals entirely, it would naturally endanger its inclusiveness targets through unconscious bias.
“When someone is self-representing, the odds of them getting it right are much, much, much higher,” said Grossman. “There are certain cultural nuances and visual cues that some people are just blind to if they haven't experienced it themselves. Furthermore, photographers often work with their friends, their colleagues …they have their own shared networks and, generally speaking, if a white photographer is going to do a family shoot they're going to take a picture of a family that they might be friends with.
“By working with photographers of different backgrounds we’re not only making sure that the images are accurate and representing people in a really positive way, but we're also gaining access to different ways of shooting and whole different networks of models, new ideas and set ups.”
There’s no denying that Grossman is on brand throughout the interview, but it would be hard to argue that her positivity is a misplaced construct. She cites statistics from the US Census Bureau by heart, which predict that by the year 2040, more than half of everyone living in the USA will is be part a minority group. It’s this fact that truly gives her hope – a hope that is rooted in cold, hard economics and not a fantastical ideal.
“[These minorities] suddenly stop being demographics and become potential customers – people that we need to market to and people that we need to connect with in ways that are resonant and relevant to them,” she said. “So while certainly we have a very big polarization when it comes to politics right now, I tend to believe that younger generations are more open minded, and that we're going to see the pendulum shift back.”