The Blog

Advertising Is At Its Best When Its Honest

It's now a matter of course that when we shoot imagery and put it online we alter the reality of the images we share. Instagram's filters have been popular for many years now, while newer platforms like Snapchat and apps like MSQRD are giving us more opportunities than ever before to create digitally enhanced selfies and videos. To 'Photoshop' something is so normal that it has become an accepted verb (rather than relating to the specific use of the software).

It's undoubtedly a lot of fun - my kids enjoy adding dog ears or a high-pitched voice to their dad - but the prevalence of such techniques does beg the question: can we take anything we see online at face value anymore?

It's a question that extends beyond imagery and into all types of digital content. Donald Trump has brought the subject of 'fake news' to the attention of millions, but did you know the US President himself was quite ironically misled by a fake TIME magazine cover? Trump had the cover - which praises his TV show The Apprentice - displayed in at least four of the golf clubs he owns, but TIME spoke out to refute its authenticity.

A popular trend in media and advertising is the drive by brands to display their marketing messages as content on a widely read editorial outlet. Ever heard of 'native' content? If you don't work in advertising, the chances are you won't know what I'm talking about, but 'native' is a favourite buzzword of the industry these days.

In short, native content is anything that adopts the look and feel of the platform it's sitting on. For example, an article in the New York Times might look just like every other, but look carefully and you'll see a small 'paid for and posted by' note at the top - like this one from The History Channel. Wondered why Snapchat gave you the opportunity to turn yourself into a taco last year? That was a sponsored filter by Taco Bell.

Native, or 'sponsored', content extends to other platforms too - some of the most influential people on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will regularly promote brands, tagging posts with an '#ad' at the end.

A report from Kantar Media showed that 64% of people polled considered native content as advertising, which illustrates that people are becoming increasingly digital-savvy around what they are viewing and scrutinising content more closely than ever before.

Warner Brothers ran into problems when it failed to disclose online videos were in fact sponsored, and I think we'll see more companies experiencing this in the future. Advertisers and brands must have their eyes open to the fact that consumers don't like being misled, and that doing so could damage their brand in the long-run.

As such, it's becoming more and more difficult for brands to catch - let alone hold - our attention. In response, we're seeing increasingly transparent, honest and authentic images used in advertising and the media - a trend Getty Images' visual anthropologist identified at the start of the year, and one we've called 'Unfiltered' in our annual Visual Trends series.

The infamous Pepsi ad with Kendall Jenner published - and quickly pulled - in April is an example of brands misunderstanding this trend. Pepsi was accused of borrowing images from the Black Lives Matter movement and using them for 'trivial' commercial purposes.

Pepsi got it wrong. But it is those brands that are using authentic imagery and treating people as smart, savvy customers, who will ensure that they are standing out in the crowd.