Emily Tan
Jun 16, 2014

Brands and agencies must improve portrayal of women: Getty and Lean In

CANNES - When discussing the role of women in media, the focus tends to be on the half-empty part of the glass. So it's nice to have visual evidence that these conversations are indeed moving the needle, according to Getty Images and the Lean In organisation.

Grossman (standing) and Bennet with Getty Lean In's top selling image in China for 2013
Grossman (standing) and Bennet with Getty Lean In's top selling image in China for 2013

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In 2007, the top-selling Getty image of a woman was of a gorgeous and airbrushed model, lying around, doing nothing, naked. By 2012, it was of an attractive but natural woman, on a train, heading somewhere—and she gets to wear clothes, laughed Pam Grossman, director of visual trends at Getty, in a session Monday at Cannes 2014. (See below for both images.)

Last year, Getty's top-selling image involving a woman was that of a young girl using an iPad in the dark. In China, it showed a young woman building a robot (above). 

“People have started celebrating imperfections and authenticity," said Grossman. "One of my favourite blogs is 'Pretty girls making ugly faces'. When I first saw it, I got verklempt—just seeing women allowed to be imperfect."

Top selling female image on Getty in 2007 (top) versus 2012

But why does all this matter? “You can't be what you can't see,” pointed out Jessica Bennet, journalist and editor at Lean In. “In a 2008 study, around the time Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama were running for presidency, one in four schoolchildren thought it was illegal for a woman or for a person of colour to be president.”

“Images really are the language we use to speak to each other,” she added. “The mind processes images 50,000 times faster than text.”

Showing women and men in different roles, doing different things therefore becomes truly important. “Sheryl Sandberg [COO of Facebook and founder of Lean In Org] says her ideal world is one in which 50 per cent of companies are run by women and 50 per cent of families are run by men," said Grossman of the Getty Lean In Collection's mission. "We need to be able to envision that.”

It's a future that brands need to get on board with. Despite controlling $20 trillion in spending power, 90 per cent of women still say brands and marketers don't understand them, said Bennet. “Why are we so often marketed to in pink?”

Fortunately the conversation is changing. Thanks to brands like Dove, Bing, Pantene, Tide and Goldiblocks, it's become increasingly normal to portray women and men on equal footing and to embrace authenticity in beauty.

“It's not just a doing good issue, it's an economic issue,” said Bennet. “For example, films that pass the Bechdel test [where two women, with names, have a conversation about something other than a man] do better than films that don't."

It's certainly benefitting Getty. Since launching the Lean In Collection in February, images from the collection have been licensed in 40 countries and have top-selling status in a number of different regions.


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