From cultural celebrations to customary cuisines, every country around the world has a unique set of traditions and values that are illustrated in their stock photos and advertisements. Gender roles, family life, and business practices are uniquely represented through images designed to be used in ads that reflect the respective country’s desired perception of life in their country. In the United States, we’re often exposed to stock photos and advertisements that represent our own culture, traditions, and accepted standards of living. We seldom see how other nations around the world use images to display their own sets of beliefs, practices, and values. In this piece, we’ll take a look at how countries around the world use stock photos to inform their advertisements and portray life in their country, as well as how those portrayals are a direct reflection on the core values and accepted standards of life in these societies.
In stock photos taken in the United States, family structures are often portrayed as a mother and father, with several children, and sometimes, a pet. Single parents or adopted children are not generally illustrated in stock photos or advertisements, and instead, they focus on cohesion and reinforce the notion of a nuclear family. However, advertisements are becoming increasingly more inclusive showing more same-sex couples and mixed families. Most advertisements in the United States still characterize women as the head of the household while men are typically doing more labor-intensive work.
When it comes to business and industry, many advertisements in the United States show major metropolitan areas, like New York City and Los Angeles. It’s a way to illustrate the country’s bustling economy, affinity for spending, and to show that businesses in the country are thriving. Day-to-day life in the United States looks very different depending on the location, but advertisements often depict life in big cities, which shows an idealistic, fast-paced, and financially stable lifestyle.
Advertisements in China often portray the country as extremely busy, heavily populated, and having a strong economy. To illustrate daily life in China, stock photos highlight busy cities, like Hong Kong and Beijing, with street vendors, skyscrapers, and other developed urban areas. When it comes to family life, Chinese families are generally portrayed as small, tight-knit units with a mother and father, and generally only one child. Some advertisements show elderly family members, or grandparents with grandchildren, to signify the respect that Chinese people have for older generations in their family.
Women and men have distinct gender roles in stock photos and advertisements, with men often absent from the household, and women at the helm of housework and childcare. Advertisements that illustrate business in China are often accompanied by men wearing suits, and sporting luxury items that signify their wealth and status.
Chilean stock photos and advertisements are focused heavily on the culture of the country, which includes street dancing, festivals, traditional food, and more. Many advertisements show Chilean people engaging in these activities to represent daily life in the country. Another core value to Chilean people is family, which is commonly represented. Chilean families are shown with a mother and father, many children of all ages, and sometimes extended family members. Men are often positioned as the head of the household, while women are seen raising their children and cooking traditional Chilean meals. Business in Chile is not widely represented in advertisements, likely because family and culture are seen as more of a priority to the representation of their society.
In Saudi Arabia, women are often the subject of stock photos and advertisements. They can be seen wearing traditional clothing, and are conventionally beautiful, with heavy makeup to accentuate the exposed eye area when wearing a hijab or burqa. Families are commonly portrayed in Saudi Arabian ads as small units, with only one or two children. When it comes to business, women are seldom shown in stock photos or advertisements. In Saudi Arabia, males are traditionally viewed as the sole breadwinner for their families, while women are expected to care for children and oversee household duties.
Similar to the United States, Saudi Arabia’s advertisements often show images that illustrate a life of luxury and opulence. While the country is heavily divided by financial status, it’s common for stock photos to depict life in major cities, like the capital city of Riyadh, to detract from the stigma around poorer areas of the country.
Stock photos in Ethiopia showcase a wide range of values and cultural practices that unite the entire country. In day-to-day life, many people enjoy music, dancing, and traditional cuisine on the streets. Ethiopia has a strong sense of community, and stock photos often show many people engaging in various activities together. Advertisements in Ethiopia depict large and multigenerational family structures, and they are usually dominated by male figures. Women are most often shown caring for their children or doing housework, while males spend their days farming, or working in labor-intensive industries in order to provide for their families. In Ethiopian stock photos, urban areas are rarely shown. This is in favor of portraying life in more rural areas, where the majority of the population lives. Because of that, advertisements do not often show traditional business work, office environments, or technology.
Denmark’s stock photos portray the country as idyllic, slow-paced, and beautiful, without busy streets or overcrowding. In fact, many of Denmark’s advertisements look as though they’re advertising tourism for the country itself. Stock photos often highlight the country’s immaculate scenery, waterways, and town squares. Traditional business is not often represented in Denmark’s advertisements, most likely due to the country’s flexible work policy, which allows Danish citizens to spend time with their families, travel, and engages in recreational activities. When it comes to family representation, Denmark’s advertisements portray families as small units, with only a few children, and equal representation from the mother and father. Denmark is one of the few countries where men and women are seen as equal in terms of career, salary, and family roles, which is represented across many of the advertisements and stock photos from the country.
Knowing about how stock images vary around the world may help you with your own branding ideas for social media. Understanding your target audience and their culture can help you reach the right people.