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How Google is using the Pixel 6 launch to talk about race and photography

A new campaign with The New York Times’s T Brand studio focuses on the phone’s Real Tone feature, which captures skin tones more accurately.

How Google is using the Pixel 6 launch to talk about race and photography

It’s not often that a new mobile phone feature can be genuinely tied to a cultural moment. This is a big budget, splashy advertising category that typically focuses on things like speed, camera quality (you can shoot a Hollywood movie!), and how a certain brand or product has the image and personality to fit your unique lifestyle.

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As Google launches its latest model, the Pixel 6, one feature that the company believes differentiates it is called Real Tone, which uses machine learning to photograph a wide range of skin tones more accurately than ever before. It comes on the heels of the company’s recent algorithm update to promote more racially diverse results in image searches.

To further promote the new feature, the company partnered with The New York Times’s T Brand creative studio to create a campaign called “Picture Progress” around the idea of image equity. “We thought about it from the perspective of, How much more representative could our history have looked, and will look going forward, if we’re able to record it accurately?” says Vida Cornelious, vice president of creative at NYT Advertising.

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Debuting today, the campaign is made up to two distinct elements. The first is “Past to Present,” which explores image equity as a pathway to equalizing our visual history. It looks at how color photo technology has evolved over the past century, taking three historic photos from The New York Times archives and recreating them with today’s leaders in full color using Pixel 6’s Real Tone. The photos will feature three BIPOC activists: Black AIDS Institute founder Phill Wilson; Mexican American labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, who cofounded the National Farmworkers Association with Cesar Chavez; and civil rights activist Ruby Bridges.

The second part is called “Present to Future,” and features leading BIPOC photographers—Kennedi Carter, Mengwen Cao, and Ricardo Nagaoka—using the Pixel 6 to celebrate identity and self-expression in their own voice.

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Cornelious says it was important to think about the new phone as a tool to capture the images of our lives, our truth as we’ve seen it. “We think of the phone, not just as a product but a portal for empowerment in this moment,” says Cornelious. “That’s what it becomes. The Real Tone feature allows your phone to become the truth in your hands. What we capture in our imagery is the most representative moment of ourselves. It’s not just for making phone calls, but an extension of who we are and who we can be seen as.”

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity.

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