Explore inclusive imagery with Mercado McCann, following their Cannes Lions Bronze-awarded Offset by Shutterstock campaign “New Stereotypes Available.”

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but not all pictures are created equal. It can be difficult to select imagery that accurately reflects the world around us. To do so requires looking beyond the borders of our established biases and perceptions.

Image galleries today offer a broad range of subjects, spanning every age, race and gender. But many of these images only scratch the surface when it comes to true diversity and inclusion. They often fail to tell the whole story, even unintentionally reinforcing our misplaced notions of how the world looks or acts.

We all have cognitive biases stemming from life experiences and what we see in mass media. As a result, the default mental images we conjure around certain topics tend to fall into stereotypical patterns. Picture an athlete and you probably imagine a lean runner or muscular weightlifter in peak physical shape. Picture a kiss, and you probably imagine two people who look a certain way sharing that intimate physical connection. These snapshots are deeply ingrained in our heads whether we realize it or not, and can subtly impact how we see the world around us.

Inclusion (or Exclusion) Starts With a Search

3 Simple Strategies for Sourcing Inclusive Imagery — Start with a Search
Offset image via Andy Smith

“We are at a pivotal point in society where we have the opportunity to use images that reflect a world we want to be part of. Images where diversity is key, where subcultures are celebrated, and where expected gender and societal roles are smashed,” says Diego Tuya, Creative Leader for Mercado McCann, whose recent campaign for the Offset by Shutterstock image gallery took home a Cannes Bronze Lion award for print in June of 2019.

Through the campaign, the ad agency’s Argentinian branch set out to challenge some of those unconscious biases. With the arresting tagline “New Stereotypes Available,” the viewer is further drawn in with images that go against the grain of our preconceptions.

“The images are representative of the world we live in. Now if you search ‘boss,’ you get men or women, standing defiantly. If you search ‘love,’ you get all kinds of love. And if you search ‘masculinity,’ you also get a father lovingly helping a daughter with her homework,” Tuya says.

Stock or custom-made visuals are uniquely positioned to either solidify or challenge worldviews through the choices marketers make to accompany their campaigns and content. Tuya says, “All stereotypes start with a search, but inclusion also starts with a search,” so arming professionals with a broader range of choices helps the audience think beyond the borders of their usual way of thinking in order “to knock down old stereotypes and create positive and more inclusive visual messages.”

“Our target audience was the same creative professionals who use our images and videos every day. Stereotypes start with their work, and it’s in their power to improve it in order to improve the world. We believe creativity is a key tool in making the world a better place, so giving the creative professionals better tools themselves was our main objective.”

Keeping Track of the Changing World

3 Simple Strategies for Sourcing Inclusive Imagery — Keep Track of the Changing World
Offset image via Eugenio Marongiu

Being a perennial topic of great importance, Shutterstock has written about the need for diversity and inclusion in advertising visuals before. But the world continues to change. Established traditional “norms” are always evolving, therefore becoming less reflective of modern day life.

“[We selected] Images that show multiculturalism and inclusion, images that challenge the expected and celebrate the non-conformity with ‘the traditional,’” Tuya said. “We live in a diverse world, where there are so many beautiful and unique people.”

When it comes to race, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or level of physical ability, being truly inclusive is a moving target, and requires continual evolution of our thinking. People  are too often crammed into boxes based on traditional gender expectations. But we live in the era of the stay-at-home dad and the female Fortune 500 CEO, and our media should reflect those shifts in stereotypical norms.

“Gender representation in our visual choices is a vital part of gender representation in the greater world. Visuals that break expected gender and social roles. Accountability, courage and selflessness are a few of the values ​​that represent us, so this idea is at the core of what we are as marketers,” Tuya said.

The Power of Challenging Traditional Roles

3 Simple Strategies for Sourcing Inclusive Imagery — Challenge Traditional Roles
Offset image via Cavan Images

Images can be powerful, and an entire story can be told with a single photograph. Being inclusive with subjects in your imagery is a start, but thinking outside the box of traditional “roles” is how you really create something that not only resonates, but helps shatter outdated stereotypes and gets people thinking. It was these characteristics Tuya said he believes helped make the “New Stereotypes Available” campaign for Offset such a success.

“We believe that the campaign was relevant to the audience, that it attracted attention creating emotions and it was able to generate conversation.”

Top image via Maskot.

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