Conversion Lessons from a Busty Bloodsucker


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!

  1. Rew says

    So what images work to attract women?

    For my cafe I’ve run online ads showing the food, I’ve run ads showing scenes of the Philippines, and I’ve run ads showing a pretty Filipina. The Filipina wins, with double to triple the average CTR of the other campaigns. I’m in the process of graphing cafe sales vs. ad performance figures over the last 6 months to see if there’s a robust connection between more clicks and more customers, but my gut says that there is.

    My conclusion is that women will look at women, too (I ran an ad targeting women with a good looking Filipino guy … he bombed) and that once the woman’s attention has been attracted, the message of the ad delivers its result. She doesn’t have to find the image “attractive,” just noticeable.

    The other factor in the Filipina ads is – they have had negative reactions. People have emailed me to say they don’t like the association it makes. Maybe the lesson there is that you need to be a little polarising to get noticed, to be safe is to be invisible.

    My bet is that the busty vampire image would score better with women, too.

  2. Roger Dooley says

    Great insights, Rew. In general, as you have found, women are less susceptible to “irrational” image effects than men are. Testing different imagery with the particular offer is the best approach, so you are on the right track.

    Give the vampire a try, though I find her more creepy than hot!


  3. Curtez Riggs says

    Yes, I agree with Rew. It has to depend on who the target market is to determine if images like “C” above would convert better. While “C” may have converted 39% higher with PPC traffic, lets consider the potential increase in conversion if the sexist image was replaced with something “sexy” while more gender neutral….

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Actually, I’m not sure that a more gender neutral ad would work, Curtez. Women have been shown to be largely unaffected by sexy photos, while guys, on average, respond to pictures of females. Even “sexy” isn’t always necessary to boost conversion in guys. The loan test I’ve written about used a photo of an attractive, but not overtly sexy, female. Having said that, images like bikini babes can have a more potent priming effect on guys. As always, testing is important. I’d never assume that one type of photo would work better and not look at alternatives.


  4. ConstructionSupplies says

    So I guess the moral of the story is that sex truly does sell… especially to guys who like vampires. Interesting article, and those are some pretty telling statistics.

  5. Roger Dooley says

    I think the conversion boost was so dramatic because the elements worked together: the right audience, priming picture, and a call to action that promised immediate gratification.

  6. Richard says

    I think the main reason here really was the target audience & product. After all, people who are most likely to engage in an online vampire game are looking for entertainment, mental distraction, something that’s emotionally engaging – and that women was.
    But really interesting how you noted that the male priming might even be used by non-profits, that got my mind spinning in some directions it wouldn’t have gone to otherwise – thanks!

  7. Dave Gee says

    Have to concur with some of the others. Have to play to your audience. I have seen first hand an ad agency being accused of being racist and sexist by not including multiple races and more men on the website they developed. Their response was “we include imagery that reflects who your customers are, what appeals to them AND who they want to be.” Example: Imagery of attractive women might appeal to men as well as women. Obviously some of these images can go “over-the-top” (pun intended) so best judgement needs to be made and ultimately the client must make the decision – Dave

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Ultimately, testing is the key. There is always pressure from clueless managers to do things a certain way that don’t relate to higher conversion rates. They want more sophistication, more diversity, more political correctness, multiple messages, etc. The only way to drive a stake through the heart (keeping the vampire metaphor going) of these meddlers is test data like what we see above.


  8. Brian says

    While I had not heard of the gaze effect before, it makes sense. And yes, that body part was pointing toward a call of action. As part of a non-profit, I don’t believe we’ll use a voluptuous vampire in our next campaign, even though some in our org may say, “Hey, if it works.” . : )

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Well, the “Save the Undead Foundation” might try that approach… 🙂

  9. Not to offend anyone but the boobs won and I think they will be wining male part of the audience for a long time. Funny how it works but it’s the truth.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Actually, a “mating” pitch might decrease response to offers with a long-term payout, Projectory. Retirement plans or life insurance would likely do poorly with a sexy pitchwoman.


  10. Tommy Walker says

    What a perfect example of “Line of Sight” working in improving conversion rates for landing pages.

    To answer your question from earlier @rew as stereotypical as it may sound, babies and couples tend to work well when it comes to improving conversion rates among women.

    What I mean by that is when a couple is looking at the call to action, or when a baby is looking at a headline, eye tracking tests have shown that they tend to look at the babies face first, then to where the baby is looking and scan all the way to the call to action.

    There’s a video about this linked to my name if you want to see more about some of the different landing page conversion techniques.

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