If you were at my SXSW panel, How Brain Science Turns Browsers into Buyers, you already saw the latest proof that sexy imagery can boost sales. Ion Interactive, a firm specializing in online conversion, ran a test for online game-maker Kabam to improve signup rates for a vampire game, Thirst of Night. Take a look at the three images tested:

Three landing page variations


The first was a general game scenery shot, the second a head shot of a female vampire, and the third a revealing head and torso shot of the same female vampire.

Test Results: Fangs Aren’t Enough

The variations were tested against two sources of traffic: pay per click ads (like Google AdWords) and clicks via affiliate links on other sites. Here’s the data:

Affiliate Traffic: Version C beat A by 39% and B by 30%.
PPC Traffic: Version C beat A by 95% and B by 35%.

Both B and C simplified the form in addition to changing the primary image. Still, the boost in conversion for the “busty” version is startling – it nearly doubled the conversion rate compared to the control version in the PPC test, and performed a third better than the nearly identical head shot landing page. (Read more at the Ion Interactive blog.)

What’s Going On Here

While it’s easy to throw out the traditional wisdom that “sex sells,” in fact a sexier appeal won’t always work. I wasn’t involved in this test, but I can speculate a little.
Version C DetailFirst, I’d guess that the improved conversion occured more in male gamers, who tend to be influenced much more by pictures of women (see A Pretty Woman Beats a Good Loan Deal).

Second, a key effect of priming men with female imagery is that they become more impatient and short-term oriented. This works well with the call to action, the big “Play Now” button. The button offers immediate gratification, in essence saying, “Click here and interact with me right away!”

Last, we all know about the “gaze effect” on headlines and calls to action, i.e., if the person in the ad looks at something, viewers will also look at that spot (see, for example, the eye-tracking study in Child Labor: Put That Baby to Work!)… but is it just me, or does the vampire babe appear to be, ummm, pointing at the call to action with her most visible assets?

When Sex Sells

At least in the context of male priming with female photos, the best results are likely for offers that are satisfying in the short term, like “Drive away in your new convertible today!” Relevance may help, e.g, an attractive woman selling cologne to men, but, as the loan example shows, isn’t always necessary. Avoid such priming for offers that involve delayed gratification, like life insurance or retirement plans.

Even non-profits can benefit from male priming: guys tend to exhibit more altruism when primed with mating cues (see The Mating Mind). I wouldn’t recommend using vampire cleavage in your next fundraising letter, but a more subtle approach could boost male generosity!

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