The Psychology Behind a Successful Facebook Ad Part 2: Images


Does the image you use in your Facebook Ad really matter? Can it actually make the difference between a successful Ad campaign and a flop?

In the second part of this three part series on the psychology of Facebook Ads I’ll dive into the science of of images.

I’ll examine  image types and strategies to give you the most informed decision you can to optimize your image for conversions. I’ll give you real-world examples of these strategies and tell you exactly how you can use this knowledge for your business.

What is Image Psychology and why should I care?

Image psychology is the study of images in terms of their elicited emotion. In digital marketing and advertising it’s an essential science to be aware of, as the images you choose really do make a difference to conversions:

  • When IGN multivariate tested its homepage it found that by simply changing a thumbnail image from abstract to an image of a person it increased interaction by 11%
  • The position of a camera can change the way people feel about the subject from pitying to impressed

1. Eye-contact

Eye-contact is the chief factor in non-verbal communication – something that makes up more than half of the meaning we take from a conversation. It’s equally essential in advertising as eye-contact, no matter the medium, denotes trust, friendliness and openness. Eye-contact is also the first step in persuasion.

Consider the ‘I want you’ for the US army’ picture, one of the most recognizable and effective ad campaigns in history:


Eye-contact increases the chance of a Facebook User double-taking your image (also see surreal/funny below).

How you can use it:

  • Use color psychology to decide on the best color to catch a Facebook user’s eye.
  • Use a close-up face and eye-contact to keep a reader’s attention.
  • Use an attractive face with good eye-contact to communicate friendliness and trustworthiness.

The Facebook Ad from drugstore London Drugs below is a great example of an eye-catching image: the level gaze and great eye-contact really work to convey empathy and competence.


2. A smile

Smiles are, almost internationally, a symbol of friendliness and openness. They are also universally understood to improve the attractiveness of the subject – which we all know has a huge influence on sales.

In a recent A/B Split test, images with a person smiling vs not-smiling increased a software developer’s profits by 10.7% over 5 weeks (with an initial improvement of 50%).

Take a look at the two images below. Which do you feel is more appealing?


3. Metaphor

As a culture, there are certain images to which we attribute metaphorical value. Think about a heart, which we know ‘means’ love. An elephant we understand represents size.

Connotative understanding of what an image means can have huge influence in your Facebook Ad, especially considering the limited words you’re allowed (25 in the headline and 90 in the body text).

Telus’ image below takes advantage of a cheetah to communicate speed:


How you can use it:

  • There are many animals and objects which we unconsciously associate with certain ideas. Disney, for instance, makes a tidy business from anthropomorphizing the world around us (and yes, I did just use the word anthropomorphizing).
  • People also love the use of pets and animals in social media. In fact, pictures of pets are the fourth-most shared images online.
  • Think about bees to communicate efficiency, beavers to communicate industry, snails for slowness, hyenas for humor, trees for age, the list goes on and on.

4. Camera angle:

Students of cinematography will know the power of camera angle, and how it affects the audience’s view of a character. Keeping this in mind when choosing your Facebook Ad image is essential, as mis-using it can create some truly adverse reactions. Take a look at the images below:


Across-the-board, we see an upward-looking camera shot associated with power and status (on the right) while a downward-looking shot can mean either pity or subservience.

However, a downward-looking shot can also connote nurturing – a desire to help the subject. So the social worker image on the left (above) elicits both pity and the desire to nurture.

How you can use it:

  • If you’re trying to sell a career or increase in wealth or savings, use an image where the camera is looking up at the subject
  • If you’re promoting your company over another, perhaps using a comparison value proposition, use an image looking down at the subject

5. Models/celebrities:

You won’t be surprised that people sell products better than text. But did you know some products are actually better represented by a normal-looking model and some by an ideal?

Industries such as fashion, makeup and sports apparel sell an ideal, and their model matches that ideal. Business-to-Consumer (B2C) companies sell what are called ‘ low involvement’ products, in which the product (by in large) sells itself. For instance, you want that perfume because it smells nice, not because you feel a strong attachment and loyalty to Chanel. B2C companies are well represented in images by models and, especially, by celebrities.


For B2B companies, however, it’s vital you create a connection with your customer. Simple things, like having an Average Joe represent your brand in Facebook Ads, can further this connection. People want to connect socially on social media, and find it easier to do so with a product that they understand, represented by someone who looks like them.

How you can use it:

  • You don’t necessarily have to splurge on hiring a model for your next campaign, consider someone from your office as the face of your product
  • Test what your audience responds to. SaaS businesses sell both their product itself and connection with their company, so see what works best for you with A/B Testing

Something to ponder: In 2003 a Harvard student worked with a South African bank, sending 50,000 letters offering short term loans. They varied the interest rate as well as included psychologically-influential cues. It turned out that having a wholesome, happy female picture in a corner of the letter had _as much positive impact on the response rate as dropping the interest rate by four percentage points.

6. Surrealism:

I’ve talked before about the awesome effect of using surrealism in advertising. Perhaps as much as sex appeal, surreal images cause people to examine an image for a significant length of time. Length of view is incredibly important in advertising.

In a recent eye-tracking study, it was found that people see 90% of advertisements on any given page. However, they only remember seeing 55% of those advertisements. The difference is in the time they were viewing each image. Apparently the barrier that advertisers need to break through is at 2.75 seconds.

Photos with sexual appeal (see section 7) will, of course, encourage a lengthier viewing time than other images. But surreal pictures, in which we question what our eyes are seeing, are equally as effective (and won’t break Facebook’s Guidelines)


How you can use it:

  • Use an odd perspective to make your product seem unnaturally large
  • Use an image of a pet or animal ‘using’ or wearing your product
  • Get creative and come up with something funny or odd to break the 2.75 second barrier

7. Sex

A discussion of image psychology has to include a look at sex appeal. Sex sells, it’s unavoidably true. Cleavage attracts the eye, as do abs and a chiseled jaw. This attraction to images of sexually appealing people is evolutionarily built into us, and ignoring it as an option for your Facebook Ad is dumb.

However, as far as using sex to grab the attention of a Facebook user goes, I recommend the more subtle use on the left over the completely random and off-putting use on the right.

sex appeal

How you can use it:

  • Using sex in advertising is far more effective if your target audience is young than it is if they’re middle-aged or older.
  • If you’re going to use an obviously sexual image, be sure your target audience (young men vs young women vs older generation) will respond positively.
  • Be mindful of your product. Does sex appeal work well? Or (like the image above on the right) is it completely random?
  • Be careful of creating a negative brand reputation, as many people view sex in advertising in a negative light (despite the fact that it works as well as it does).

8. Gender:

This section will discuss not just targeting your Facebook Ad images to a gender section, but also the far less obvious, but no less important, influence of matching the perceived gender of the product with the gender of the model. Yes, this is real stuff.

Let’s start with the one that made you scoff. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you have to stereotypically ascribe gender to a product. Make your associations realistic and factual. Be honest with yourself, would my girlfriend’s hair-tie things sell nearly as well if Bruce Willis were the spokesperson?

For many businesses, the gender of your model won’t have too much of an effect. For instance, software cannot be said to be male or female. On the other hand, garage, yard implements and large TV’s are male. Household implements, 90% of fashion and most cleaning products are female. I don’t make the rules or agree with them, I’m just the messenger. However, check out the demographics of your customers. Are they skewed toward one gender? If so, consider your Ad subject’s gender. If your audience is male, will they respond to a physically attractive female, or a guy just like them? Test your Ads and go with what increases click-through-rates.

The sexes:

Safe generalizations can be made about appealing to one gender over the other with an image. Numerous psychological and neurological studies have shown that women, for instance, respond more intensely to an image of a baby crying, whereas men respond more to images of social acceptance.

The image below, from natural gas company Fortis, is a great example of using an image to elicit an emotional response.


How you can use it:


  • Images of connection, individuality, relationship/togetherness, stress relief, respect
  • Colors: purple (femininity), blue (calm), green (nurturing), orange (warmth, stress relief)


  • Images of acceptance, affirmation, strength, wealth
  • Colors: red (masculinity), blue (acceptance), black (sophistication), yellow (emotional strength)


For more on the importance of color in Facebook Ads, see Part 1 of this series, The Psychology Behind a Successful Facebook Ad Part 1: Color


Hopefully you’ve learned some of the science and thought that goes into advertising images. I’ll be diving into the psychology of text in part three of this series, so watch out for that in the next few days!

Remember that these are simply rules of thumb. Just because the majority of people respond more to a smile than they do a serious face doesn’t mean your audience will. Test your Facebook Ad images thoroughly to get a sense for what your target audience responds to, then extrapolate those results to your whole Facebook marketing plan. Are you finding that certain kinds of Ad images increase your click-through-rate. Try using them in your Facebook Posts as well. Or visa versa!

Further Reading:

Have you found success with a certain Facebook Ad approach? Start the conversation below.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *