Your ads should show people using your product

Help people imagine themselves using your product to better convert new buyers.

This paper is a great reminder of how important it is to get the fundamentals of ad creatives right, and not just A/B test different copy and a few similar images.

The study builds on previous research and gives us clear tips on what to show in our ad creatives to become more effective at attracting new buyers.

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Create ads that help people imagine using your product

Impacted metrics: Ad performance
Channels: Paid media | Image ads


You want your ad viewers to imagine consuming your product. When you achieve that, they’re more likely to buy.

To achieve this, show movement in your ad. For an image, show a movement in progress (e.g. a person about to bite into a burger) rather than a static scene (e.g. the burger is on a plate). 

If the media allows it, to show movement you can also use a slideshow, or even better, video.


  • Higher purchase intention among people that have no or little experience with your product.

  • Doesn’t affect people that are experienced with your product. It doesn’t hurt either though. So if you like, you can segment your audience and use the opportunity to serve a different ad to experienced customers.

Why it works

  • Showing someone in the process of using a product generates greater arousal and stimulates people to mentally imagine themselves doing the same. This leads to higher purchase intention.


  • The research was performed on food products. The psychological mechanisms should apply to other product categories as well, but this was not tested.

  • The study subjects were university students so it’s riskier to generalize to the whole population.

  • Participants had to pay careful attention to the ads shown during a lab experiment, which is not usually the case in a real-world environment.

Companies using this

  • Showing people consuming a product is quite prevalent in the food industry, but is less prevalent in other product categories.

Steps to implement

  • Make and test ad creatives that stimulate people to imagine using your product. You can show someone in the process or about to use your product, or try something more creative that has a similar effect.

Study type

In-person survey and lab experiment, United States


Yim, M. Y. C., Kim, Y. K., & Lee, J. (August 2020). How to easily facilitate consumers’ mental simulation through advertising: the effectiveness of self-referencing image dynamics on purchase intention. International Journal of Advertising, 1-25.

[Link to paper]


University of Massachusetts Lowell, Southern Connecticut State University, and Soongsil University

Remember: Because of the groundbreaking nature of this paper, it could be disproven in the future (although this is rare). It also may not be generalizable to your situation. If it’s a risky change, always test it on a small scale before rolling it out widely.

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