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Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2008 at 9:49 am

Can An Image of a Pretty Woman Boost Conversion?

By Holly Buchanan
August 19th, 2008

woman face questionWhy is it that live chat icons always feature pretty girls with a headset?    Why not have a good looking guy with a headset?

Is the strategy that men will want to talk to a pretty girl?  And women may be more comfortable talking to another woman than a man?   I don’t know.   But a recent study might provide some answers.

Robert Dooley at Future Lab has a great post A Pretty Woman Beats a Good Loan Deal.  He looks at a case study by a South African Bank trying to boost their loan business through direct mail pieces.

The experiment featured a rather dramatic range in interest rates – 3.25% to 11.75%. They also incorporated different features in the offer, including different descriptions of the loan, a comparison to competitive products, varied photos of males and females, and subtle suggestions.

There’s a lot of information in that study, but here’s the part that I found to be most startling:

“For the male customers, replacing the photo of a male with a photo of female on the offer letter statistically significantly increases takeup; the effect is about as much as dropping the interest rate 4.5 percentage points… For female customers, we find no statistically significant patterns.

Overall, these results suggest a very powerful effect on male customers of seeing a female photo on the offer letter. Standard errors however do not allow us to isolate one specific mechanism for this effect. The effect on male customers may be due to either the positive impact of a female photo or the negative impact of a male photo.”

Hmmm – interesting.  What’s going on here?   I don’t have any proof, but I’ll throw a hypothesis out there.  Male brains are still hardwired to facilitate their role as the hunter/gatherer.    They’re still programmed to compete to “get the girl.”    I don’t mean this to make men sound like cavemen.  But I suspect the subliminal message these direct mail pieces may be sending is:

“Here’s a way to get more money – and the prize is going to be this attractive woman.”

Or, maybe the photo simply got the men’s attention long enough for them to interact with the direct mail piece.

Another possibility, as the study suggested, was the possible negative impact of a male photo.  Did seeing another guy stir up feelings of competition?   I don’t know.  I hope there’ll be further research done on this topic, since, at least from this study, there could be a big effect on conversion.

So let’s turn our attention to the women.   They supposedly like “lifestyle images” and people’s faces.  Why didn’t the photo have any affect on their response rate?

I suspect it might have something to do with this important point by Roger:

Will slapping a photo of a pretty woman on your direct mail piece boost response rates? If you are marketing to men, maybe. Women seem to be much less affected by irrelevant photos, according to this test. That might be good news – women shouldn’t be negatively affected if a female photo is used in an attempt to boost male response. (Note that this test did NOT evaluate the use of more extreme photos, like the bikini babes I discussed a few weeks ago.)

The emphasis is mine.  Women look at things more holistically.  What is the relationship between the person in the photo and the offer?   If the picture had a loan officer’s name on it, that might be more effective since she would now have context for who the woman is.  If the image featured a woman and another person – a child or aging parent or young person getting ready to go off to college – that might have more of an impact since the image is now relevant to what she might do with the money.

Every business is different, and only testing will prove what does and doesn’t work.   But the importance of images, and how men and women may react differently to them, should be something we’re all looking at.

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Comments (24)

  1. On my contact us page, I put a picture of our pretty customer service person with a headset on and a smile of course. I understand she has had a few people call and ask are you the person in the picture?

    My understanding is, people buy from other people and not impersonal corporations, so I put a photo of an actual customer service person, which would put a human face on the company/customer service section. Right?

    I was not wanting to put her name with the photo for obvious reasons, but maybe a first name would be fine to make the photo more holistic to the females out there as well.

  2. I would be curious to see what actual images they used. It could just be that the image of the man wasn’t the kind that a woman would be likely to interact with. I would think that almost any attractive female picture would be enough to increase interaction with men.

    With women I would suspect that you would probably also want to go the stereotypical root. A single, good looking man standing in front of his expensive, well groomed house. Or a man and a woman interacting intimately together (in a G rated fashion).

    If you are going to get people to interact with your advertisement using images, you need to show them what they want at a base, instinctual level.

  3. A nice piece to provoke conversation, however it doesn’t say anything new. It depends on how you approach a product/brand and what you hope to get out of it. A trade show tells a lot about OUR industry. Mostly it’s the packaging and not the product that is being sold.

    I would like to ask the author how many beauty magazines she’s bought in the past 12 months and how many she continues to buy. Are these not as misleading as the aesthetics you’re commenting on here?

    Have you noticed even within marketing magazines there’s the few advertisers who continue to use good looking guys and girls. There’s very few who show it how it is.

    With me, when I’m scouting a product or service I look for the geeky tech guy who looks bored out of his head. He’s the person that uses the product, understands it and tells it as it is. Their head of sales, with a rather ample.. ermmm personality and high heels gives me a regurgitated speech I’ve heard from every other stand. However, Ted gives it to me. I come away with information I can use.

    The problem is cultural psychological and it’s resolution is cultural psychological but commencing at the political. I believe there was a leading UK mens mag who did a cover with a guy on it [for lord of the rings] rather than a busty girl. That edition they sold a lot less.

    Maybe if we were more pragmatic, rather than being spoon fed what we believe is aesthetic then maybe we can return to this argument afresh.

  4. I think the key point of all of this is finding “images that are relevant.”

    Anton mentions the “geeky tech guy” – that gets his attention because he can relate to that tech guy, and believes he has the information Anton needs.

    I don’t read a lot of women’s magazines, in large part, because of the ads. It’s image after image of some anorexic, bored looking model for whatever product they are selling – shoes, fashion, handbags, jewelry, etc. Some women may see glamour – I see a an arrogant/spoiled woman who’s probably pissed off because her last 3 meals consisted of celery sticks.

    In short – I can’t relate. The image does not resonate with me. It is not relevant.

    My point here is simply to say – images are powerful. More studies and testing should be done to find out which images are most “relevant” and persuasive to your customers.

    If anyone has done any testing or research on the subject, I’d love to hear about it.

  5. We have experimented with different images on our home page and did observe different conversion rates with different images.

    We will continue to experiment with images to try and determine which image or type of image provides the highest conversion rate.

    Great article. From our experience, the beautiful woman picture has not been the highest converting image.

    I would guess that it depends on what you are selling.

  6. across the direct mail/internet industry a *pretty* girl, not a beautiful woman. (think sweet pretty vs. hot pretty, if you will) a tiny image of a pretty girl’s face only with a sweet smile does indeed increase sales. and this is intercontinental in effect as well. in South Africa realtors get more listings when using a pretty girl for their letter to people in the community.

    the “bikini-type babe” *does* cause increased overall sales for certain industries, for example, full sized cutouts of beautiful women standing buy automobiles in showrooms increases sales.

    there is a catch, the pretty girl or in certain industries, the sexier woman, does need to be smiling. take the smile away, you take away sales.

    the impact is experienced at the subliminal level where all of the above (except the cutout) is confirmed in computer generated image testing.

    from a visual POV, women influence in the MOMENT and men do not.

    kevin hogan

  7. Men react favorably to the opportunity to interact with a pretty young girl who is smiling, indicating her approval and approachability. The approval of a person who would qualify as a desirable mate affects men on an instinctual level.

    On the other hand, most male models are assumed to be homosexual, which is the antithesis of the desirable mate for reproductive purposes.

    It’s all about assumptions at a gut level. It doesn’t have to be true in either case. I have chatted with several beautiful young girls at trade shows even though they represented products I had no interest in buying. My interest was in sharing their space with no thought of anything overtly sexual. It simply felt good to have them smile at me.

  8. I would be interested in seeing clickthrough rates on a blond woman versus a brunette.

    At a company I used to work for, we tried this approach on an email blast we sent out. The blonds converted 3x better than brunettes. Kinda upset the mostly brunette employees, but data is data :) .

  9. OK, this is too interesting a post for me to let it go without comment, based on my own thoughts and experiences seeing pretty women used to market a product.

    When I see a model used to sell a completely unrelated product (e.g. phone headsets) my 1st thought is always ‘the product must really SUCK for them to resort to using models’.

    However I agree with Audio Bible that posting a picture of a real customer service rep works…

  10. First question is who is the blonde used in the image at the start of the article?? Why not good looking Holly!

    I have my pic on the customer service page, but a lot of our clients get caricatures drawn – as thy say it shows they ar out-of -the-box in how they can approach things, which for me with a caricature business is a great thing!

    But some of the images of the call centre girls – wow!! I want to ring, never mind the damned product – I just want to talk to her ;)

  11. Fascinating post. Speaking from a male pov I agree with Richard regarding the female and the product must suck. I did notice the live chat precanned icons are mainly women if a human is in the image.

    I do not believe our customers would be swayed by a pretty (not hot) face, we try our best to feature real people in any marketing. I wonder how women are affected by a graphic of a child in the marketing piece.

    We have not done an test on that but considering that the holiday season is upon us, that would be good test fodder.

  12. What’s with all the guys commenting on this post?! How funny.

    I agree with Holly’s comment, the key point of all of this is finding “images that are relevant.”

    I get so sick of seeing the same dumb stock images of women with headsets on that are used on websites. They’re not relevant, and I think it undermines the already low level of trust that I have in a company whos website I am visiting for the first time.

    The exploration of this topic is interesting, I love reading about these Male / Female marketing differences. – Thank you again Holly.

    Since Holly is doing so well with “how to market to women”, who at future now is going to step up and write the book on “how to market to men?” Perhaps we men aren’t lucrative enough… or maybe the book would just be blank. hehe ;-) .

    Actually, Kevin Hogan has probably already written it…

  13. If anyone knows of research on the effect of sexy/bikini images on women, can they please post it? I am the web master for a beach gear site, Wheeleez, and this could be very relevant.

  14. Simply put, a direct mail peice that has a pretty girl on it is opened more frequently, especially by men, because there is a subtle hope there might be more pictures of the same pretty girl.

    The benefit of this, is increased attention, and getting the customer to open the flyer.

    Women are much smarter than us men, and therefore the same experiment does not have the same impact on them.

  15. You asked “Why not have a good looking guy with a headset?”

    Because guys are gross. No one wants to see a guy. Especially with something shoved in his ear.

    On the other hand, girls – especially with headphones on – are amazing to look at!

  16. This has worked as a selling technique since the beginning of sales.

  17. Fantastic topic Holly.

    I don’t know about the effect of the female image on click-throughs or direct mail persuasiveness but I do know about it’s overwhelming impact in the trade show business. I do displays for exhibitors of all kinds and no matter how many expos or trade fairs I attend one factor seems to always remain constant: booth babes (or booth bait depending on who you ask).

    It seems as though no matter your industry in order for your exhibition to be truly effective (according to an overwhelming percentage of most assuredly male marketing strategists) your booth must in some way, shape or form feature attractive and approachable female ‘bait’. Google ‘trade show models’ + ‘any major city’ and you will find a number of modeling services anxious to fill your booth with attractive, young women (men are an extreme minority in the trade show modeling field, and most often appear only as companions for the more numerous female models when an exhibit absolutely, positively calls for a ‘couple’.)

    Over the years I’ve formulated some thoughts on why this is and why it is an effective, if misguided policy.

    1. Most trade show ‘buyers’ are men and ‘sex sells’. Simple as that.

    2. Women are less threatening. Seems like every male businessman lives in secret, silent fear of an associate with a more manly handshake. No threat of that with a 20-something female spokesmodel in a tight fitting business suit. Men, being competitive by nature, seem sometimes off-put by even the hint of being ‘out-manned’. While this may not be true about every (or even perhaps most) trade show buyers, when you’re paying in excess of $100,000.00 for one expo, can you risk scaring away even 10% of your perspectives?

    3.Men are all boys at heart. Guy posturing aside, men like to relax into familiar roles. Approaching a woman who smiles at you and breaks the ice first seems natural and pleasant.

    4. It’s not like selling. Sure, the booth bait is giving you the ‘come hither look’ only for your business, men understand that, but it’s nice to pretend, if even only for a moment. It’s a day off from the regular grind of office coffee, phone calls and 9-5 rigidity, why not let your mind engage in a little fantasy as long as you’re ‘playing hooky’. Booth babes know this only too well and the best ones make you feel like they are not interested in selling you anything at all. After all, nobody wants the ‘hard sell’ at least not as the first contact.

    Just my observations!

    Thanks again Holly for the excellent topic!

  18. [...] Learning how the brain works, and how to inspire visual interrogation of the images that you include in your social media marketing vehicles, are imperative elements to the success of your campaigns. You have to take the time to get to know what your visitors are looking for – and then deliver it to them in the most powerful, simplistic ways that you can. Effective imagery will increase your conversion rates! [...]

  19. Just shows how dumb men are, lol!

  20. Yes a female in a relative ad would attract the sale. So would the male image depending on the subject at hand. There’s is nothing wrong with either one.

  21. It’s a proven point that since the human mind reason using images, using pictures can be a powerful communication tool. Usually our best marketing response comes from snap frames with pictures of females displayed on them.

  22. When the discussion on pretty women photo will always lead to some controversy i have experience

  23. notice the live chat precanned icons are mainly women if a human is in the image.

    I do not believe our customers would be swayed by a pretty (not hot) face, we try our best to feature real people in any marketing. I wonder how women are affected by a graphic of a child in the marketing piece.

    We have not done an test on that but considering that the holiday season is upon us, that would be good

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Holly Buchanan is a marketing to women consultant specializing in marketing to women online. You can read her blog at She is the co-author, along with Michele Miller of The Soccer Mom Myth - Today's Female Consumer - Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys.

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