Hot or Not, Part Deux

Today’s guest post is by Simon Galbraith. Simon is co-founder and joint CEO of Red Gate Software.

I’ve been a long-time believer that, correctly chosen, professional photography is a key element in marketing. I’ve backed this belief with the money of my company and have approved countless campaigns that involve professionally taken photographs.

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about an experiment where four of us (including two world experts in marketing) guessed how two photos of me posted under aliases on would be ranked. I also asked readers of this blog to comment on how they thought the rankings would turn out.  As expected almost everyone thought the professionally taken photo would score higher.  The only differences were the actual numbers.
Here are the hotornot results based on the professionally taken photo of “Jeremy” (left), and the point-and-click amateur photograph of “Aden” (right). Click on the images to view larger versions.


Surprise! The professionally taken photograph scored substantially lower (8.1, 79%) than the amateur photo (8.7, 86%), both in absolute terms and in the percentage ranking of attractiveness.

I’ve a quick confession to make: had the professional photograph scored higher than the amateur photograph, I would have immediately stopped thinking about this issue and have considered my case totally proven. But when the results belied a premise I’ve supported with huge sums of money, I was compelled to find a way to prove the experiment wrong; to start looking at the sample size, the details of the photo and so on.

Hotornot is a compelling site and it has a whole heap of great features enabling people to show increasing levels of interest that might ultimately lead to a relationship. I thought I might be able to use some of the more anecdotal data on hotornot to demonstrate that although the score for professionally photographed Jeremy was lower, it actually was better by some other measure.

Although less statistically rigorous, the results from my further study were the same. Aden has had one woman approach him to meet, whereas Jeremy hasn’t had that honor. Aden has been “favorited” twice by women, compared to Jeremy’s one solitary bit of interest. In every way I could think of to analyze it, Jeremy did worse than Aden.

Looking at the outliers in the histogram is interesting. Aden is more polarizing – more women ranked him at the extreme ends of the scale.  This might be valuable from a marketing point of view – perhaps people who are prone to polarization are more likely to take notice and act (another theory I’m now propounding that I need to prove).

I asked the opinion of some experts who work for the best marketers in the world, and their opinion was worthless compared to an experiment that took less than an hour to set up and cost me nothing. Given the eye-popping sums I’ve spent so far on marketing with professional photographs, it seems crazy that I haven’t tested this before. I’m still not sure that I want to use amateurish photos in our marketing, but now I have to admit that my past decisions have been based on blind prejudice rather than wise insight. It leads me to wonder: how many other of my opinions are as fact-free as my views on professionally taken photographs?

On a personal note, I’m amazed and flattered that I scored so much better than when I was a shy 16-year-old, but I suspect that might come down to the rather unusual way that hotornot averages the numbers in the histograms rather than a change in my attractiveness.  But, in this case, it might not be worth analyzing too closely.