Pictures paint a thousand words, right?

But when it comes to using pictures in a direct-response sales letter, a badly chosen image will more likely lose you a thousand sales.

More often than not, in my own sales letters I tend to avoid using stock images altogether.

After all, when writing long copy you’re really constructing a persuasive argument as to why someone should buy what you have to sell… using WORDS.

Obviously, to do that you need to concentrate on the words you do use and how you structure your message. Stock images shouldn’t even come into it.

But if you must use them – I know clients who insist – be sure not to make these three silly mistakes:

1. Don’t undermine the imagery your words create in the reader’s mind

If you’re a good copywriter – and as a reader of AllGoodCopy, I know you are – you’ll spend a lot of time building evocative images in your copy with the words you use.

These ‘mental images’ you create for the reader have the potential to be infinitely more powerful than any stock image you could find to represent what you’re trying to say.

For example, if you wanted to describe to your reader an image of them achieving success; you might invite them to imagine sitting in their garden with a glass of good wine whilst they watch their partner playing with the kids on the grass, all of the family happy because you no longer have to work full time and you’re making enough in your spare time to afford the family a wealthy lifestyle…

This scenario is detailed enough for the reader to imagine, but it leaves enough room for them to add their own details, details that will be specific to their own life and therefore so much more influential.

But what if next to this written description, to enhance the idea of wealth you placed a stock photo of a bottle of champagne being popped open?

Crap, right?

Not only would the image distract from your words, it would immediately undermine the mental image you’ve guided your reader towards. The associations such a clichéd image carries are utterly opposed to the realist image you’re trying to create.

On top of that, using such an image associates your sales letter with every other disingenuous letter that went before it with pictures of champagne bottles, desert islands, laptops on the beach and other such nonsense.

2. Don’t use seemingly clever images to give away a secret you’re looking to keep throughout your letter

I saw an example of this recently that made me laugh…

The sales letter used a ‘secret lead’ in an attempt to intrigue the reader enough to continue reading the copy.

In principle, this is fair enough and done correctly can be an incredibly effective sales technique.

For example, a secret headline and lead might tell of a new breakthrough in sales letters and go on to tease the benefits of this new way of delivering sales letters that is doubling conversion.

Fine, but if next to the lead you place a picture of a video player, or some other stock image that equally hints at ‘video’… then the reader is obviously going to put two and two together and assume you’re talking about using video sales letters.

Sure they might read on if they’re interested, but more likely, because you’ve revealed the secret you were attempting to keep, their interest in what you have to say will be severely diminished.

3. Don’t just throw stock images into your letters without annotating them to relate to the reader

Let’s go back to our old friend ‘the champagne bottle image’.

If you are lazy enough to use a stock image like this to represent wealth and success then at least do one thing for me and for the sake of good copy all over the world…

Annotate it to relate to the reader.

Rather than have it floating there in the middle of your copy as though it’s wandered into a party it wasn’t invited to – write a little legend underneath it saying something like “Thanks to Strategy X it could soon be YOU popping open the champagne!”

You see, when a reader does scan a sales letter with images in it, their eye will naturally be drawn to the image. If it is not annotated, it will just seem abstract, but if there is a message underneath it, at least you’re associating the image with your sales argument.

I remember reading something about this in Ogilvy once, that when people regard an image, they naturally look for an explanation of what it is, hence why you’ll always see a little text at the bottom of any images that are used in an Ogilvy promotion.

From a branding point of view, the old man also suggested featuring the name of the product in that text so the association is made immediately…

However, in a long copy sales letter, it might be that you’ve not revealed the name of the product or service at that point, so this might not be appropriate.

As a general rule, as I say, I would attempt to avoid using stock images in direct response long copy except in very particular circumstances when a well-chosen image could enhance your copy.

But whenever you do include an image, please make sure you avoid the three mistakes I’ve outlined here.

Best wishes,



Glenn Fisher is an author, copywriter, podcaster and speaker. After a number of years working in the local council, he left to become a copywriter and founded, a free online resource for direct response copywriters and marketers. For over a decade he worked with The Agora, a multi-million pound international financial publisher before leaving in 2018 to write freelance. His first book, The Art of the Click, has quickly become an Amazon bestseller and was shortlisted for the Business Book Awards. He is the host of the popular All Good Copy Podcast and regularly writes and consults for numerous businesses, brands and ad agencies. He lives happily with his partner Ruth and dog Pablo on the east coast of England.

1 Comment

  1. Haha. I hate those champagne bottle stock photos too. Well said.

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