Seen, skipped or stereotyped?

Getty Images explains how its visual imagery toolkit will promote greater diversity and inclusion in imagery at an event by The Unmistakables.

Georgie Moreton

Deputy Editor, BITE Creativebrief


While the advertising industry makes strides towards greater inclusion, visual imagery still has a way to go to ensure that representation is reflective of those it aims to reach. In a recent Linkedin Live event hosted by Asad Dhunna, Founder and CEO of The Umistakables, Getty Images launched its new visual imagery toolkit, launched to accelerate authentic inclusion in media, marketing and advertising.

The session hosted by Dhunna, included a panel featuring Lisa Power, LGBTQ+ history consultant, Co Founder of the Pink Paper and Stonewall, former Policy & Comms Director at Terrence Higgins Trust and  one of the first volunteers for Lesbian & Gay Switchboard, Greg Bunbury, Graphic designer, creative consultant, D&I consultant,· Xana, Sound Artist, Composer, DJ and installation maker and Steve Lacey,

Founder and the Managing Director of The Outsiders, Cultural Insight Specialist and Strategist with extensive experience in advising Governments, Global brands, international advertising agencies and activists, along with an introduction to the toolkit from Getty Image’s Dr Rebecca Swift, Global Head of Creative Insights.

Kicking off the session the panel expressed their individual frustrations with how they see themselves and their various identities currently represented within visual media. They noted that representation within imagery is often an afterthought which leads it to looking at times ‘clunky’ as it is not embedded within the storyline from the off.

Lacey noted that often what we see in imagery is not a real representation ”but a reflection of stereotype.” Where brands perpetuate caricatures of identities using visual features in quite a lazy way. A point which was backed up by Xana, who stressed that often “campaigns are reactionary” and raised the issue that at times diversity is often a tick box yet there are still issues like colourism where those with darker skin tones are excluded rife within ‘diverse’ imagery.

When it comes to executing true, authentic representation, Dhunna highlighted the importance of inside out inclusion, where representation in work has to be underpinned by a true inclusive workforce.

In order to combat some of these issues, Getty Images has launched its new DE&I imagery toolkit with the help of Citi, which has been made free to help foster meaningful, authentic, and inclusive representation across creative assets and communications. In a year that will see new Census data begin to reveal a more accurate picture of the demographics that make up today’s population, a new visual imagery toolkit aims to help ensure that the UK media and marketing industries have the tools they need to infuse authenticity into visual storytelling across all communication channels and platforms.

The toolkit has been built off the back of a comprehensive study of the country using proprietary visual data and expertise, combined with attitudinal, demographic and quantitative data from Kantar Research. The methodology delivers a roadmap for incorporating authentic and multifaceted depictions of people in advertising, marketing, communications, and creative assets. It also identifies biases and stereotypes through specific lenses of identity to help give marketers and communicators the cultural confidence they need to depict authentic representation.

Dr Rebecca Swift explained that the toolkit will be open source, in an attempt allowing brands and agencies to access insights, saving them from undergoing the same research over again “to move the dial forward and change visual language”.

The research focuses on eight different identity lenses; Race & Ethnicity, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Age, Disability, Bodies, Religion and Socioeconomic status. Which Swift notes “some of which have received a lot of media attention, others tend to be overlooked.”

Through each identity lens, Getty Images asks the questions: What is the demographic and psychographic of the UK? What do we see in the visuals typically used? Where are the opportunities to improve representation and inclusion?: In order to highlight areas of content that are missing within each identity and gain a true picture of what needs to be done.

The arts has a way to go in ensuring off-screen inclusion matches that of on-screen, you cannot be what you cannot see - people need to see they have options so that they have greater opportunities

Xana, Sound Artist, Composer, DJ and installation maker

There is clearly a need for change as the panel discussed that in visual imagery today less than 1% of men have bald heads. While 80% of visuals of Muslims feature young women, the majority of home interiors and exteriors are southern and affluent and the interracial couple (white mother and black father) has become the most common nod to diversity. Even anecdotally, these stats are evidence that misrepresentation is rife. 

Swift encourages people to “ask questions to be more inclusive such as; are you representing people in ways that break or diminish stereotypes? Do you favour certain skin tones, hairstyles or textures? Are you representing multiple intersections of identity?”

The panel considered some of the next steps in executing true inclusion within imagery such as how to include neurodiversity and disability beyond the visual iconography of a wheelchair. Lacey used the example of Shrek, in that imagery should be able to have multiple layers. “There can be signifiers such as how the person moved, or that they might have subtitles on their TV. Some people might not notice but they are signifiers that are understood and that those within the community would recognise.”

Nuance was also of great importance as the panel stressed that identity is often intersectional and the only true way to represent these intersections is by working with a broad range of talent both on and off-screen. Xana explained:  “The arts has a way to go in ensuring off-screen inclusion matches that of on-screen, you cannot be what you cannot see - people need to see they have options so that they have greater opportunities.”

Yet, unconscious bias remains within most people and while Swift suggested unconscious bias has started to become a better-understood part of the vernacular, Bunbury added that “tackling unconscious bias on a personal level is crucial to eliminating stereotypes.”

The Getty Images Toolkit provides insights and images to enable this greater level of inclusion that the industry seeks. As perceptions shift and change it is essential that people continue to research and make a conscious effort to ensure visual communications are reflective of the values they hold.

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