Data-Backed Ways to Include Vintage Photography in Your Ads


In this piece, AI examines hundreds of vintage photo elements to tell us which blasts from the past are most clickable. 

Futuristic optimism and backward-looking nostalgia have their own respective charms. Sometimes, the past inspires us to move forward and ultimately create a better future for ourselves. Likewise, on occasion, new technologies may inspire us to rediscover our roots. 

Ultimately, nostalgia’s bittersweet whimsy makes us feel good. That’s why incorporating it into marketing campaigns can be a powerful creative move that consumers love. If you choose to do that, artificial intelligence has suggestions on which types of vintage photos to include in your campaigns.

When it comes to vintage photography, data tells us a whole lot. By examining the photos of bygone eras, Shutterstock.AI discovered which items have the highest click-through rates (CTRs) right now.

Through analyzing over a decade’s worth of digital marketing data, our algorithms learned more about: 

  • Settings: Where are the most engaging spots your photos should take place? 
  • Transit: How interested are people in travel? And what transit methods make them click? 
  • Food: Are there particular meals and snacks that audiences love to click? 
  • Activities: What should people be doing in your ads to drive engagement?

Collage of 1950s couple dancing painted in bright colorsBlack and white vintage photo of a woman in ballerina attire surrounded by balloons

Images via Master1305, Underwood Archives/UIG/Shutterstock, Glasshouse Images/Shutterstock, Master1305, and Everett Collection.

You can apply these findings to modern photography. Or, their creative direction can help you find the most clickable photos when searching the Shutterstock Editorial collection

Ready to see what image elements from yesteryear are trending up right now? Let’s dive in! 

Retro food photography with a woman's hand holding a fork over a stack of pancakesImage via Master1305.

Build a Clickable Canned Feast

When thinking of foods from the past, my mind immediately goes to gelatin salads. Rest easy, though. Gelatin’s clickability has declined significantly over the last year, similar to the gelatin salad’s decline in popularity.

AI suggests you steer clear from including it in your creative. 

Vintage ad for Chivers' jellies with illustration of dessertBelieve it or not, audiences don’t care for this type of dish. Image via Historia/Shutterstock.

So, what other vintage foods are actually driving up audience engagement? 

Canned food has a long and rich history. It’s been around for much longer than most of us probably realize. It straddles the line between historic and modern, and is super clickable right now.

The CTR of canned food has risen 369% since this time last year. 

Images via Glasshouse Images/Shutterstock, Chris Barham/Daily Mail/Shutterstock, Kharbine-Tapabor/Shutterstock, Historia/Shutterstock, Ed Clark/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock, Hart Preston/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock, and Ralph Morse/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock.

Desserts are performing well, too. Pies and milkshakes, specifically, are among today’s most clickable sweets. The CTR of pies has risen 94% over the last year, and the CTR of milkshakes has risen 59%.

If you’d like your dessert to have a tropical flare, AI suggests including pineapple in your photos. Its CTR has had a 22% boost since 2021. 

Images via GBM Historical Images/Shutterstock, Anton Vierietin, Allan Grant/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock, sniegirova mariia, Anton Vierietin, Nina Leen/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock, and Lesya Dolyuk.

Retro newsroom with workers gathered around a typewriterImage via LightField Studios.

Include Activities in Your Ads

Despite its huge decline in popularity over the years, smoking has skyrocketed 3,733% in clickability over the last year. Perhaps this is due to a sharp rise in smoking, brought on by the stress of the pandemic.

Still, there are other (healthier) activities to include in vintage photography that’ll likely boost your campaign’s click-through rate.

Actor Richard Burton playing the trumpet in a smokey venueImage via Woodfall/Associated British/Kobal/Shutterstock.

Walking has seen its CTR rise 567% over the last year. Dancing has gone up in engagement too, with its current CTR being 458% higher than it was a year ago. Reading, writing, and playing all have roughly the same click-through rates right now.

This data suggests that it’s a fine time to cut the cable, put down the electronics, and embrace some activities that have always been in style.

Silent film star sitting at her desk writing in her journalVintage style photo of a man riding his bicycle

Images via Paramount/Kobal/Shutterstock, Gjon Mili/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock, Mansell/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock, Master1305, Historia/Shutterstock, Voller Ernst/John Drysdale/imageBROKER/Shutterstock, Everett Collection, and sniegirova mariia.

Vintage style collage with woman jumping in the air with paint brush over classic carImage via sniegirova mariia.

Vintage Transit Is Trending

As people are now more open-minded to traveling again, data shows this interest is getting reinvigorated in advertising audiences. Across the board, all transit methods are trending up.

Cars have increased 130% in clickability over the last year. Buses are up 161%. Trains and bicycles have both seen enormous spikes in clickability. Bikes are 522% more clickable than they were one year ago. And, trains are 538% more clickable.

Advertisement leaflet for Austrian Federal Railways, 1929, with illustration of lovely woman next to trainLuggage label for The Flying Scotsman from London Kings Cross Station Illustration of inside of japanese train with women having drinks

Images via Everett Collection, Voller Ernst/John Drysdale/imageBROKER/Shutterstock, AP/Shutterstock, Everett Collection, Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock, Birthopia, Amoret Tanner Collection/Shutterstock, Amoret Tanner Collection/Shutterstock, and Historia/Shutterstock.

Strangely enough, one fantastical transit method has really seen its CTR skyrocket. Spaceships have surged 803% in clickability over the last year.

Whether this is correlated with Congress’ first UFO hearing in over 50 years, or the present-day fascination with science fiction, we are unsure. We do know one thing, though . . . if the truth is out there, AI will certainly find it.

Cover of the French book Murder on a Flying Saucer with a flying saucer and man in space suit

Images via Historia/Shutterstock, Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock, ktsdesign, and Historia/Shutterstock.

Vintage yellow phone booth against yellow brick wallImage via Garan Julia.

Include the Best Odds & Ends of Yesteryear 

Some technologies have simply gone obsolete. Whether we’re talking about the landline telephone or LaserDisc, the nostalgia of old tech is still appealing to advertising audiences. 

For example, film cameras have seen their CTR increase 196% since this time last year. Old-school telephones are up, too, rising 706% in clickability since last spring.

Cash and shopping malls (which often both feel obsolete to younger generations) have increased in clickability 54% and 192%, respectively.

Get the money. Two dollar, dollar bill, y’all. Images via Amoret Tanner Collection/Shutterstock, Kharbine-Tapabor/Shutterstock, John Dominis/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock, Amoret Tanner Collection/Shutterstock, Everett Collection, Yale Joel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock, Fritz Goro/The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock, and Stokkete.

Some vintage fashion staples are in, as well. Pearls have seen their CTR rise 525% over the last year. The clickability of veils are up 519%, perhaps because of this year’s bridal boom. Corsets have seen their CTR rise 270% this year. Even hair rollers have seen a 4% CTR boost.

It looks like, no matter how futuristic we wish to be, the clickability of vintage charm is here to stay!

Earliest known photo of future Queen of Hawaii, Liliuokalani, circa 1860s Black and white photo of model wearing black straw hat with white veil covering her face Barber setting curlers in man's hair for perm Dancer Josephine Baker in feathery one-piece costume Model in a chartreuse felt boater-style hat with roses and hummingbirds, purple veil, and ribbons Vintage black and white photo of a dog in a beauty parlor with curlers in her hair

Images via Everett/Shutterstock, Phillip Jackson/ANL/Shutterstock, Reg Warhurst/ANL/Shutterstock, Cci/Shutterstock, John Rawlings/Conde Nast/Shutterstock, and Voller Ernst/John Drysdale/imageBROKER/Shutterstock.

Cover image via Master1305.