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Visualizing Diversity in Advertising Around the World

Visualizing Diversity in Advertising Around the World

This study of 2,500 marketers reveals beliefs and usage of diverse images in campaigns.

There’s no doubt that advertising and marketing visualizes much of what we believe to be true in the world, and it has tremendous power to further influence and shape our beliefs. To that end, the visuals in campaigns representing people, society, and culture require thoughtful consideration.

For the third year running, Shutterstock has commissioned a research study on the important topic of diversity in advertising and marketing campaign visuals. The research conducted by Censuswide in October 2018, surveyed more than 2,500 marketers in Australia, Brazil, Germany, the U.S., and the U.K. — which was an expansion of the 2016 (U.K.) and 2017 (Australia, U.K., U.S.) research.

Marketers in the countries surveyed answered questions about their opinions on using diverse imagery in campaigns and what impacted their visual decisions for the campaigns they’ve worked on over the last year. The results are particularly interesting from a generational and regional viewpoint, and they highlight who is practicing what they believe.

We’ve shared some of the key findings from the research in this article, as well as a variety of curated image and video collections to further support marketers as they seek to represent diverse people.

Generational Differences

Across the countries we surveyed, the research shows nine in ten of Generation X (91%) and Millennial (92%) marketers believe they are expected to use more diverse representation in their campaigns, and 88% of Generation X and 90% of Millennials believe that this helps a brand’s reputation.

However a generational divide is visible among marketers who act upon their beliefs. While the younger generations — Gen Z and Millennial marketers — had used more images featuring diverse models within the last year, Generation X and Baby Boomer marketers were less inclined to follow through.

In the last 12 months, Marketers started to use images featuring more of the following:

  • Racially diverse models — 35%* Generation Z and 37%* Millennials vs. 27% Generation X and 16% Baby Boomers.
  • Same sex couples — 26%* Generation Z and 27%* Millennials vs. 18% Generation X and 12% Baby Boomers.
  • Transgender models — 19%* Generation Z and 21%* Millennials vs. 11% Generation X and 6% Baby Boomers.
  • People with disabilities — 27%* Generation Z and 25%* Millennials vs. 17% Generation X and 12% Baby Boomers.
  • Gender-fluid, non-binary, or androgynous models — 16%* Generation Z and 19%* Millennials vs. 11% Generation X and 5% Baby Boomers.

Regional Priorities

Most notably, Brazilian marketers led the way, compared to marketers in Australia, Germany, the U.K., and the U.S., in using more images featuring racially diverse models, same-sex couples, and people with disabilities. Meanwhile, British marketers were ahead of their surveyed peers for using more images that feature non-professional models and gender-fluid, non-binary, or androgynous models in their marketing campaigns.

Across all countries, there was clear support for regulation to prevent advertising that depicts harmful gender stereotypes, with at least 60% of marketers in each country where the survey took place indicating that regulation similar to the U.K. ASA Gender Stereotyping rule from earlier this year should be standard practice in their country.

Another interesting differentiator between the countries was the motivations behind their visual choices for campaigns. Marketers from Germany believed an emotional reaction (32%) and shareability of images (32%) to be most important, Brazilian (44%) and Australian (38%) marketers were more concerned about the connection between the images and the brand message, while British (45%) and American (37%) marketers chose imagery that best represented modern society.

The survey also looked closely at regional attitudes toward visual representations of people with disabilities, gender diversity, and racial diversity, as well as relationships and family diversity.

People with Disabilities

Visualizing Diversity in Advertising Around the World — Diversity
Image via SaMBa.

In the last 12 months, 32%* of Brazilian marketers said they have started using more images featuring people with disabilities in their campaigns, as compared to 25% of marketers in the U.K., 20% in the U.S., 18% in Australia, and 13% in Germany.

There are many ways to visualize disabilities, both physical and intellectual, and it’s important to look at imagery that normalizes these, removing clichés and negative emotions or settings. These curated collections of images and footage are just a few examples of how you might illustrate people with disabilities in your campaigns.

Diverse People and Relationships

Visualizing Diversity in Advertising Around the World — Diversity
Image via Rawpixel.

Brazilian marketers (45%*) rank the highest, compared to British (33%), American (30%), Australian (28%), and German (20%) marketers for having used more images featuring racially diverse models in the last 12 months. There are a range of reasons for this — for example, 71% of U.S. marketers featuring more imagery of racially diverse models in their campaigns are doing so to represent modern society.

it’s important to think about your audience, and more broadly about the visual representation of individuals, couples, and families — and what is a good representation of modern society. As with all diversity sub-themes, make sure you are avoiding stereotypes and clichés of how different relationships look, and be sure to choose images that keep your visuals feeling authentic. Showing affection often elicits a more personal connection, regardless of race, abilities, sexual orientation, or gender.

These curated video collections of people and families are a great resource when seeking some examples to get you started with your search.

Gender diversity

Visualizing Diversity in Advertising Around the World — Diversity
Image via Sandra van der Steen.

Brazilian (19%), British (19%), and American (19%) marketers said they have started using more images featuring transgender models, compared to German (11%) and Australian (13%) marketers.

Brazilian marketers are significantly more likely to report marketing has started adopting non-gender binary pronouns, with 68%*of marketers agreeing. Meanwhile, 62%of Americans, 60% of British, 55% of Australian, 50% of German marketers also agreed to this.

Although half (51%) of U.K. marketers agree that there are some company concerns that gender-neutral advertising could negatively impact bottom line, 60% of U.K. marketers agree marketing has started adopting non-gender binary pronouns (e.g. they, them, ze, zir) in their campaigns, and a similar amount (61%) agree more adoption or support of gender-neutral imagery in marketing campaigns is necessary.

When seeking imagery to best represent gender, be mindful of the various terms you can search for, and consider using imagery featuring non-professional models to help give you that authentic, real-life look. It’s more important than ever to consider visuals that challenge gender roles. Perhaps these curated image and video collections will help.


The research found that the marketers surveyed agree there is still room for growth in using more diverse images in marketing campaigns: Brazil: 95%*, U.S.: 89%, U.K.: 88%, Australia: 87%, and Germany: 86%. Acknowledging that change is necessary and acting on the belief is key to evolving your campaigns to best reflect modern society.

To learn more about this topic, watch for our upcoming webinar with Shutterstock’s VP of Creative Services, Mike McCabe, together with Director of Contributor Marketing, Kristen Sanger, wherein they will explain some of the research results and share their viewpoints on how to source and use diversity-related visual content.

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