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Months ago, I wrote a post on the importance of looking and acting like your target group. I suggested that in your website’s imagery, it’s best to avoid using models or celebrities; better to stick with “real people”.

Today I’d like to expand on this rule, and discuss where to make exceptions.

The General Rule

If you run a relatively small ecommerce business — one that’s not universally known and lacks a network of bricks-and-mortar outlets — be careful about using images of famous people. Visitors may not believe the celebrity actually uses your products. They may assume you “lifted” the image to inflate your importance.

For smaller businesses, it’s safer to stick to the general rule: use images of “real people” that closely match your target group. They are perceived as more trustworthy… and by extension, make you more trustworthy.

The Exception

The same principle does not necessarily apply to large, established companies. In a 2002 study by Riegelsberger*, it was found that when large corporations like IBM and Chevron used imagery of common people, credibility was reduced.

Web experts felt the images were “gratuitous”; Web novices felt they were being manipulated. In any case, the implied message of “we’re just like you” rang hollow.


  • For smaller businesses, images of “real people” increase credibility.
  • For large, established organizations, images of “real people” may reduce credibility.

* Riegelsberger, J. (September 2002). The Effect of Facial Cues on Trust in E-Commerce Systems. Proceedings of the 16th British HCI Conference, London, Volume 2.