Which Picture Pulled Best?

June 28th, 2006 by Bob Bly

Imagine you are running an ad for a diet book written by an MD who is not a celebrity.

You can only show one image.

Your choices are a picture of:

A. The front cover of the book.
B. A head shot of the author.
C. A before and after shot of a middle-aged home-maker who went from obese to normal weight by following the diet.
D. A photo of a sexy, toned female model wearing a belly shirt showing off her rock-hard abs.
E. A photo fo a sexy, toned male model showing his rock-hard abs.

You cannot test. You can only pick one.

Which would you pick? And why?


This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 28th, 2006 at 10:05 am and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

62 responses about “Which Picture Pulled Best?”

  1. Mark Bigelow said:

    I’d show picture D, the female. The point of the book cover is to draw a person to the book, not to sell it. By showing the toned female, you draw females who want to look like her and males who want to look at her.

  2. Dave J. said:

    I’m tempted to agree with Mark, but will go with A: the book. While the female may attract more people to the ad, I think the book cover is more likely to create action. (And recall at the bookstore.)

  3. Jim Logan said:

    I’ll go with the obvious one, C. It’s real.

    C offers reason to believe, shows a benefit, and gives a testimonial. All in one picture.

  4. Robert Rosenthal said:

    Back in college, when I majored in marketing, they used to say, “Make the product the hero.” Now we often do better by making the customer the hero. “C” does that, and I imagine its honesty would come through, so it would also pass the verisimilitude test.

  5. Lisa Taylor Huff said:

    If the book is being marketed to a predominantly female audience, then C. Women who are out of shape (I’m one of them) do NOT want to look at some supermodel, it only intimidates them into thinking “I’ll NEVER look like that!” But the before and after pictures of a REAL woman who followed the program and had big results — THAT would grab my attention more than any of the others.

    If the audience is predominantly male, then E. Men respond more to images of “perfection” without as much of the feeling of being intimidated by it. They like the challenge.

  6. Craig Hysell said:

    Not to get too cute or picky, but “a diet book” tells me absolutely nothing about the product. Is it a niche book? Does it pertain to male or female dieters? Is it book for vastly overweight people or does it tell people who want to lose a few extra pounds how to do so?

    I can do nothing for the product effectively if I don’t know the target audience. In this respect I would have to pick “A” but would still like to take a look at “D” if it isn’t too much trouble.

  7. Bob Bly said:

    CH: You are making the task more complicated than it is. It is a diet book. It tells people how to lose weight. Like most diet books, it doesn’t target a specific category of overweight peopoe; it is for anyone who wants to lose weight. It doesn’t target specifically men vs. women, though women buy more diet plans than men. For the sake of this exercise, the title is How to Lose Weight Fast and Keep it Off Forever.

  8. Craig Hysell said:

    Right on. If I were overweight I would only be concerned with no frills pragmatic results. I believe overweight people actively seeking to purchase a diet plan would feel the same way. Since the book is a diet plan for everyone the title sells itself better than a picture of a fit man, woman or author’s head shot could and would keep the marketing base wide making the product available to all.

    In my opinion I’d still pick “A”. (And I’d still like to see “D” if that’s okay.)

  9. Bob McCarthy said:

    I’d go with “A” every time. If you’re selling a book, show the book.

    Bob McCarthy

  10. Dianna Huff said:

    I go with A: Photo of the book.

  11. Bob Bly said:

    BM, DH: you have both written that benefits outsell features, right? Well, A, the photo of the product, conveys a feature — that it is a book. But C, D, and E, photos of thin people, convey the benefit — losing weight. Right? So why did you pick A?

  12. Bob McCarthy said:

    Bob – You can lay out all the benefits you want, but in the end, people need to know what they are buying. This is not a treadmill, a special diet or an exercise program.

    This is a book and since we only have one photo, this is what I would show – along with a strong, benefit-oriented headline.

    The biggest challenge you have with a product like this credibility and I don’t believe for a second that the hard-body or before-and-after photos accomplish that. They might get your attention from a prurient interest only, but I don’t think anyone really believes that these models actually used the product or the product helped them achieve the results.

    I would much prefer a believable testimonial from a well-known person. If we had such an endorser, I might then prefer to use that person’s photo instead of the book.

    Sorry, the product is the hero here and should take center-stage.

    Bob McCarthy

  13. Bob Bly said:

    BM: Would you be shocked if I told you we have actually tested this proposition numerous times (even with a diet program, though not a book), and the pictures of people outpull shots of the product in almost every case?

  14. Robert Rosenthal said:

    So … are we really selling books or the chance to look better, feel healthier, and have more sex? According to Bob’s findings, it ain’t the former.

  15. Bob Bly said:

    RR: With how-to and self-help nonfiction, you are NEVER selling a book — you are selling the benefit the book delivers. No one reads a diet book because it’s fun reading. They read it to lose weight, as you so astutely point out.

  16. Bob McCarthy said:

    Bob and Robert: No, no, no … you ARE selling a book. Sure, you pull them in by offering the benefit (which I would do in my headline) but you need to show you can deliver on that benefit.

    Benefits are only as good as your ability to deliver them – and to convince the reader you can deliver, you need to sell the book.

    Any benefit that is presented without a supporting feature is nothing more than an empty promise.

    You are right about this: people read diet books to lose weight not because they want to read. But it’s our job to convince the reader that this book can actually help them lose weight.

    And to do that, you need to sell the book. You need to sell on the author’s credentials, on the content, organization and ease of use of the book, on the science behind the book, on the relative cost and guarantee of the book, and on the people who have already benefited from the book.

    To have any credibility – especially with a product like this – you need to look beyond the hard-body photographs.

    As for your test results, Bob, yes I am surprised but not shocked. I learned long ago that you cannot predict response and that your own instincts and pre-conceived notions have to reluctantly defer to the numbers.

    But I am curious about these tests. I know you don’t oversee them, but did these tests actually isolate this particular question (hard-body model vs. product)? In other words, did they run A/B splits so that everything other than the photo in the ad was EXACTLY the same?

    My objection to using model photos isn’t a question of benefit vs. feature. It’s a question of credibility and I believe (yes, this is my untested belief) that hard-body and before/after photographs have little or no credibility with the reader.

    They might get the reader’s attention, which is worth something, but you need much more than a photograph to convince most readers to open their wallets.

    Bob McCarthy

  17. Steve Slaunwhite said:

    I pick D.

    The reason I wouldn’t pick C is because no one really aspires to be a middle-aged home-maker at a normal weight. We all want to be young, toned and beautiful.

    Another reason: We buy diet books not because we want to lose weight but because we want to have lost weight. There’s a big difference. The before and after pics in C remind us of how much hard work and determination is required to go from fat to thin. Even if the caption says, “I ate anything I wanted. And the fat still melted off me!”

  18. Bob Bly said:

    BM: In one instance, it was specifically a split test online where the only element changed was the visual — (a) a picture of the product (in this case a CD album, not a book) vs. (b) a picture of a young, attractive woman who used the product. The (b) version of the woman significantly outpulled the (a) version of the product shot.

    I also disagree that you are selling a book. The product may BE a book, but the fact that the diet program is a BOOK may actually be a negative. We know this in marketing newsletters, where we avoid showing pictures of the product or using the word “newsletter” — instead we say “service” or “advisory.”

    Your prospect wants a solution. The LAST thing she wants is more stuff to read.

  19. Stephen Davies said:

    Hello Bob,
    I would have to pick “C” because your target market can relate to a regular Joe (Joanne).

    It shows them the reality they are living in “now” (their problem)and what they can become (the solution) all in the same message.

  20. Chui said:

    “C” is salesmanship in print.

    I checked out the shelves on the supermart. There were two identical slimming products. One was pictures of male and female with stunning bodies, and the other one looks like a pack of over the counter stuff, with staid labelling.

    The latter had only two packages, while the the former had lots of packages. It could be coincidental of course, but I buy what I could relate to. I guess this doesn’t really explain why cosmetics ads never feature ugly people.

  21. Ajit Narayan said:

    Option D would be my choice. Predominantly women buy into this category. For most the aspiration is to beat or equal the male. Men’s rational linear perspective in buying would be driven by wanting to look at proof of concept. “Those kind of abs”. While I would’ve preferred to have an option on the book cover which should show the male model… and that would’ve perhaps been the killer! Product, benefit picturised and visual proof … Curious to know which one won in the test.

  22. Jeff Enders said:

    Here it is, short and sweet!

    It’s “C”.

    We ALWAYS sell the benefit… PERIOD!

    No one buys life insurance to die, they buy it to benefit their heirs.

  23. Dean Kennedy said:

    I think before-and-after is best because it shows authentic/genuine results. It can be related to by prospective purchasers (assuming middle-aged home-makers are the market), who — to be successful — should “start with the end in mind” (that quote can be attributed to Tony Robbins I think). Option D seems false, but would probably be my second choice.

    Thinking about that type of ad, most fair dinkum (oops, that means “genuine” if you’re not Australian) response ads seem to keep using the before&after approach in material I see, so I would guess that comes from successful testing.

    Book cover… I’d include as a thumbnail at I could, if colour was striking and made it noticeable (“hey, look for the yellow book on the shelf”). But that third-party authentic endorsement would be my visual choice.

    Errr, since when is there a limit of one photo, except for hypothetical marketing questions, by the way?!?

  24. Dianna Huff said:


    Why did I pick “A” the book cover? Because I’m highly suspicious of pictures showing people with rock hard abs. I know exactly what it takes to get those abs — simple dieting won’t help.

    Plus, the book is written by an MD — not a celeb — so I would think (and perhaps additional testing would prove or disprove this) the doctor and his/her findings would matter more. (“Eat what you like, lose weight the easy way!” or something along the pitch Weight Watchers uses.) Wouldn’t the doctor have more credibility than the the skinny model — who was probably paid to pose for the picture?

    BTW, WW does a fabulous job selling weight loss using normal people who don’t have rock hard abs. Their magazine, Website, and testimonials are chock-ablock full of “normal” people who have lost weight but who don’t have hard bodies.

    However, as Bob M. says, if testing proves that people buy a book based on a skinny model with abs, then you have to go with that. But it wouldn’t attract my attention.

  25. Bob Bly said:

    DH: But notice what you just said about WW. Their site is full of images of normal people who lost weight. That’s PEOPLE — not pictures of WW products.

  26. Dianna Huff said:


    Yes, I know, but you’re selling a book, not a service, which is what WW is selling.

    I thought about this over the holiday . . . I buy most of my books on Amazon, and I usually read the peer reviews and sample pages before buying. If I were to buy a “diet” book, I would buy based on who wrote it and why and what my peers were saying versus who or what was pictured on the cover. For example, I almost bought that book about how to each like a French person and lose weight — but after reading a few pages realized it was the same info you read everywhere else (it’s all about portion control).

    I also realized that the book cover design — which is incredibly important for when it sits on the shelf in stores — would depend on your target audience and where you were selling it (GNC or grocery stores vs. Borders maybe?). I would never buy the National Enquirer or Women’s Day but my neighbor does! :-)

  27. Bob Bly said:

    DH: I think the key point is that you and I would never buy the National Enquirer or Women’s Day, but millions do, and these are also the people who fall for (er, I mean buy) diet books. BTW, the Enquirer once did a full-page article about me, but that’s another story….

  28. Ahmed Sharif said:

    like Bob McCarthy , I’d go with “A” every time. If you’re selling a book, show the book.
    The picture of book gives us the mass and the picture on the cover that the auther choiced for his book,
    so we get three benefit the A and the B and one of the three next (C,D,E)

  29. Ahmed Sharif said:

    like Bob McCarthy , I’d go with “A” every time. If you’re selling a book, show the book.
    The picture of book gives us the mass and the picture on the cover that the auther choiced for his book,
    so we get three benefit the A and the B and one of the three next (C,D,E)

  30. Pam Gitta said:

    I’m intrigued that no one’s chosen B. That’s my choice: it’s a picture of a person, and even if he/she isn’t a celebrity, he/she is still a doctor and therefore perceived by the public to be an expert on the subject of healthy weight loss.

    When I see before/after photos, my immediate thought is that this particular person was a fluke (we’ll call it “Results Not Typical Syndrome”), and I have no reason to think I could get the same results. With a doctor, I feel like I’m getting the benefit of years of experience with *many* patients, not just flukes.

    PS I often buy WW. As the ultimate companion to all their goofy diet stories, they have amazing recipes guaranteed to clog your arteries before you even set them on the table. 😉

  31. Andrew Cavanagh said:

    My friend young Australian copywriter Jesse Forrest would tell you that action photos nearly always generate a better response than other photo types.

    He does have enough results to suggest this is a VERY powerful copywriting principle.

    Look at the photos drawing your attention in the newspaper.

    Think of the videos that draw your attention on TV.

    All action shots – all attention grabbing.

    The closest to that in this case would probably be the before and after photo.

  32. Forums Offer Poor Information? - Copywriters Board said:

    […] Today, 05:13 AM If you’re gonna say that about forums then blogs are included too. Plenty of comment spam around. Not least "splogs"! If you were writing academically you have to give references if you don’t it’s plagiarism. People here mention there source and often. Everything online and off is susceptible to distortion. Knowing this is what’s important. The irony is … a lot of content on the internet should be checked out. Owning a website and publishing to it or a blog is not instant credibility. We know that some don’t even write their own stuff! But forums are, in general, more balanced … Those that own, administer and input into a medium for publication have the control. Participation by others allows for a BALANCED viewpoint rather than a single author’s point of view. Forums provide for this as long as those that have the greater degree of control allow it. That’s the case on this forum. That’s why I’m here! Blogs are no different to forums. Look at Bob Bly’s, there’s a recent post, that has so many different viewpoints, but only one can be correct as it concerns split-test data. Yet the rationale behind some of the answers, particularly one poster that is supposed to be experienced, is quite bizarre. Until the true answer is provided by Bob, which suggested answer should people follow? The answer is none, wait ’till you get the true answer from Bob (and then verify it for yourself, if you can). I just hope people recognize this .. I fear some do not. There is some great information delivered by people here. I don’t do interactive much these days … as I had a bad experience with a podcaster. They apologized, but it showed me how much power someone has when they control the medium. I think Winston Churchill conveys the point best "There is no such thing as public opinion. There is only published opinion" (… have tried to verify the quote, but useful anyway). Tom P.S. Online, nobody knows you’re a dog! (by Peter Steiner, page 61, July 5, 1993 issue of The New Yorker, Vol.69 (LXIX) no. 20. "Seeing is believing" […]

  33. arun chakkravarthy said:

    i would show the front cover of the book as before(looks fat) and profile shot of the book as after (looks thin). here i am incorporating the before and after shot of a middle-aged home-maker concept by simply showing the book. So, by mixing A and C a new idea is formed within the given 5 choices and also coveys the message that it is a diet book.

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