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Gorgeous Photos versus Real Photos on Social Media Ads

Science rules in digital marketing.

Social media is a place of vanity. Those of us who use social media often get to see flattering images of just about everything - people, places, food, cars, whatever. Have you ever seen a picture of a friend posted as their new profile picture and thought, "Wow, that's a good picture of them."

One might believe that the same holds true for automotive ads. On websites, it has been widely accepted that real pictures of inventory work better than stock photos, but on social media we have access to the gorgeous pictures that are supplied by the OEMs. Will pretty advertising pictures outperform pictures of live inventory on ads that are sending traffic to the vehicle details pages and search results pages?

We have done a ton of A/B testing over the past few months and we have pretty compelling data, but I want to get the opinion of the community here before posting those results. What do you think?

Here are some of the criteria for a test we ran for a Hyundai client:

  • All ad copy had the same titles, status text, and link description
  • The ads linked to the search results page for new Hyundai vehicles
  • They were targeted at intenders - people within driving distance to the dealership who had indicated they intend to buy a new Hyundai in the next 180 days
  • The only difference was the image

We ran two concurrent campaigns for 1 month. One had beautiful images pulled from the OEM. The other had live inventory images. Here are samples with the branding omitted:

Which type do you think got more clicks to the dealer's website?

Views: 412

Tags: social, social media


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Comment by Ralph Paglia on April 21, 2014 at 4:33pm

Getting back to the actual issue raised by JD... I have seen various marketing tests and research data which consistently point to what Tom Gorham alluded to; inventory displays generate more phone calls, lead form completions, chats and dealership visits when they showcase actual photos of the vehicle at the dealership. Stock or catalog images under-perform actual photos when it comes to merchandising sites like,, Craigslist, etc. However, I have not seen any data that suggests the same results would apply to individual content posts within User Generated Content (UGC) sites such as Youtube, Facebook, Blogger, etc. Although... It is difficult for me to imagine anything more effective than real original content from an actual dealership location featuring real, actual people (not paid actors) and real actual vehicle images (not stock images).

Comment by Ralph Paglia on April 21, 2014 at 4:28pm

Tyson, I do not believe that any "Proof of Concept" marketing test is best served by using a poorly executed photo... For that matter, why not use some of the horrible looking "Stock Images" that most of us have seen on occasion from various suppliers of such imagery (In most cases OEM's do not supply the stock photos used). I have seen this sort of "stacking of the deck" to make dealers look incompetent and that is how we end up with single vendor mandates for web site suppliers. Yes, there are dealers who execute poorly, but the dealers who execute well are the ones who gain a competitive advantage.

Comment by Tyson Madliger on April 21, 2014 at 4:07pm

A couple of people brought up a good point. That particular live image is a very high quality one compared to many. We should see how standard live photos compare.

Comment by James Klaus on April 21, 2014 at 11:19am

I will say the OEM photos just to be different.

Comment by Steve Duff on April 21, 2014 at 10:11am

Dealer photo (assuming quality is same as pictured here).

Comment by Jeff Mayernik on April 21, 2014 at 9:02am

When I have shopped for used cars in the past, if the photo wasn't the actual vehicle being sold then I wouldn't even click the link. I don't want to see a representative sample of what the car might potentially look like - I want to see the actual car you are advertising for sale.

'Stock Photo' and 'Photo not available' turn me off so I would guess that they probably turn most of my customers off as well.

Comment by Holly Brown on April 21, 2014 at 6:50am

Original photos of local vehicles -- not ones supplied by OEM

Comment by Tom Gorham on April 21, 2014 at 5:44am

I don't know the answer but I'm anxious to hear the results.  I would suspect that OEM pics would outperform live pics in marketing, possibly Social Media, but that live pics are expected when viewing inventory on a dealer website.  On the dealer website, people want to see the actual car they may buy.  But in marketing situations we are drawn to the beauty of a vehicle in a professional photo.  Great question.

Comment by Cecil Helton on April 21, 2014 at 5:34am

If the inventory images were all as nice as the one here, I expect they attracted more clicks.

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