It Pays to “Put On a Good Face”

unexplainedfaceCarl Sagan was not alone in hypothesizing that human beings are “hard-wired” from birth to identify the human face–even when it isn’t there.

In the photo to the right do you see the profile of a giant bearded man, with his eyes closed, just sort of floating in between the couple?

Or, do you see that it’s really just a Victorian couple, with a toddler wearing a white hat, sitting on the man’s knee?

Pareidolia is the psychological term used to describe when we see a human face in a random object or image.

I still see a man in the moon on most nights. Don’t you? That’s pareidolia.

Do you love to see shapes in the clouds. Really good ones make the evening news. Again, pareidolia.

Pareidolia can be profitable. A grilled cheese sandwich with an image of the Virgin Mary once sold on eBay for $28,000.

Are you old enough, or geeky enough, to remember the face on Mars from the Cydonia region? NASA’s Viking 1 Orbiter transmitted images from Mars in 1976 that we interpreted as a face of a man. It’s just Mars’ terrain as confirmed by a higher resolution image taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter 20 years later.


Ads and social posts with a “face” perform the best

Why does pareidolia matter?

Images of people’s faces in advertising cause us to react emotionally, much in the same way stories move us emotionally; because we’re hardwired for it.

Recent behavioral data confirms our affinity for images + text in ads. We’re simply seeing faces perform better.

Late last year Twitter added inline images to tweets so they display automatically in user timelines, putting image content front and center. Buffer conducted a study after the change and found that Tweets with images received 18% more clicks than those without.

Tips for using faces in your blog posts, ads, and especially FACEbook ads

Always test what works for your audience. If you have a strong brand, your logo might actually work better than a face, but for the most part, authentic, non-stock-photo faces outperform other images. We share some examples below these tips:

  • Use close-ups of attractive faces that resemble your target audience
  • Younger isn’t always better. If you’re targeting retirees, test pictures of people over 50, 60, and 70
  • Use a face that’s familiar to your target audience. For example, if your organization has a high profile CEO or spokesperson who is recognizable to your ad’s target audience, use a photo of them for your ad image
  • Make sure to focus on a person’s face and crop it if necessary. Don’t use a blurry or dark picture
  • “Typically the best photos for conversion are close face shots of people — smiling women tend to generate a high click rate,” says Harley Rivet of Deep Dish Digital
  • Socially Stacked recommends, “What makes an ad with a human face even more effective is adding some text to the image. Add a block of text at the bottom, top or side of your ad image, and change things up.”
  • If possible, use images of people facing toward your ad text. Users will follow the subject’s line of sight and be more likely to read your ad text
  • Showcase some of your program participants, volunteers, or donors, with their permission, of course
  • Even good ads go stale, so be sure to switch out your creative before your ad stops performing altogether

You decide

Following are a series of Sponsored Ads from Facebook. I think the faces that are authentic, happy, and close up are more compelling.

What do you think?



Ragnar Trail





Photo credits: NASA and Jessica Lundgren of Sweden shared this photo from her grandmother with

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