COVID-19: A Month in the Evolving Visual Language

Trends / Realness
Rebecca Swift
Apr 16, 2020
It seems odd to be contemplating marketing imagery when the journalistic story is currently so important, especially as Marketing Week has found 86% of marketers are delaying campaigns and putting new activity on hold, and yet, it's important to glimpse at what’s to come given the impact of our current crisis.

The situation we're faced with now has been referred to universally as “unprecedented.”  A recent Interactive Advertising Bureau poll of advertising executives found that 74% said that COVID‑19 has had a worse impact on their business than the financial crisis of 2008, while 44% said substantially worse.

What this means is that while we are currently dealing with the changes to our work life, home life, relationships and what we do for fun, brands don’t have a role to play other than to say “We are doing something to support you". Examples include LVMH switching from perfume manufacturing to hand sanitizer production, Budweiser putting their sports budget into healthcare and Toyota and Hyundai offering car finance relief.
But what does the data say?

We analyzed the imagery our customers downloaded and the hundreds of thousands of different search terms used on the Getty Images and iStock websites over the course of March 2020 and compared that to what we had been observing prior to the onset of the COVID‑19 pandemic. It will come as no surprise that searches for coronavirus/COVID‑19 have dominated‑and continue to dominate‑our editorial and creative searches. The percentage increase year‑on‑year for icons of the crisis are off the charts in terms of social distancing, washing hands, hand sanitizer, face mask, toilet paper, cleaning, cough, flu, nurses, doctors, and empty streets. Our photographers and videographers have been quick to react, and the fresh content being added daily to our sites is dominated by the pandemic. Getty Images’ editorial team is re‑centering their energies on covering the crisis while the creative team is advising our photographer and videographer community on how and what to shoot safely while in lockdown.

Beyond that, our work and social behavior have changed dramatically in a matter of weeks. Although we expect “working at home” and “home office” to maintain a consistent presence in our search data moving forward, this month we have seen thousands of customers searching for content related to video calls, video conferencing, virtual meeting, remote working and conference calls, with the total number of searches increasing nearly 2000% between March 2019 and March 2020. Conference calls, for example, look entirely different than they looked just a month ago. While we have traditionally shot conference calls with a quorum in a room and others dialed in, the visual scene has shifted significantly as know everyone will be dialed in. Similarly, while some may be fortunate enough to have room to work from, for the majority, working with partners, roommates and children is a new reality.
Now more than ever, technology is playing a vital role in our lives, enabling homeschooling and work from home culture on a global scale. Platforms such as Zoom and Google Hangouts have in many ways improved communications among colleagues, friends, and families. Subsequently, we have seen the search term "People using technology" rise above trend, whereas the trend we had been seeing previously towards smart, innovative technology has declined over the last month.  

Our televisions, laptops and mobile phones are now increasingly providing entertainment, education and a link to the outside world.  As we found in our recently unveiled Visual GPS survey, "79% of consumers say that tech makes them feel connected to those that matter most" and it's quite possible that we'd see an even higher affirmative response rate now.  On the reverse and based on our research prior to COVID‑19, "41% of consumers felt that technology had a negative impact on their relationships and how they felt about themselves." This will likely change in the coming months. Furthermore, as we adapt to the new normal, brands are using our new social behavior to empathize with us, as seen by upticks in searches for home delivery/food delivery, online shopping, home workout, homeschooling (9000%+ increase) and watching TV.  

Things have changed and will continue to change, which is why we are conducting further Visual GPS research to better understand what kinds of visuals are resonating with consumers throughout this crisis. Please explore the series of imagery below to get a better idea as to the kinds of visuals being sought out as we collectively build towards our new normal. 
Visual GPS: Realness