Stock photo trends: Authenticity and Cultural Diversity

April 22, 2021
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Abandon the staged stock images and stand out from the crowd with authentic and realistic images that display real people, places and real-life experiences.

For the longest time, the mantra in marketing has been that ‘Beauty sells’.
Traditional research suggests that physically attractive models used in advertising produce consumer expectations of accountability, dynamism and trustworthiness as they are perceived by consumers as friendly, warm, sociable, outgoing etc.

Traditionally, stock photos tend to be picture-perfect, over-styled and use models as the subject. In the last year, we’ve seen a trend of marketers searching for (and using) more authentic and realistic photography and leaving the ‘staged’ stock image behind by leveraging ‘real’ people, places and everyday experiences.

The shift towards authenticity

This constitutes a shift from the use of an over-artificial, perfect model pose pictures towards a diverse, imperfect and lifestyle focused image style. The airbrushed perfect polished look is getting replaced by visuals closer to something the audience could imagine taking themselves.

The ongoing body positivity movement and self-love trend further confirms the change perhaps symbolised best by the increasingly trending (Instagram hashtag) #nofilter.

Marketing mirror effect

Moving towards more authentic images does not mean that we should cease using photos exemplifying joy or happiness.

We all know that a smile can be contagious. Söderlund, Berg and Annika Lindström found that pictures of smiling models produce more consumer joy and more positive attitudes for the marketing (Journal of Consumer Marketing).

In other terms, we feel better when we see other people smile. The same goes for joy and happiness in general. Perhaps this is why Wanderlust; the strong desire to wander or travel and explore the world is one of the hottest stock photo topics at the moment. The category almost embodies the overarching trends; realism, authenticity and culturally diversity.

Real Life – With Real People

One of the trending image search topics over the last six months is real-life settings and situations. This goes hand in hand with the overarching trend towards authenticity; we want to see real-life experiences in our visuals.

We see a clear shift from the use of artificially posed picture scenes towards more natural and realistic settings and surroundings.

Reflect Your Audience

Knowing your audience has always been key in marketing but it’s not enough. You also have to reflect your audience in your choice of visuals. They have to be able to see themselves in your images. Most likely, your audience consists of more than one archetype. Hence, diversity in your visuals will often create the most relatable and inclusive content for your audience.

According to a global study by Adobe, most Americans (61%) find diversity in advertising important. In the survey, 38% of respondents stated they are more likely to trust brands that show more diversity in their ads.

The Magic Mix

Authenticity in your visuals story comes to life when it includes a healthy mix of vulnerability or imperfection, allowing your audience to grasp and perceive the human aspect of your narrative.

Combining this with realistic, genuine and diverse subjects will make your content more relatable and turn create empathy and trust.

It is said that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, hence the person who is observing gets to decide what is beautiful. The same can be said about authenticity; it’s subjective and judged by the individuals that make up your audience. Thus, the success of your visual storytelling comes down to how your visuals relate to your audience and vice versa.

Worth Considering

Here are a few considerations that I use as a ‘checklist’ when I choose my visuals:

  • Does it feel ‘genuine as opposed to Fake?
  • Is the subject(s) relatable as opposed to Picture-Perfect?
  • Are the visuals diverse as opposed to Stereotypical?
  • Does the visual come off as imperfect not over-styled?

At JumpStory, we are constantly studying and diving into the latest image trends to give you the best information possible enabling our customers to create better and more inspirational content.

About the author

Christoffer Larsen Is the CMO at JumpStory. He has +10 years of experience within digital marketing, automation & strategy. Previously, Chris worked in marketing leadership roles at TwentyThree, Famly and Falcon.io in Copenhagen and New York. With a focus on making a significant revenue impact at global B2B SaaS companies and top digital agencies, he has driven tangible growth through data-focused campaigns and CRO.

Christoffer Larsen