TL;DR version: yes, you should use stock photography in your ads. But you should test them against other graphic materials and make your decision based on the test results like we did.

Marketers say that people hate stock photos, because those pictures are more often than not inauthentic. Before you condemn the stock pictures to burn in the pits of hell, bear in mind that some people might like them. They may feel either familiar or aspirational to them.

Assumptions are dangerous, and doubly so in online marketing. As much as you shouldn’t depend on averages when evaluating data, you should test to what kind of visual material your target audience responds the best.

Yay or nay on the stock photos?

Let’s briefly look at some data from one of our campaigns. Both ads had the same copy, targeting, runtime (17 to 25 September 2014) and budget in their ad set. They only differed in the visual. We’d severely overbid the ad set, so there was no shortage of funds, and the ads could run as free as Facebook allowed them.


Left ad – stock photo

  • Reach: 9,719
  • Frequency: 1.05
  • Conversions: 100
  • CPA: 3.43 CZK
  • Lead to sale ratio: 2%

Right ad – custom graphic

  • Reach: 201
  • Frequency: 1.12
  • Conversions: 11
  • CPA: 0.75 CZK
  • Lead to sale ratio: 0%

You might argue that CPA (cost per acquisition) was much better on the right ad and it would be financially wise to stick to it and wait. Perhaps the graphic would eventually outperform the stock photo. In the end, we made the right choice when picking performance over aesthetics.

The winning ad eventually made more than 20 times more than its cost, while the pretty custom graphic sat there, generating only a few leads.

Test your assumptions. Trust the data. And if it works for you, it works for you; sod what everyone else is saying. And if you don’t know what to do, let me know.