Why marketers are setting a different tone in 2021

Pantone revealed that the marriage of two colours would set the mood for 2021 – a combination of grey and an ‘illuminating’ yellow.  Kate Rourke considers why the visual shift towards warmer tones and compositions may signal hope and a new beginning to customers this year.

There’s no denying that 2020 was not an easy year for anyone. So much so that many have forgotten that 2019 and 2018 weren’t a walk in the park either. The past couple of years have seen us battle through a catastrophic bushfire season, a global pandemic, political unrest across the globe, severe impacts from climate change, shocking social injustices – and the list just goes on.

It is perhaps not surprising then that we’ve seen a recent shift towards more marketers using warmer and more welcoming tones in branding and imagery, evoking a sense of support, hope and optimism that many people need more than ever. 

New year, new colour palette 

Until a few years ago, cooler tones in branded imagery was a popular way for businesses to demonstrate confidence, trust and calmness. For some, it was key to conveying a futuristic approach to doing business. We have seen a gradual shift on iStock’s top selling colour palette – it has increasingly moved to more soothing tones, at a time when we need that warmth and comfort. Pantone’s decision to choose Ultimate Grey and Illuminating yellow as its ‘Colours of the Year 2021’ also reflects this growing preference for earthy tones. 

The change is reflected most in industries like healthcare and pharmaceuticals, where there’s been a shift from more functional towards more emotional and evocative imagery that highlights togetherness and holistic wellness. Depictions of people at home – either working or relaxing – shot with warmer and softer tones have also become more popular than ever for marketers in the healthcare sector in ANZ. On iStock, searches for images to visualise ‘support’ shot up 63 percent in the last 12 months – significantly higher than other markets – while searches for images demonstrating ‘care’ rose by 46 percent. 

With isolation having impacted the way consumers respond to visuals, these warmer tones and compositions tend to draw you in emotionally, connecting and soothing, whilst also imparting a sense of hope that things will improve. 

There are likely other reasons for this turn in tones. Lockdown saw a spike in our internet and social media use and an increase in the amount of branded imagery we were exposed to. Cutting through the online noise often demanded that brands provide audiences with a sense of togetherness and escapism. 

Signalling honesty and fairness

Beyond soothing audiences, showing openness and warmth in visuals may also be a good way to express honesty and fairness at a time when this is also high on people’s list of priorities. Recent research from Getty Images’ Visual GPS report reveals that ANZ consumers across sectors want to see greater transparency and trust from business, with 98 percent saying they are more likely to buy from a company that is honest and fair in its dealings with customers.

With this in mind, marketers should be bold and think twice about the tone of their visuals. In fact, our research shows this must go beyond colour and contrast and extend to the people you are choosing to represent. In ANZ, our Visual GPS research shows that 79 per cent of customers want companies to do a better job at capturing people’s true lifestyles and cultures. 

Depict real people doing real things

As we head into 2021, think about the cultural richness Australia has and ensure that this comes through in the visuals you use. A couple of questions to ask yourself are: Do the people in the visuals look like the people you see around you? Do the visuals reflect the cultural richness Australia has? Does the emotion feel genuine?

Our image testing found that in Australia and globally, people respond well to visuals that showed real people, with real emotion, connecting in real life. In fact, half (50 percent) of ANZ healthcare consumers are more likely to be influenced by healthcare advertising that shows people like them, living lives that look like their own.

In the highly visual society we live in today, the impact of image choice can be huge – both for businesses and the wellbeing of the broader community. From the warmth of their palettes to the people they depict, forward-thinking brand marketers are becoming more conscious that cutting through a saturated space increasingly means setting a different tone.

Kate Rourke is the head of creative insights for Getty Images and iStock, Asia Pacific .

Image by image credit SolStock.

Jasmine Giuliani
BY Jasmine Giuliani ON 16 February 2021
Jasmine Giuliani was the Editor of Marketing Mag from March 2020 to September 2021.