As Conversion Rate Optimization professionals already know, stock photos almost always test worse than authentic photos.  Does the same hold true for Facebook Ads?

Before I answer that, it’s important to realize that, for conversion rate optimization, the “stock” in “stock photo” usually has nothing to do with whether the image was purchased on a stock photo Website or professionally commissioned. Instead, an image is seen as “stock” due to it’s:

  • overall feel — does it seem campy, staged, fake?
  • Tone — is it too bright and clean and plasticky perfect?
  • Congruency with the message — does the photo seem slapped on as an afterthought?

So, applying this to Facebook Ads, we might tentatively say that, all other aspects being equal, the more real, authentic, and visually interesting photo will test better than the obviously “stock” photo.

At least that’s been our experience, as seen in the illustrative examples of this below:

Campy Mad Men-Era Photo vs. X-Ray Shocker

Both photos were “stock” in the sense of selected from a stock photography site, but the winning x-ray style ad fit the content far better and was far more visually striking than the losing image, causing a 32% lift in CTR.

Home On The Range vs. Lined Up For Sale

Here you can see how both ads fit contextually, but one looks staged and the other looks almost like a snapshot, due to the organic, authentic feel of the tractor in use.  Again, both images are stock but one feels a lot less “stock” than the other, with the in-use photo creating a 93% lift in CTR.

In Action Style vs. Fake-Smile

Again, we have an in-action snap-shot feel vs. a staged, smiling-for-the-camer photo. Which one wins?  The authentic-feeling snapshot, of course — to the tune of an 18% lift in CTR.

Down and Dirty vs. Looking Pretty

As usual, the same pattern holds true, with the in-action, gritty photo out-testing the staged, stock-feeling photo, this time by 40%.

So if you want a general rule of thumb when hunting for improved ad images, here it is:

Favor authentic, action shots over obviously stock-looking photos.