COVID-19: A Visual Temperature Check

Trends / Wellness
Rebecca Rom-Frank
Aug 31, 2021
It’s been nearly a year and a half since we left our offices indefinitely, thinking we’d be back in a matter of weeks. Vaccines are rolling out in the US, but widespread hesitancy and inaccessibility means that the pandemic isn’t over yet; the Delta variant has put many people’s fall plans, including going back to the office, on hold. At Getty Images, when reality shifts, so does customer interest: departing from the healthcare workers, quarantine scenes, and zoom calls we saw in Spring 2020, customers are now looking for vaccination, vaccine cards, in‑person learning, and the vacations and BBQs that were absent from last summer's searches. The pandemic may not be over, but the visual language of Covid‑19 has evolved to a more cautiously optimistic place.
With the deluge of heartfelt lockdown ads behind us, the question of whether or not to show signs of pandemic have loomed large in the advertising industry and in entertainment over the past year. Our latest Visual GPS research confirms that American consumers are, unsurprisingly, divided over whether they want to see masks in visual communications: 1 in 3 feel strongly that they would like to see people wearing masks, while the same proportion feels the opposite. Although Covid‑related public health measures have become politicized in the US, our Visual GPS research revealed that 91% of Americans feel that the pandemic has affected them in some way. So visual stories about the pandemic are still likely to be powerful, if done in a sensitive, multi‑layered way.

So, how can brands—as well as governments and organizations—tell visual stories about the pandemic that connect with a broad, divided audience, and encourage adoption of public health measures when necessary? Controversies over masking and vaccine hesitancy may reflect some Americans’ distrust in government and the media—but the right visuals can help build trust with your audience. Here are some tips for selecting visuals that include pandemic iconography, such as masks, vaccinations, and vaccine passports.
Focus on the ways that masks and vaccines are helping people return to life as usual
Few people enjoy wearing a mask or getting a shot, which is why many vaccination campaigns are focusing on the way that these measures will help people get back to doing the things they love. For example, Heineken’s latest ad campaign shows vaccinated seniors dancing at a nightclub in a future post‑pandemic world; a vaccination campaign targeted at sports fans showed footage of full stadiums in order to remind people what’s at stake.

Show how people are wearing masks and using vaccine passports in order to resume certain in‑person activities, as opposed to showing people looking sad or isolated. Consider the current guidelines in the targeted region, and only show masks in scenarios where people are really still wearing them—on public transportation, in schools, or in medical settings, for example.
Reflect the diversity of your audience, especially when it comes to race, gender, and socioeconomic status
The pandemic shone a spotlight on structural inequality in the US, with communities of color and workers in the service industry suffering the pandemic’s worst effects. Additionally, women bore the brunt of homeschooling and domestic chores, and that was reflected in our most popular content at Getty Images.

Our Visual GPS research found that not only do consumers value diversity in advertising, but 70% of Americans prefer to buy from brands who represent a lifestyle like theirs in their advertising and communications. So, if showing masks, vaccination, or vaccine cards, take extra care to include people of all backgrounds and identities in that messaging.

Show how public health measures help people support and connect with one another
At Getty Images, throughout the pandemic, a customer request we heard again and again was for visuals showing people “smiling behind the mask.” Showing signs of human warmth and emotion is key, especially when a person’s face is partially covered.

So, if showing visuals of masking, show emotion through facial expressions, body language, and proximity to other people; if showing vaccination, show the connection between the patient and the health professional administering the shot. Remember, if you want to send a message about keeping one another safe, it's important to visualize interpersonal trust.
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