There’s a difference between catching the eye and engaging the interest of a reader. So that while catching the eye has to come first, in order for an ad to even have a chance at engaging interest, merely catching the eye isn’t enough.

Sex Appeal Ain’t Enough – You Really Need Story Appeal


And this is the mistake so many advertisers make when they use sexual appealing photos in their ads. Yes, the smoking hot beauty you put in your ad may cause me to glance at your ad, but there really is no mystery to a “sex sells” type ad or picture. And this lack of mystery allows me (and others) to dismiss the ad from my attention as quickly as it had gained it – typically without having even read more than the headline.


And that’s where story appeal proves its superiority over raw sex appeal. Take this ad for example:



OK, so the ad grabs your eye because it’s got an adorable little girl in the photo and we’re all hardwired to pay attention to pictures of babies and toddlers – especially us parents! But there’s more to it than that, isn’t there?

The “What’s the Story Here” Effect


Yup. That toddler is holding a very heavy, expensive camera – as if she just might drop it any second. And that creates a bit of drama and the mystery of: “what’s the story here?” We’re now tempted to read the actual ad copy to find out context for this intriguing photo. So not only did the picture catch our eye, it engaged our interest as well, thanks to story appeal.

Why Your Headline Has to Work WITH The Picture


Unfortunately this ad’s headline kills the mystery. “Become a photographer” tells me exactly what’s going on and also fails to provide any meaningful reference to the photo. A quick glance at the headline not only discourages me from reading more, as now I’m convinced the picture has no story but was simply psychological manipulation on the part of the advertiser, but I’m able to confidently dismiss the ad with full confidence that I know what it’s about.


But what if the headline read something like: “Risky Business?” Now the headline references the drama in the photo without completely dispelling the mystery of what’s going on. At this point, I sort of have to read the body copy if I want to get some context for the image. And then I might be told that “Start up photography business can be incredibly profitable, IF you know the tricks of the trade. Otherwise, it’s like handing thousands of dollars in photo equipment to a toddler – not likely to end well. Learn everything you need…”


Now, realize that nothing will interest me in online photography school if I lack the aspiration to become a photographer, just as I’m unlikely to make any of you readers into avid knitters with some offer of free instruction. Yet there are likely plenty of aspirational photographers who would’ve dismissed the other ad, but who would read this ad. And you have to get the ad read before you can get the click through and conversion.