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Best Practices for Showing Diversity in Ad Imaging

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According to a recent study, two out of every five global consumers feel they aren’t fully represented by who they see represented in advertising. And this lack of inclusive representation cuts across many categories, including age, gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, body shape and ability. Not only do people not see themselves, but we know that the images we see can contribute to implicit bias, reinforcing assumptions and stereotypes.

The statistic above was mentioned in a case study from Canvas8 highlighting this lack of diversity, specifically in online search, and how one company is working to address this. As Canvas8 noted, “online platforms are disproportionately White, heteronormative, and rarely reflect the diversity of the world today.” When I recently needed to find an image of a family in the forest for a presentation, my search returned more than a dozen photos of families smiling amongst the trees—overwhelmingly, these were images of a white mother, father and kids.

And the data underscores this lack of representation across multiple demographics:

  • People with disabilities appeared in just 1% of examined ads, and members of the LGBTQ+ community in only 0.3%.
  • The Boomer generation (born from 1946 to 1964) is underrepresented despite wielding more significant purchasing power than younger generations. According to the AARP, “while 46% of the U.S. adult population is age 50+, only 15% of [online] images containing adults include people this age.” And often those images reinforce ageism and negative stereotypes.

Many brands and advertisers are making a conscious effort to increase diverse representation in the imagery they use.

Canvas8 highlights one company’s efforts: Shutterstock, a resource for stock photography, footage, and music. Shutterstock cited results from a 2018 survey of photojournalists from around the world that found that over half of those surveyed identified themselves as Caucasian/White while only 1% classified themselves as Black. Additionally, they found that their photo bank lacked racial and ethnic representation. Shutterstock developed the Create Fund program, which “provides artists with financial and professional support to empower historically excluded artists, help fill content gaps, and further diversity and inclusion within their content library and contributor network.” This is a powerful example of tangible action to support BIPOC creators and ensure diversity among both its contributors and consumer-facing materials.

Despite this commitment by many companies, there is still a gap between intent and action across the industry. So, what can advertisers do to address this issue?

Increase visibility of underrepresented groups in your imagery. This includes providing opportunities for those in front of the camera—and the creators behind it—to authentically show diverse representation. Canvas8 notes that there is an opportunity to get a competitive edge by fostering trust with your audiences and taking action to increase diversity across contributors.

Actively work against reinforcing negative stereotypes. Diversity and inclusion in imagery should be carefully considered to ensure that you are not leaning into existing bias or just checking a box on diversity without thoughtfully examining what is being portrayed in the image. For example, consider whether you’re reinforcing gender norms, such as showing only males in leadership roles. Ensure that characters, across all diversity types, feature prominently, rather than playing supporting roles—and that they are featured in roles that are not defined solely by their identity.

Make your imagery accessible. Consider how your imagery is showing up on your online platforms and whether it is available to people with disabilities. Add image descriptions to make your content accessible to those who use screen readers.

Use inclusive resources and intentional keywords when searching for stock images. Actively search for images by choosing keywords that reflect specific cultures or populations and using terms like “diverse” and “inclusive.” And utilize the many stock photography websites that have diverse content. A few examples of resources include:

Body Liberation Stock: These stock images promote body size diversity and acceptance.

The Disability Collection: A collection from Getty Images, in partnership with Verizon Media and the National Disability Leadership Alliance, that aims to provide images that authentically portray individuals with disabilities.

The Disrupt Aging® Collection: In conjunction with AARP, another photo collection from Getty Images depicts older adults living full, engaging lives.

The Gender Spectrum Collection by Vice: A free stock photo library featuring trans and non-binary models that aims to better represent these communities in ways that go beyond their gender identity.

Nappy: A free collection of high-res photos featuring Black and Brown people.

Tonl: Features collections of culturally diverse and inclusive stock images that aim to give a voice and visibility to people of diverse ethnic backgrounds.

And you can find many, many more resources in this LinkedIn roundup.

There are many opportunities to increase diversity in imagery whether you are choosing images or creating them. But it takes intentionality to ensure that we are all showcasing positive and authentic representation and truly reflecting the diverse audiences that we want to reach.

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

This article is the fourth in a series spotlighting trends produced in partnership with CANVAS8.