It’s OK to be alone. While in the past, advertising may have conspired to makes us feel utterly inadequate unless surrounded at all times by a coterie of guffawing supermodels, images of solitude are the growing trend in global visual culture.
So say Getty Images whose Map Report claims to “capture the concepts that are shifting global culture and will become hot themes for the world’s media”. According to Getty, “advertisers will no longer shy away from depicting the individual without relationship ties.”
Having spent decades deriding singletons as losers with all the social skills of a rock, advertisers now want to make friends with those of us with just the one toothbrush in our bathroom. And it’s not just because, with no family to support, single people are wont to fill their empty lives with pointless new purchases. Being on your own is now, apparently, an aspiration.
Instead of fretting at your lack of mates or your pathetic inability to attract a partner, advertisers now want you to think of the Single Life as a Good Thing: “The label of ‘loner’ or ‘singleton’ will give way to singleness as a value. Advertising will reach out to those without ties, who can do things that you are not able to do in a couple, as a family or in a group,” claim Getty, who reveal that over half of their top 500 selling images feature solitary people. “We are likely to see imagery around the concepts of peace and quiet as a lifestyle choice enabling thinking time, reflection and freedom from chaotic lifestyles.”
Getty are calling the trend One Life. It’s based on analysis of buying patterns on its website, a study of 50,000 searches conducted in the last 12 months, 120 re-branding exercises conducted for its clients, tearsheets from the 260 magazines read per week by its Creative Research department and a survey of 500 advertising creatives around the world.
It’s all wrapped up in an 11,000 word report which, though blighted by some of the worst marketing bollocks ever committed to paper, nevertheless contains some intriguing insight. We’ve read it so you don’t have to – OK, we didn’t read it all, it’s not like we’re some sad loser with no friends…
Anyway, here are some more of the main findings:
1, “The key driver for consumers in late 2006 and beyond will be the desire for a sense of control,” claim Getty. “Analysis of top keyword searches at gettyimages.com reveals that what consumers want is control over their own destiny.” OK, sounds good, but what’s this: consumers “don’t want to juggle balls, they want to start pitching them,” say Getty. Eh? Didn’t these metaphorical balls that we’ve all been struggling to keep in the air represent things like “work” and ”family”? Are we now going to start hurling our children at people? Wait, there’s more. Getty confidently state that consumers “want to hit pause on the attention economy”. Oh God. Time to move on to point two.
2, Mono-tasking: “Multi-tasking, once seen as a talent, will no longer be desirable. We are entering the age of ‘mono-tasking’,” Getty say. This could be bad news for Andrew Flintoff, what with the Ashes and everything, but good news for those of us who can afford to give up work to look after our kids. As for the rest of us, we’ll just to have to add “undesirability” to all the other guilt trips society lays upon us for daring to want a career. Which leads us to point three.
3, Getty say: “Multi-tasking in the late 90s and early noughties was championed, even seen as ‘heroic’. We are now living in a postheroic period. Faced with the brutal reality of images from Iraq, and ‘heroic’ suicide bombing in the Middle East and elsewhere, the patina of ‘the heroic’ has faded for the moment.” I had a little trouble with this one, mainly with attempts to imply equivalence between Cosmo Woman and Hamas. Perhaps Getty are implying that our moral compass has been sent haywire by events post 9/11, so that we can no longer believe in traditional heroes and must find new ones to take their place. Or maybe they are simply suggesting that fronting up your new toilet cleaner campaign with a Marine isn’t such a great idea right now.
4, It’s All About Women: “There has been a huge upsurge in requests for business imagery with women looking assured, successful and confident in themselves,” say Getty. “A key finding of the MAP Report is the extent to which there is a real underlying trend towards the feminisation of the workplace. In the office it is the female values of listening and responding that are increasingly the public face of brands, and the internal ethos of companies. From the mid 1980s to the mid-1990s women were visualized as men, a kind of business ‘drag’, in the full corporate armor of power suits and mobile phones. The trend suggests the visual language of business will become less macho, less Wall Street.” Thank goodness for that. Although, presumably, re point 3, these women will all have to look as if they are childless.
5, Guru Joe: Tying in with its postheroic idea, Getty says agency mood boards are featuring “less imagery visualizing executives and more imagery visualizing ordinary employees.” They call this emblematic worker, “The ‘guru joe’ who is confident, knows what they are doing and where they are going, and who employees and consumers can trust and connect with.” So just as our political leaders have been tarnished by Iraq, so have our business leaders been undermined by corporate scandals such as Enron. The workers and not the bosses are being held up as the true face of a company. Except for Stinky Steve in Dispatch – no-one would want to buy anything from a company that looked like him.
6, All these ordinary Joes are not going to come via model agencies, so Getty predicts that “portraits will increasingly be street cast and the visual style will change, partly fuelled by the explosion of shots of ordinary people on sites such as flickr.com. The new aesthetic will be both conceptual and documentary, a kind of ‘abstract realism’. We will see an increasing trend towards ads that look more like documentary shots, and ads whose value rests on the appeal of authentic personal testimony.” So people need to look real – they’re not really real, of course, they just need to look as if they might be. Got it?
7. Confessional Consumers: Getty says that today’s “consumer is constantly reminded that consumption comes with a price. These consumers are aware of environmental issues, buy organic, recycle but also drive 4x4s and make the most of trips away on cheap airlines.” They like to “open up to friends about their ecological ‘no-no’s’.” Getty calls these people Confessional Consumers. You might call them hypocrites.