It’s a cliché, but when it comes to diversity, marketing really does have the power to change the world. As one speaker succinctly put it at this year’s Cannes Lions, marketers work in the only industry that can change things with the click of a finger. Marketers are in a unique position of being among a select few who can easily and readily affect massive change. 

But, getting marketing to address real people and leverage data still feels like an uphill battle sometimes. For example, recent research has shown that 70% of women claim they don’t feel represented by everyday media images: affecting their health, relationships and access to opportunities.  

It’s these tone-deaf cultural depictions that Getty’s Project #ShowUs has in its sights. As a leading repository of stock images used across advertising and media, the brand has built the world’s most extensive photo library created by women and non-binary photographers. The ambition is to shatter beauty stereotypes and show women as they are and not how an industry says that they should be. Its aim is to set a new standard for the authentic, diverse and inclusive representation of women across the world.

I met up with Dr. Rebecca Swift, Getty’s Senior Director of Creative Insights, just after announcing the initiative. We talked about how Project #ShowUs is already helping her clients to make better choices when it comes to depicting diversity.

How does it feel now that Project #ShowUs has launched?

Now that’s it’s out in the atmosphere, you’re waiting with bated breath. I believe in what we’ve achieved, but it’s only when you get a reaction back from other people that you start to realize how good it is. We’ve had an immediate positive impact as soon as we’ve launched it. We haven’t had any negative feedback yet. I’m still waiting for the …but?’  

For Getty as a business, we need to have a slightly more long-term view when it comes to assessing how we’ve done. First and foremost, we aim to keep these women in the industry and attract other women. So far, though, the response has been way beyond our expectations and beyond anything we’ve done before.

It’s the first time Getty has done something this radical. What has it been like working with the likes of Dove to make this happen?

Today was the first time presenting the project to people and saying; “here you go, tell us what you think.” We probably should have done that earlier. 

Having Dove’s marketing machine behind it has also been a massive help. When people think of Dove, they think of the campaign for real beauty. Most people tend to understand that they’re behind self-esteem issues, especially when it comes to younger women. I think that has been an extra piece of promotion that has helped us get it out there.

What has the response been like so far?

For me, the best thing about working on this project has been that it has brought me into contact with other organizations and other marketers. We’ve just been down on Inkwell beach, and we’ve had so many people come up to us and say, “thank you for doing this, it means a lot.”

The optics of doing a campaign like this matters. We’re not a niche company. We’re not a specialist organization; we work for everyone. Therefore, to see diversity front and center in a mainstream place like Getty Image is important. It says to other organizations that diversity matters and it’s something that they can do, too.

Moving forward with the initiative, how important is Getty’s role when it comes to widening the depiction of women and minorities in advertising?

In the past, the representation of BAME, disability and non-binary sexual relationships have traditionally been the domain of particular photographers invested in those issues. They haven’t necessarily been the best photographers in the world.

That means that before Project #ShowUs, you’ve often had images that depict these groups, but it’s not shot in the same aesthetic way of mainstream advertising. That’s exactly what we’re addressing. We want to make a library of images that are beautifully shot but are also unexpected, because of the subject matter of the people we’re showing. 

How is Getty helping that message trickle down? Aren’t many of these images going to be used by marketers working on smaller, lower-budget campaigns?

That’s exactly right. Part of my role at Getty is not only bringing that kind of stuff in, but it’s also disseminating it out again. We have over a million customers that we work with worldwide, and we’re in a privileged position in that we can talk to them. We know the type of images that they use and how they use them. We have an excellent understanding of their processes and production standards and can use that to help them make better choices.

That’s been an exciting evolution of the business. Twenty-five years ago, we didn’t use to get involved in this kind of thing—like education and evangelization. We were simply a supplier that you’d come to for an image. However, because of our worldwide spread and the data that we have, we advise advertising and media on the type of media they should be using.

How is Getty helping marketers at SMEs present a more diverse image?

I do a lot of work with small businesses. That’s my passion. I love being able to work with people who’ve gone from their kitchen table to be on the cusp of being a brand. SMEs are a key market for us, and we create an array of education documents and guides that can help them improve their visual language. 

I think the diversity message is cutting through to small business more quickly than large ones. With an SME, you’re usually working with someone who understands that they’re talking to people who are like them or a diverse community. I’ve found that global organizations are more reticent about change. They are usually the people who have done promotion for many, many years and feel committed to doing things in a certain way. They are the ones who are not ready to make that move forward. 

It does feel like there is a strong business case for campaigns that feature diversity.

I think events like Cannes has been vital in helping to change people’s minds. You’ve started to see brands begin to speak up about their successes. Now that people are starting to see that it can work, it’s getting easier to have these kinds of conversations. 

I think evidence makes the conversation easier all round. It’s unfortunate, but often saying “this is the right thing to do” is one of the harder things to say to businesses.

Don’t we need people to have these hard conversations, though? I mean, someone had to take the chance on diversity in the first place.

Yes, we do, but we also need people in the industry to support one another and remain committed to the idea. We get asked to do things like this all the time, and one of the main reasons we partnered with Dove was because they have a track record in leading from the front. We knew that they would stick with it. We needed someone who would take that chance with us.