Insight of the Week
August 4, 2023

Ugly Faces Increase Sales

Everybody knows that beautiful faces are persuasive, but ugly faces are surprisingly persuasive too.

Ugly faces and attractive faces generate more sales


Most people are familiar with the beauty bias.

Beautiful people seem credible, honest, and trustworthy. Something "feels good" about them, and we attribute this impression to their personality.

So, what about ugly faces — wouldn't they seem inferior? Actually, no.

Across 10k+ Airbnb listings, hosts sold more occupancies when their photo was (a) visible, (b) high-quality, and (c) smiling. But most interesting, sales increased for beautiful and ugly faces (Peng, Cui, Chung, & Zheng, 2020).

Similar effects happened in 5miles, a peer-to-peer marketplace.

U-shaped relationship with sales and beauty. Ugly faces sell more units, then it dips before rising again with beautiful faces

In both platforms, average-looking people sold the least.

But it depends on the product. Beautiful sellers were most effective for visual products (e.g., bags), while ugly sellers were most effective for technical products (e.g., electronics).

What's causing these effects? My guesses:

  • Stereotypes. Beauty and intelligence seem mutually exclusive (e.g., dumb blonde). If beauty is low, we allocate these credits to a "competence" category. Ugliness premiums might disappear when they're self-inflicted (e.g., sloppiness) because they would no longer boost competence.
  • Symbolic Confusion. Want beautiful products? You prefer beautiful sellers because you confuse this facial beauty for the product. Same with ugly sellers. Need a complex service? Your brain will be seeking a complex and disfluent stimulus. In one study, customers who evaluated a complex service preferred a font that was difficult to read because of this matching complexity (Thompson & Ince, 2013). If you need a complex service, an ugly face matches this trait.

Other New Studies

  • We Eat Less Food When It Looks Human - Some organizations encourage healthy eating by drawing faces on fruits. But these designs reduce consumption because we don't want to hurt the food. It feels immoral (Schroll, 2023).
  • Men on a Mission, Women on a Journey - Females search more than males for product information on social media (Kol & Levy, 2023).
  • Ugly People Don't Realize They're Ugly - At first, the title said "unattractive" to avoid offending anybody. But it shouldn't matter. Research shows that we can't tell if we're ugly, so nobody should feel offended (Greitemeyer, 2020).