“Images are an emotional shorthand for whatever you’re trying to communicate.”
Visual trends can be difficult to identify as they are happening, but Getty Images manages to do just that. For its annual trend report, the photo service analyzes imagery in pop culture and advertising, as well as data from its 400 million annual downloads, to predict the visual trends that will shape the year to come.
Trends for 2017 are collectively “awakening, shocking, engaging, electrifying,” said Pam Grossman, director of visual trends at Getty Images. Perhaps responding to a consumer that is number to advertising than ever before, this year’s trends push the envelope to capture viewers’ attention.
“I think people’s appetites for audacious, bold campaigns that have a real point of view and put a real stake in the ground are only going to increase,” Grossman told the Innovation Group. “The idea that brands will do or say anything just to get your almighty dollar is a really passé approach, and one that I think is going to hurt you in the long run if you just try to be all things to all people. Stand out, figure out what your purpose is, what your principles are, and then use incredible, rich, dynamic images to help get that message across.”
As in previous years, Getty’s visual trends don’t just examine popular aesthetics, they also offer insight into broader social trends. Last year, Divine Living captured a shift toward wellness and meaningful consumption, while Surreality featured escapist, other-worldly takes on the everyday (see also: our Unreality report). A growing industry response to the blurring of traditional gender norms was charted in 2015’s Genderblend. Read on to learn more about this year’s trends.
Women’s lives continue to experience rapid change, as charted by the Innovation Group’s Women, Next report. Women have moved far beyond traditional roles to create new narratives around career, family, lifestyle, values and beauty. Getty Images has charted the change over the years; see 2014’s Female Rising or the Lean In collection, produced with the Sheryl Sandberg nonprofit.
Next year will see imagery of women pushed even further with Gritty Woman, who is “definitely much more of a badass,” says Grossman. “Certainly we saw a lot of ‘femvertising’ come out in 2013 or 2014, and it was all very ‘You go girl! You can do anything! But there still seems to be a narrative around ‘You’re beautiful just the way you are.’”
In 2017, expect more imagery of women sacrificing good looks for hard work. Search terms like “grungy woman,” “edgy woman” or even “heroine” are on the rise. Images of women covered in sweat, mud or even blood are beginning to appear in advertisements, particularly in categories that traditionally played it safe. Grossman cites a 2016 Bodyform ad titled “Blood” as a visceral example. While feminine hygiene brands have typically represented blood as a clear blue liquid, “Blood” takes an unflinching approach to the subject.
“Women are demanding to see characters—whether that’s in advertising, or in film—who are complicated, who are messy but still have that tenacity and that strength and acceptance of who they are,” says Grossman. “It’s a lot less about pleasing other people.”
This year’s trends also tap into a growing desire for authenticity in imagery. Unfiltered adapts the aesthetics of photojournalism, bringing a raw authenticity to storytelling. It’s a trend that reflects “the idea that we want to see mess or even pain or exertion be reflected in our media,” says Grossman. “Because that’s often what we experience, as human beings.”
The desire for authenticity is particularly true for generation Z and millennial consumers, who are extremely ad-savvy, having grown up bombarded not only by advertising, but also by critiques of those ads circulating online. (In fact, a 176% rise in searches for “Gen Z” images helped inform the Unfiltered trend.) Today’s 11- to 17-year-olds are also steeped in social media, making real-world images their second language. In a 2015 survey from SONAR™, J. Walter Thompson’s proprietary search tool, 88% of Brazil’s generation Z said they prefer brands and people that post content closer to real life, rather than content made to impress them.
“People can’t get enough of it,” Grossman explained. “We’ve entered a phase where the more emotive and the more visceral brands can be, the more consumers feel like they’re really connecting to the brand. We are all much more practiced in identifying highly manipulated, highly fake imagery.”
Grossman cited Vice as one brand whose unfiltered, documentary-style aesthetic builds trust among young skeptics while tapping into real emotional nerves. Valued at $4 billion in 2015, Vice has expanded this year into international markets, a health vertical and even a late-night TV talk show.
It’s not all about grit and edginess: New Naiveté draws from user-generated content with a whimsical touch, showing that for brands that shun curation, humor, awkwardness and irreverence can also evoke a strong response.
While last year’s Extended Human trend featured images of technology that could extend the capabilities of the human race, this year saw technology take the viewer directly inside the experience. Virtuality reflects an explosion of interest in immersive imagery. Searches for “virtual reality” went up 321% in one year, while the search term “360” saw a 94% spike.
In some ways, Virtuality extends the next-generation fantasy landscapes of Unreality, or Getty’s Surreality trend from last year. VR platforms are certainly a means for escapism, or other-worldly adventures. At the same time, immersive imagery can also take the viewer inside a real-world experience. Brands like the North Face have used VR to transport customers on a trek through Yosemite; others, including the UN, are bringing viewers to virtual war zones to raise empathy and awareness.
“We now have the capabilities of being fully surrounded by these images,” said Grossman. “Our brains cannot differentiate between a virtual reality experience, and a real world experience. If we are surfing in VR, or we’re surfing in real life, our heart is racing. It’s just like when you’re dreaming—you have a physiological and emotional reaction to the dream. So the idea that these images are affecting our limbic system, and our brain processing in these really direct ways, we’re only just beginning to explore. But we do know that the demand for this kind of imagery is through the roof.”
Fantasy is also at play in Color Surge, where powerful and unusual color combinations create relief from the ordinary. Whether beautiful or not, photos that represent Color Surge feature “very jarring colors and clashing colors, or surprising colors that you might not expect,” said Grossman. “Just in a given day, the amount of images that we’re ingesting online, and all around us and on screen is just unprecedented. And color is a quick and easy way, no matter what your brand is, to pop and to stand out from the fray.”