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Picture Perfect vs. Real Diversity


Right now, the Bs are working on a very exciting communications program for an important client around the extremely timely topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This got us thinking about how we communicate diversity as a creative agency. Most clients (and over the years, we've worked for really big ones: IBM, The Boston Globe, Bank of America) ask us to use stock photos that showcase corporate diversity. No problem. There are lots of them available, although the options decrease as you try to depict C- or senior-level executives.

Without naming names, we did a quick experiment with a very popular stock photo resource. We searched for "Senior Executive" and on the first page of 60 images, there were only a handful with women or people of color. In fact, the ones that we did see were often alternate shots of the same model.

Still, we can almost always find a token image of a token type of executive. But, that begs the question, how does our stock photo experience stack up to real-life? In other words, are all our clients living up to the image they ask us to project in advertising, direct marketing, and collateral? (And, rest assured, the clients we mentioned earlier are.)

The disparity isn't unique to corporations. We created an animated viewbook for a local college whose student body has — for many years — been 2/3 to 3/4 female. They consider this a disadvantage when they're recruiting new students, so they asked us to put a boy on the cover of the viewbook. Not a boy in a. group of students, but a single boy standing in front of an academic building and looking like the collegiate equivalent of everyman.

The problem, we advised the client, is that the minute a prospective student steps onto campus, he or she will see for his or herself that the students are mostly girls.

Of course, you can take realism a bit too far — and a bit over-budget. Years ago, we did a huge campaign for a national copyshop. They had us shoot two sets of every photo (the program included dozens of pieces and hundreds of photos). They wanted white models for some markets and Hispanic models for others because that more accurately depicted their workforce.

Another client, in the children's clothing industry, asked us to find a baby that could "pass" for black, white, Asian, and Latinx.

For better or worse, we did.

There isn't one right answer. As creatives, we usually shoot for rose-colored realism. While we don't want to produce something that's false or the opposite of reality, we do want to choose images that are aspirational. In fact, we think it's our responsibility to do so.

Every time we present a woman, a person of color, or anyone else who might be marginalized in a role traditionally reserved for "old, white men," we make it just a bit more acceptable — and possible — in reality.


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