Why it’s time to ‘get real’ in your advertisements

If you’ve ever been to Times Square, the advertisements are just as much an attraction as any building or landmark. On a recent trip to “The Big Apple” I sat on the “red steps” that house the discounted Broadway ticket booth with my friend watching the many billboards.

“I don’t like those ads,” said my friend referring to the American Eagle/Aerie LED billboard staring at us in Times Square that rotated ads from the two stores (both are part of the same company American Eagle Outfitters Inc.)

What turned her off were the American Eagle ads like the one below, featuring dramatically posed women.
american eagle ad-cropped

What appealed to her were the Aerie ads. “Those ones are more natural looking.” In particular she liked a button down shirt in the Aerie ad, which she immediately dragged me inside to find, and buy!

This whole situation had me thinking about a post in eBiz Insider referencing Get Elastic’s Linda Bustos post where she explained how natural, real people photos had higher conversions than generic photos in a split test by Wider Funnel. In some cases generic looking photos provided even fewer conversions than a page with no photos. So I wondered, just what the online ads for American Eagle and Aerie looked like compared to their billboard advertising.


Both of the snapshots above from are advertisements for graphic tee’s, but look drastically different. Just as the study from Simon Fraser University proved, more natural and real photos appeal and in the end convert at a higher rate. The posed, forced look doesn’t appeal to consumers like my friend. Her brain was stuck wondering, “How is she holding her head like that?”  rather than “What a pretty shirt!”

In Times Square where the ads are larger than the products, it was the more natural looking, relaxed photo that pushed my friend to go inside and purchase the shirt she’d spotted. The ad that showed the type of woman she could relate to, appealed more.  While usually a billboard is only looking for a delayed response from customers, this billboard is poised above a three story American Eagle Outfitters/Aerie store.

Two takeaways for eCommerce merchants:

Don’t settle for stock. Even if your supplier gives you stock photography, it doesn’t mean you have to use it. Get a few products to take some action photos of, request photos from clients.

Get real, go natural. If you take product photos you should try for an in-action shot, whther you’re wearing it or using it. Don’t worry about needing models to show off your products.

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