Old, fat, black, female, gay, disabled. Coming to a marketing campaign (quite) near you, quite soon. Maybe. But if the folks from Getty Images are right, your customers will buy the diversity.
Micha Schwing is upbeat about New Zealand. Not about the weather, which is horrible during her visit, or the politics, which are dirty, but about the positive impact marketing can play in promoting diversity in this country.
The London-based director of creative planning for Getty Images, the world’s most famous photo library, reckons New Zealanders are ready for more diversity in advertising and branding campaigns.
Maybe it’s because she arrives in the country after the both-white, both-male, both-middle-aged, both-middle-class main leaders debate; and she leaves before the all-male minor party battle.
Maybe it’s because all she has to compare us with in this part of the world is Australia, which can’t even get gay marriage off the starting blocks.
Maybe it suits her cause to be positive.
Getty Images’ Micha Schwing is on a mission to promote diversity to corporate marketers
Whatever it is, Schwing is optimistic that New Zealand consumers will reward marketers for embracing diversity in their advertising images, and will punish them if they insist on focusing on stereotypical images of people in their campaigns.
A new collection of images presents a different view of your average company boss. PHOTO CREDIT: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images
Schwing’s first argument is that the world is changing. There are powerful female leaders in many fields around the world, Schwing says, showing a montage that includes former Prime Minister Helen Clark and Teresa Gattung, the ex-leader of Telecom. She doesn’t appear to notice the irony, just as she doesn’t mention the fact there are fewer senior female political and business leaders in New Zealand than there were in the 1990s. Perhaps she doesn’t know about that.
Instead she talks about the fact gay marriage has been recognized in several countries, (tick for NZ), that the Paralympics was run parallel to the Olympics in London (New Zealanders didn’t get full coverage), and that there are increasing numbers of older people with the health and money to do cool stuff after they retire.
Her second argument is that increasingly the media images we get, particularly from TV, and film, also a bit from magazines, reflect this changing world.
Shortland St comes to mind, in New Zealand, though Schwing’s examples come from overseas.
Think the aspirational glamour of Carrie from Sex and the City (which aired between 1998 and 2004) versus the painfully human Hannah in Girls, which premiered in early 2012 and is on its third season.
“Carrie is perfect size, perfectly styled, perfectly made-up,” Schwing says. “Hannah is a completely different body type, often without make-up. The first show was about a luxury lifestyle; the second is much grittier, much more real.
“Girls is so authentic I have friends that can’t watch it.”
Moreover, women don’t have to be size eight to get on the front of magazines any more, she says,
Social media can take some of the credit for a more realistic portrayal of women, Schwing says.
“The idea of what beauty is these days is not only in the hands of magazine editors, or people that cast for television or movies. Ten or 15 years ago, all the images of women you would have seen would have come through magazines or TV or movies. Someone else was in charge of editing for you.
“Today you see the images of your Facebook friends or the people you follow on Instagram. There is more variety in the images you see every day and that has an impact in what we see as beautiful.”
And this is filtering through to some marketing and advertising campaigns, she says.
“Social media is having a big impact on what kind of content customers expect.”
The “show it how it is” trend is visible, though to a lesser extent, in the portrayal of people with disabilities in the media, particularly in the UK post the 2012 Olympics, Schwing says.
“I’m not saying all of a sudden all advertisers are going to show disabled people in their campaigns, but the Paralympics in London was a game changer. The story line changed dramatically – it wasn’t about pitying them, it was about admiration for what they had achieved.”
The “Meet the Superhumans” message on Britain’s channel 4 was mirrored in campaigns by supermarket chain Sainsbury’s and the Guinness beer brand.
These campaigns, showing close-up, graphic shots of disabled body parts, would have been inconceivable in the past, Schwing says, but they were successful in terms of the number of views and clicks.
Still at the moment, portrayal of disability has yet to move beyond sport, she says, and marketers are still nervous.
“When I talk to customers in big corporations they love the Guinness campaign; they really admire Guinness for doing it, but they have a lot of concerns about doing communication like that because they don’t want to be seen as using disabled people to get media attention.
“I tell my customers, what happens if we are so careful is that we render a whole group of people invisible, and then what advertising looks like is white and middle class and pretty.”
Globally, Getty’s message is that companies in positions of power and influence have a responsibility to portray society as it is – and that includes being less risk-averse with the images they buy.
PHOTO CREDIT: Stephen Zeigler/Getty Images
Gay and lesbian
In the same way that the coverage of the most recent Paralympics had a big impact on how people see disability, so the dramatic changes in freedoms for gay and lesbian people have been mirrored in mainstream TV – and more recently mainstream marketing, particularly in the US, Schwing says.
The first openly gay football player being admitted into the NFL was shown on American TV like this:
And here’s a spoiler alert from a recent episode of Modern Family.
These big changes in how media is portraying the family have been taken up by some mainstream US brands – not just the edgy, creative ones, Schwing says. Take this ad for car brand Chevrolet:
Or this moving piece of pro-gay public relations from American biscuit maker Honey Maid:
Or this ad for sports clothing brand XXL, made for the Norwegian, Swedish and Finnish market and produced in response to anti-gay messages coming out of Russia before the Sochi Winter Olympics earlier this year.
Air New Zealand is one of the few New Zealand corporates taking the message on board.
Schwing’s advice to New Zealand marketers is clear:
“The stories are changing on television and movies, so it is going to be something that is important to address in commercial communication to show your acceptance and support for all ways of life and all families.
“You have to do it for commercial reasons.”
Take your average 20-40-year-old planning for their retirement. What are their dreams and aspirations for 65-plus? If you watch the ads, Schwing says, they are holding out for long walks on the beach, lying in hammocks, looking at the sunset, and playing with the grandchildren.
“I am personally very disappointed about how slow the change is in terms of how seniors are portrayed in marketing. The statistics have been there for two decades, showing that people are going to live longer and they are going to be healthy longer.
“If I think about myself, I wouldn’t be inspired to pay into a retirement fund because I want to lie on a hammock all day long. I am much more inspired by someone who starts a project when they are retiring because it was a passion of theirs.
“There’s too much life to be lived to lie around.”
Schwing says there is a largely untapped market for showing an idea of seniors that someone in their 30s would aspire to. But by and large advertising campaigns are stuck in the retiree stereotype.
On the other hand, there are some more realistic portrayals of older people in social media, she says, such as the Advanced Style blog, which shows fabulously-dressed, mostly American seniors.
And there is the odd ad campaign, like this one for Prudential:
“What Prudential is doing is targeting people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, because they have to pay into their retirement funds, but they show seniors inn a different way, and by changing the story they are addressing a much more current way of talking about age.”
Schwing says Getty is trying to be at the forefront of a new view of society, encouraging its photographers to take photos that capture a non-stereotypical, more realistic view of society.
“When we think about business shoots, I want our photographers to think about casting women that could be the CEO or could be the boss of the company. Not casting models that are secretaries.
“But that is a big change for our photographers because they go with the advertising stereotypes because that is what has been selling for them in the past.
“I need to make sure they produce content that will sell in the future.”
Are New Zealand marketers ready for that?
“I think definitely. It is something that is happening in culture around us. There might need to be a couple of brands that are brave enough to be the first to do it but I’m sure that is something that is going to change.”