Across cultural lines, and continents, the color white is associated with purity and the truth. Established beauty brands have for long benefited from this relationship using it as the foundation for their marketing visuals. This idea become a standard of the beauty industry. For newer brands, the dilemma in using white for their photography is to do it in a way that is original and helps stand apart.
White is an important color for most cultures. In ancient Egypt priestesses wore it as a symbol of purity, in Europe a white unicorn symbolized divine presence. As a symbol of sacrifice, the Pope has worn white since 1566. In Islam and in the Shinto is worn by pilgrims. In the West and Japan white is the color for wedding dresses.
Modern surveys show that white is the color we most often associate with perfection, the good, honesty, cleanliness, a beginning, the new, neutrality, and exactitude.
White also happens to be a superb graphic solution and has been the preferred color background since the times of Gutenberg. When used on a page we interpret it as an area with no information and direct attention to other things instead. When employed as a background in a photograph it gives flexibility to use the image in different ways.
Established brands own the color.
They acquired it with vision and a sense of purpose. Engaging the contribution of talented professionals who helped to create innovative, inspiring, marketing messages. Perseverance and the pass of time has transformed these brands into the industry metaphors for the color.
Introduced in 1968, Clinique became the first dermatologist- conceived cosmetics brand. Clinique’s marketing has never been driven by celebrity but about featuring the actual product instead. The company pioneered a simple, clinical, hygienic look and for fifty years the brand has collaborated with extraordinary photographers to create masterful marketing images. Irving Penn, Guido Mocafico, Richard Burbridge and Raymond Meyer have lent their skills to make possible for Clinique to epitomize the image of skincare on a pristine white background.
In 2004, Dove organized a photography exhibit featuring the work of sixty-seven female photographers. The photographs in the show served as the beginning of a conversation about the way women are perceived in society, and the way they view themselves. The exchange resulted in the effective and celebrated, “Real Beauty” campaign created by Joah Santos and Ogilvy & Mather.
Photography for the original ads was done by Rankin. Pictures showcased regular women instead of professional models in front of a white background. Copy was touching: “You are more beautiful than you think”, “Fat or Fab?”, “Wrinkled or Wonderful?”.
A unique white.
The advantages of photographing on a color rich with cultural connotations that have been strengthened with renowned marketing campaigns are obvious to everyone. Supermarket coupons, Amazon sellers and most beauty brands are using white as a background for their photography.
At a moment in time when audiences are hungry for originality the question for a beauty brand becomes: how to create pictures on a white background that look different?
Large brands go about answering this question by taking on superior talent. Exceptional photographers create images that stand apart simply because they look better. But then, exceptional talent is scarce and so is costlier.
An affordable alternative is creating images that include other elements besides the white background and the product. Having more things in a picture creates for richer visuals. Additional elements such as reflections or shadows can be used to direct the perception of the product and give infinite options to use them in original and innovative ways.