crotch-adsLike many ecommerce companies, clothing company Betabrand relies on social advertising to drive customers to its online store.

Unlike many ecommerce companies, Betabrand’s Head of Customer Acquisition Julian Scharman has discovered (and is prepared to admit) that when it comes to social engagement, dicks mean clicks.

According to Scharman, the company’s constant testing of what type of product shot works best on social platforms has uncovered an interesting trend: Close up shots of (clothed) crotches score off the charts.

It was an inadvertent discovery. Facebook News Feed ads demand a landscape image and Scharman wanted something that showed off the company’s pants, demonstrated the detail of the belt and the pockets as well as the general look and fit. The resulting image focused tightly on a man wearing pants, cropping between belt level and above the knee. The model’s crotch became an obvious resting point for the eye.

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The numbers went crazy. On Twitter crotch shots drove conversion rates for Betabrand 407 percent higher, resulted in a 156 percent spike in retweets and a 78 percent increase in follows, in comparison that is, to ads without close up photos of clothed genitals.

The crotch was… er… big on Facebook, too. Engagement with ads with crotch photos was 64 percent higher, ensuing email sign-ups rose by 60 percent, click through rates by 30 percent and conversion rates, 20 percent.

“The obvious thing people want to point out is that of course these sorts of images drive traffic, because of course sex sells,” Scharman says.

Scharman thinks a number of things drove this spike in interest and engagement. Some of it is subconscious. The images aren’t overtly humorous. Some people just like the pants, appreciating the detail of the pants on display in the close up photos. But then there’s another section of commenters, very much dismayed/overjoyed/repelled by the crotch-heavy focus of the images.

Whatever the driving pull, It is a win-win for Betabrand. Scharman says that trying to send an ad viral, competing with the endless noise of the Internet is almost impossible. “But this allows us to have our ads shown over and over for less cost,” he says.

Learning from this, Betabrand has launched advertising for its line of yoga pants and Scharman says that the new ads focus in a lot on “hip area” and “lower area shots.” He’s giving photographers instructions up front about the types of photos the company might use in its ads, encouraging them to take photos of the midsection that can be cropped in ways that are useful for these new advertising revelations.

Scharman isn’t totally prepared yet to give the human crotch all of the credit for this new social boost for the company. He says that the quality of the pants and the detail on display in the close up are key, too. Because of course he does.

But for a detached observer, not currently in the market for pants, the disembodied, faceless, crotch-dominated photos do make a strong statement. They feel instinctively esoteric and random, until the mind orients itself that it is looking straight at a human crotch, the social media equivalent of having a conversation with someone while kneeing.

And for Betabrand and the thousands of companies like it who live and die by the amount of people clicking through to its site, a dick click is a click is click. Customers all spend the same money, no matter how you got them through the door.

Which is a scary realisation. For ecommerce retailers not named Amazon, social advertising is a new form of circus barking. As the Internet drives everything towards a lowest common denominator, Betabrand’s realization could end up being the tip of a very smutty iceberg.

[Illustration by Brad Jonas for Pando]