Stock Images Tested: Does ethnicity in marketing images impact purchases?


Does ethnicity in marketing images affect a campaign’s performance?

Besides being an important marketing question, it’s also an interesting social question.

The MECLABS research team asked this question because they needed to find the best performing imagery for the first step in the Home Delivery checkout process for a MECLABS Research Partner selling newspaper subscriptions.

The test they designed was simple enough:

Background: Home Delivery ZIP code entry page for a newspaper subscription.

Goal: To increase subscription rate.

Research Question: Which design will generate the highest rate of subscriptions per page visitor?

Test Design: A/B variable cluster split test


Control: Standard image of newspaper on welcome mat


Treatment 1: Stock image of African American man reading newspaper


Treatment 2: Stock image of older Caucasian couple reading newspaper




Both treatments with images of people underperformed when compared with the control. However, there was no difference in performance when ethnicity of the people in the images was the only variable.


What you need to understand

Customers in this case did not respond differently to images of differing ethnicities.

Not only did we find that there was no difference in customer preference between the African American man and the older Caucasian couple, but we also found that the control page with the simple image outperformed both of the pages with images of people.

Unfortunately, we cannot definitively say whether the image was the deciding factor when we compare the two treatments to the control. There were other variables that changed (the headline and call-to-action layout, for instance) that make it difficult to determine what made the difference.

Certainly the most dramatic change for all the treatments was the image. It would not be a stretch to assume that the images made most of the difference, but we won’t know for sure without further testing.


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