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Need help engaging today’s consumer? Here’s some advice from Getty Images.

Back in February, Getty Images unveiled Visual GPS, an ambitious new research project that aims to help brands, media and small businesses better understand today’s consumer. 

Now, the leading visual content provider has released a new wave of research, its first since the Covid-19 pandemic gripped the world. The findings: almost 80 percent of people say advertisers need to do a better job showing various ethnicities and 44 percent do not think advertising does a good job representing them.

What’s missing?

Plainly, advertisers do a bad job of representing the intersectionality of lifestyle and culture. Today’s consumer is more tuned in than ever before and advertising must be nuanced to show the world as it truly is. 

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Portrait of a multigenerational family in the courtyard garden during a dinner party via Getty Images

“The first Visual GPS study conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic showed us how important representation is to people and we continued to track this through the last four months,” said Dr. Rebecca Swift, Global Head of Creative Insights at Getty Images.

“The Summer Update shows that amid the COVID-19 pandemic and despite massive changes in people’s lives, the demand for more diversity in visual communications has only increased.” 

From the outset, the team posited that in a world so utterly infiltrated with information and misinformation, all of which could be visually distorted and manipulated or provocative and even desensitizing, brands needed a resource to help them better engage their audience. 

The advertising community can often rely on groupthink and worn out tropes but to move the industry forward, several questions must be answered: What’s genuinely empowering for audiences of all demographics? How about resonating? Perhaps even revelatory and positively nuanced? 

In a visual content landscape that is already over-saturated, Getty Images’ Visual GPS analyzes the stereotypes, archetypes and prejudices that have built up over time. Can we hit a “reset” button on the perceptions that have built up over time?

And specifically, how would that help previously underrepresented communities, especially people of color, finally feel seen?

“In response to protests taking place around the world, in response to senseless police brutality against Black people, there’s a heightened emphasis on the need for visual content that allows brands to tell more diverse and inclusive stories,” said Tristen Norman, the Head of Getty Images’ Creative Insights.

“Our Visual GPS survey data shows that consumers want to align themselves with brands that stand for something, and while many brands have made the claim that Black lives matter, the images they are selecting are oftentimes not inclusive or representative of Black people or other communities of color.”

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Customer Paying For Shopping At Checkout Of Sustainable Plastic Free Grocery Store via Getty Images

The Getty Images Creative Insight team sifts through the data

Sifting through over one-billion data points on both and, relying on its 25 years of experience in visual insights as well as 375 million assets and its over 310,000 contributors, Getty Images partnered with YouGov, a market research firm, that compiled data from over 5,000 surveyed consumers across 26 countries and 13 languages.

All of the findings also stem from a larger quantitative investigation on the effects that global issues, dependent on industry segment, and their presentation in visual media have on consumers.  

The creatives, futurists, archivists, and art directors in the team grounded their initial research on four categories — wellness, realness, technology, and sustainability —  based on emerging trends.

The results showed a gap between consumers’ surface level take on visual media versus its deeper, long-term effects. The digital world’s “information overwhelm” has made the disconnect more tangible.

The “overwhelm”

While the “overwhelm” might suggest that there is simply more access to content, it has also made it harder to find what is accurately representative and authentic, images that instead of feeding into the status quo, actively challenge it.

“The demand for more inclusive content includes not only authentic depictions of race and ethnicity but also varied use of different ages, genders, body types, and more,” said Norman.

It’s also important for brands to go beyond just featuring people of various appearances in their advertising; they need to dig deeper and portray authentic experiences and perspectives.”

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Young woman loves the sport of longboarding via Getty Images

In the team’s global customer search data, searches have been found to increase year over year for words like “diversity,” which is up 133 percent and “culture,” up 115 percent as well as “real people” and “inclusion,” up 115 percent and 126 percent, respectively.

From May to June, likely given all of the protests against social injustice and systemic racism, searches for diverse images have increased by 200 percent and those around unity and equality have increased by 500 percent.

“Our data and research tells us there’s a clear appetite to tell, hear and see inclusive stories, but brands and businesses must go beyond tokenistic inclusion to intentionally create advertising and business communications which truly capture people’s authentic lifestyles and culture,” said Dr. Swift.  

A decade of work

Having worked over a decade to address the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of various groups in visual communications, this is Getty Images’ latest effort.

Previous projects, with similar aims towards authentic content, included commercial imagery collections, such as, the Nosotros Collection, the Disability Collection, and Project #ShowUs

According to Norman,  Microsoft and P&G have also made their advertising efforts more diverse. 

“But as an industry, we still have significant work to do,” she said.

“We hope this second wave of Visual GPS data points brands in the right direction when considering what imagery to use, but at the end of the day, companies need to identify their core values and choose content that supports what they stand for.”

The Visual GPS Summer Update has also found that of the people who have felt discriminated against across visual-media (62 percent), only 14 percent said that they are well-represented in advertising.

This sentiment is more common amongst Gen-zers as compared to other generations. Also, more women feel that way than men and more consumers in America relative to those in Europe and APAC.

“There’s clearly room for improvement when it comes to representation, as evidenced by Visual GPS findings, which also suggests significant opportunities,” said Dr. Swift.

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Teenage girl throwing packet in garbage can via Getty Images

In North America as compared to other aforementioned regions, those who have reported feeling discriminated against describing it as that which pertains to the color of their skin (57 percent).

Fifty-three percent of respondents from the same region say that they have been discriminated in a similar way but more grounded in the assumptions that the visual media has perpetuated about their backgrounds.

However, in Europe, respondents said that they have been discriminated against by the media but more so based on assumptions made about their nationality or country of origin.

Bridging the gap

Considering all of this recent data, the Getty Images Creative Insight team intends to mend the oft-broken connection between brands and consumers.

This time, though, it’s not just the bare minimum of effort that counts. Diversity and inclusion ask for much more. More thought. More insight. More determined understanding of people’s experiences, rooting out any preconceived notions. 

For better guidance, the team has released an Inclusive Video Search Guide.

It is built off Visual GPS findings and it encourages different organizations to reach towards intentional authenticity, inclusivity, and fair representation. 

“We recognize our challenge and opportunity in supporting our global customer base toward content choices which reflect consumer preference,” said Dr. Swift.

“This research will form the basis for a number of tools that will help brands and businesses on this journey.”