Persuade with Pictures


PhotosA picture may be worth MORE than a thousand words in some cases. A new study shows that text is more credible when accompanied by photos, even when the photos don’t support the point of the text!

Researchers at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand showed that statements about a celebrity being alive or dead were judged to be accurate more often when they were accompanied by photos of that celebrity. While the celebrity was, of course, alive when photographed, the scientists found that the photos didn’t produce and “alive bias.” A statement that the celebrity was dead was also judged as true more often when accompanied by the photos, showing that the photos produced a “truth bias.” (Paper: Nonprobative photographs (or words) inflate truthiness.)

One experiment substituted verbal descriptions for the photographs, and those also produced a truth bias.

The key factor seems to be that the photos provided specific information about the individual – they showed them engaged in their profession. A politician might be standing in front of a bank of microphones, for example.

Even general knowledge claims were enhanced by photos. The statement, “Turtles are deaf,” was judged to be true more often when accompanied by a photo that shows a turtle but in no way demonstrates their hearing ability or lack thereof.

Beware of Brain Scans

A specialized case of this phenomenon was illustrated several years ago when research studies shown to neuroscientists were shown to be more credible when accompanied by fMRI brain scan photos, even though the scans were not related to the conclusion of the paper. (See Brain Image Bias.)

If even specialized information like neuroscience research is rendered more credible by irrelevant imagery, it’s no surprise that the New Zealand researchers found it to be true of more general content.

Influence with Images & Text

The Neuromarketing takeaway from this body of work is that if you want to be credible, you should accompany your statements with photos and, perhaps, descriptive text. Clearly, if the imagery directly supports your claims, so much the better. But, even if such photos don’t exist, you should still include relevant images. For example, a claim of “easy to use” would be hard to directly prove by a photo, but an image of a person using the product (presumably not grimacing or looking perplexed!) could still make the claim more believable.

Text Too? While marketers should always be wary of adding non-essential text to ads or websites, the research also shows that descriptive text made an assertion more credible even when the text didn’t directly support the claim. So, it’s possible that adding a paragraph of text describing the process used to manufacture the product could make the “easy to use” claim more believable.

Don’t use random stock photos only vaguely related to the message you are trying to convey. The persuasive photos in the study were specific, even though they didn’t actually have any value as proof of the statement. And, as always, don’t add photos or text willy-nilly assuming they will boost credibility and conversion – test either or both against a control!

  1. nalts says

    I think your article would have been more credible if it was accompanied by a picture of a hot babe.

    1. Kinko's Chantilly says

      hahaha… oh boys will be boys…

  2. Alex Morris says

    Well nalts has a bit of a point, but if you went ahead with his idea you’re likely to be accused of gratuitous misogyny. Not the best start for any business trying to appease a wide audience; you immediately annoy the female audience!
    I think pictures of cute stuff always goes down well. Or pets. Everyone can relate to pets.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      There is evidence that an attractive female pic can boost response (see A Pretty Woman Beats a Good Loan Deal) among male viewers, the photo effect in this post is quite different as it deals with the credibility of a statement.


      1. Alessandro Adamo says

        Hi Roger,

        Do you think this would increase the conversion rate even when sending presentation emails?

        Would that be useful to insert a picture in the middle of the text instead of attaching it at the bottom? Don’t you think it could overboard the common norms of formal emails and therefore be rejected by the decision maker?

        Business Development Manager

        1. Roger Dooley says

          All good questions, Alessandro. Email is a special case, to be sure. Images may cause deliverability issues, though I think that’s less true as time passes. Second, many people (including me) view emails with images turned off. I’ll only click “display images” if the email is interesting and I think the image will be helpful. (I do this both for fast loading and to avoid image-based tracking of whether I viewed the email.) Having said that, an appropriate image close to the persuasive content should help. I think an email separated from the content would be less effective, although that’s just a guess.

          The good thing about email is that it’s easy to run tests. Try an A/B split with and without the image and see what happens. Let us know!


  3. Victoria says

    Great post, I earlier though that pictures that accompanied post point of view were of course useful, but that even just pages are so helpful – it’s really amazing. It would be interesting to research further and find out the ideal number and size of pictures ot add to your posts now.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      It’s just a guess, Victoria, but I would expect diminishing returns to set in rapidly when adding more photos.


  4. Kathleen Allisen says

    hi there – the link in this article to the supporting study at Victoria University is broken. Can you repair, or direct me to the paper? Thanks.

  5. Roger Dooley says

    I changed the link to an abstract link that works, Kathleen, thanks. I found the full text by searching for the article title with “pdf,” but it seems the links expire or become problematic. You might try that kind of search.


  6. george says

    I once read the article on same topic and they gave the example of Advertisements given by food giants on TV like KFC,McDonalds. These companies repeatedly show their very well decorated pizzas,burgers on TV as well on the menu at the restaurant site also. Expert research has shown that a picture influences a brain’s decision making greatly than just mere words. This influence is greatly enhanced when combined with smell.

  7. Mark Kastleman says

    There is no doubt that any piece of information is going to be better accompanied with an image. We are very visual as people, and would rather be provided an image than have to use our imagination to create one on our own.

  8. Suzanne says

    I have long held the view that visual images are more powerful than words alone. Text can be boring. Images can be compelling. In print and web design the message is often more powerful when contained in a graphic or illustration. In A/B split tests I’ve done on one of my sites, I was able to increase sales of a product 28% by using a visual image call to action rather than just text.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Good info, Suzanne. Did the images that boosted conversion relate closely to the product, or using it?

  9. Paul Profitt says

    Hi Roger, I think that the reason why pictures and text work so well together is. Because a picture is a fixed moment in time that you can capture,whereas video. Which is my preferred choice. is a moving moment in time,By using pictures, you are able to cut out all of the boring parts of a story and get straight to juicy bits.

  10. Roksana Krysht says

    Nice post! Photos affect our emotional sphere and also help us better imagine what’s happening. It’s harder to focus only on the text.

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